Updated: September 28, 2012

Starting a meal with salad is smart, but enhancing it with fresh herbs is even smarter. "We tend to view them as a garnish, but they're also a great source of antioxidants," says Elizabeth Somer, R.D., author of 10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman's Diet (McGraw-Hill). Compared with certain fruits and veggies, some herbs have more than 10 times the amount of these cancer- and heart-disease-fighting compounds, according to recent studies. "Consider fresh herbs a grocery-cart staple, just like lettuce or baby carrots," she says.

Using herbs in dishes already loaded with antioxidants can result in a powerful synergy, reveals a recent report in the British Journal of Nutrition. Including marjoram in a salad with antioxidant-rich tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, and wine vinegar increases the total antioxidant content by about 200 percent; including lemon balm boosts it 150 percent. And you don't need a ton--a few sprigs with most meals is plenty. To get your daily dose, mix mint into your morning smoothie or tuck basil into a sandwich. The Top Disease Fighters

Rosemary

Best in poultry dishes, soup, and fish, it may even prevent colon and skin cancer.

Oregano

Add zip to omelettes, beef, and pasta with this savory immune-system booster.

Thyme

Try this anti-inflammatory agent in stuffing and salad dressings or over veggies.

Parsley

Packed with vitamin C, this staple is a natural in salads, dips, and fish dishes.

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