Food of the Month with Catherine Saxelby

Oregano and rosemary

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Catherine Saxelby

Picking up on this month's Mediterranean theme, it seems appropriate to highlight two very special herbs, oregano and rosemary, that not only add flavour to traditional Greek cooking but research suggests they may bring health benefits of their own, thanks to a high concentration of antioxidants – substances that protect our bodies from damage – along with anti-bacterial qualities, which is thought to be the reason why they helped preserve meat dishes in early times before refrigeration. In fact, extracts of rosemary are being used as a natural food-grade preservative in place of chemical preserving agents.

Of all the herbs, these two have consistently been at the top of the list for their antioxidant concentration. For example, in 2006 a Norwegian research group analysed and ranked 1113 foods for their antioxidant concentration. Oregano was in the top five of all herbs and spices along with cloves, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric and dried basil. In an Australian study, both were singled out for star qualities. They carry a type of antioxidant known as polyphenols, which researchers believe may cut the risk of heart disease. Like other fresh green herbs, they have small amounts of vitamin C, folate, vitamin B1 and vitamin K - all this for virtually no kilojoules or calories. Both are easy to grow and add a bonus of important minerals like potassium and magnesium. Perfect if you’re on a low-salt eating plan.

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So next time you’re eating Mediterranean fare, don't discount the value of the culinary herbs that can make a sizable contribution to our nutrition intake if we eat enough of them. A few leaves of fresh oregano or a sprinkle of dried oregano greatly improves chicken and fish but also teams nicely with tomato, pasta, eggplant or zucchini. Nothing lifts a can of no-added-salt sardines as quickly as some oregano. Rosemary teams wonderfully with lamb, chicken, pork, rabbit, duck, potato sweep potato, pumpkin, garlic and bread.

Dietitian and popular nutrition communicator, Catherine Saxelby, is the author of Zest and Nutrition for Life

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For more information on super foods and healthy eating, visit Catherine’s website: www.foodwatch.com.au