Studies show the Mediterranean diet is many things: a depression fighter, life extender, heart helper. One surprising thing it’s not? An actual diet.

The Mediterranean diet is a way of eating, like being a vegetarian is a way of eating. Unlike being a vegetarian, however, there are no hard and fast rules. You can, technically, follow a Mediterranean diet and still have an occasional (ok, infrequent) slice of cake.

So what, exactly, is this miracle – er, Mediterranean – diet? It follows the traditional eating style in countries along the Mediterranean coast:

  • Make plant-based foods (fruits, veggies, nuts, whole grains, beans, olive oil) the stars of mealtime. Need inspiration? Watch how to make colorful quick quinoa Grecian salad.
  • Eat plenty of fish and shellfish, like this Mediterranean-style tomato-citrus salmon
  • Enjoy eggs, dairy, poultry and red wine in moderation
  • Limit red meat, cheese, butter, sweets and other typical diet wreckers

So back to the headlines this “diet” has been making for years. Research published in 2013 found Mediterranean-style eating can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and premature death. Research published in 2015 shows that a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil is associated with reduced breast cancer risk. And in addition to a host of other benefits ranging from mental health to kidney health, several studies have associated the Mediterranean diet with a longer life.

Not ready to change your whole way of eating just yet? You’ll still get health benefits (and tasty new dishes) by incorporating more plant-based foods in your diet. This vegetable soup is one Mediterranean meal you can enjoy all week.

Author: Hope Cristol, MyRecipes