It's followed by millions of people, doesn't leave you starving and keeps you eating fresh, fun food. And now the Mediterranean diet has been ranked in the top three of the best diets for healthy eating, a list produced by US News and World Report.
It is based on that standard premise of healthy eating - lots of fruits, vegies, whole grains and limited amounts of bad fats and refined sugar. Add a splash of olive oil and wash it all down with a dash of red wine and you are on your way to munching like a Mediterranean.
When looking at the Mediterranean diet as a pyramid, it varies slightly from the typical healthy eating structure. We put red meat, poultry and eggs in the same basket but for Mediterranean dwellers, it is all about white meat, especially fish. Red meats and refined sugars are eaten least often and are in the pointy part of the pyramid.
Few of their calories are derived from saturated fats and sugary sweets. Energy sources in the diet are mostly nuts, seeds, cereals and legumes. The eating plan favours seasonal fruits and vegetables over frozen and imported varieties and tends to avoid processed food. One of the secrets to copying this way of eating is using fresh ingredients prepared from scratch and savouring it over a few courses.
Not only will the diet have you feeling healthier, but you might even live longer as a result. A Swedish study spanning over 40 years examined the link between life expectancy and diet. The findings revealed that Mediterranean-like dietary patterns have been linked to longer life expectancies.
THE GOOD OIL
When it comes to fats and oils, it's important to choose the heart healthy ones.
Olive oil is the favoured variety but there are others that also get the tick of approval. Plant-based oils, such as canola, can be used as an alternative, and macadamia oil is higher in monounsaturates (or good fats) than olive oil and can be cooked at very high temperatures.
Even when it comes to ''good" fats, you can have too much of a good thing. According to nutritionist Susie Burrell, adults need three to four serves of foods that contain a mix of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
SLOW AND STEADY
It is common in the Mediterranean to include soup as a starter course. It slows down the pace of the meal and it means people are less likely to overindulge on the main course.
The meals generally involve a lot of preparation and eating is all part of a social experience. Meals are shared around a table rather than gobbled in front of the TV, which means you have more awareness of just how much food you are consuming. Slowing down the pace is also good for digestion.
IN VINO VERITAS
Mediterranean people give the thumbs up to red wine - in moderation. Alcohol consumed in excess can lead to serious health problems but, when consumed in small amounts, the effects can be positive.
For example, studies have shown that resveratrol, a substance found in red wine, may aid in the prevention of age-related disorders. These include neurodegenerative diseases, inflammation, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
"A small serve (100-120ml) is great for antioxidants, but with glasses two to three times this size I regularly see wine over-consumed. It is still a concentrated source of calories," Burrell says.
WALK LIKE AN EGYPTIAN
Just because in the movies we see Caesar lying around eating hand-peeled grapes doesn't mean that it is an excuse to be sedentary when you adopt the diet. Exercise is still a key part of the Mediterranean lifestyle.
The Department of Health and Ageing recommends adults aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, on most (if not all) days
of the week.
CARBS ARE NOT THE ENEMY
Mr Atkins might not be a fan of this diet with all its carbs consumed in the form of fruits and grains.
Cereals for breakfast, bread before dinner and fruit as dessert all form part of a standard day for a Mediterranean dweller.
Transitioning to the Mediterranean way
- Source more of your protein from beans and legumes.
- Eat less red meat and more fish. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish lower the risk of heart disease.
- Instead of sugary cakes, chocolates and ice-cream for dessert, have a serve of seasonal fruits.
- Avoid deep fried food and opt for fresh dishes cooked with olive oil.
- Cook with fresh herbs and spices to add flavour to your dishes.
- Substitute the butter you use for cooking and spreading on bread with extra virgin olive oil.
- Enjoy a small glass of red wine with meals.