The good stuff

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Woman peeling carrots.
James Mitchell/Corbis

Polyphenols decrease heart disease risk factors by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing blood clotting and improving the health of artery linings.

Stressed carrots can give you a big boost of healthy compounds.
DCI

Researchers have discovered genes that, when activated, either increase or reduce your chances for metabolic syndrome, the name for a group of risk factors (high blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose) that together increase the risk for heart disease, America's No. 1 killer.

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Fresh, high-polyphenol olive oil affects the expression of those genes in a positive way, reducing your risk for metabolic syndrome and heart disease. But, low-polyphenol olive oil does not have the same effects,a recent study found.

Polyphenols also reduce cancer risk by lowering inflammation and cellular proliferation. They act as antioxidants, reducing oxidation and cell damage, which leads to many degenerative diseases. They even reduce microbial activity and infections.

Those biological benefits explain, in part, why the Mediterranean diet, high in olive oil, has been linked with superior health. But there is an advantage even the poorest of the poor in Mediterranean countries have enjoyed since at least 4000 B.C.: freshly harvested olive oil. That's because olives were growing on trees in people's backyards; it was plentiful and cheap. But its freshness had been taken for granted. (The Origins of the Olive Tree Revealed)

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