You'd be hard-pushed to find anyone with a bad word to say about the Mediterranean diet. Countless studies have highlighted the health benefits of this delicious eating plan, which focuses on fruit, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, oily fish and olive oil.
Some examples? It can lower your risk of cognitive decline, according to a study published in the journal Neurology. Older women should stick to it to reduce risk of osteoporosis, say researchers at the University of Wurzburg in Germany. And in 2015, a headline-grabbing report suggested people should stop counting calories and focus instead on eating a high-fat Mediterranean-style diet for optimum heart health.
Related: What makes the Mediterranean diet so successful?
Convinced? Read on to discover even more benefits from 10 key foods that can be eaten as part of this health-boosting plan.
Did you know that a deliciously creamy avocado contains more potassium than a banana? Potassium has many functions, including controlling the balance of body fluids and boosting heart health.
What's more, avocados are bursting with healthy monounsaturated fats that help lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol. In a recent US study, a group of overweight adults who ate a moderate-fat diet including a daily avocado had significantly less LDL cholesterol than those who'd followed the same diet without the avocado.
Related: Learn more about healthy fats
These tasty nuts are another excellent source of heart-boosting monounsaturated fats. Eating walnuts every day can help ward off age-related health issues, such as high cholesterol, according to a two-year trial at the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona and Loma Linda University. Need another reason to eat a daily handful of nuts? It's associated with a 23 per cent lower risk of early death, say researchers at Maastricht University.
Related: 10 healthy reasons to eat more nuts
Flavour-packed aubergines are high in fibre, low in fat and a rich source of vitamins B1 and B6. To get the most from them, though, eat the skin. It contains a potent antioxidant called nasunin, which protects the fatty acids essential for healthy brain function.
Related: Try these tasty aubergine and mushroom stacks
Salmon is a rich source of vitamin D, protein, B vitamins, selenium and omega-3 fatty acids – so it's no surprise that numerous studies have extolled its virtues over recent years. An example? Women who eat one or more servings of oily fish each week are 29 per cent less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, according to research published in the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. It doesn't have to be salmon, of course: any oily fish, including mackerel and fresh tuna, offers these benefits.
Related: 10 healthy reasons to eat fish
Yes, sardines are another oily fish option. But we're giving them a section of their own because they contain edible bones. These bones are a great source of calcium and phosphorus, which help reduce risk of osteoporosis. Whitebait and pilchards are a good choice, too.
Related: How calcium affects your health
Replace butter with olive oil and you'll soon be reaping the benefits. It contains more monounsaturated fatty acids than any other natural oil. Extra virgin varieties are even richer in antioxidants. A Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil is associated with a 68 per cent lower risk of breast cancer, says a recent Greek study.
Related: Discover the health benefits of different oils
Lycopene – the antioxidant that gives tomatoes their red colour – is linked to a wealth of health benefits. It may slow the growth of prostate cancer cells, for example, say scientists at the University of Portsmouth. And it can help fight sun damage to the skin, according to a Newcastle University study.
Related: The top 20 things to eat
As you'd expect (and hope) from a diet that hails from the Mediterranean, you can eat carbohydrates such as pasta, bread and rice. The trick is to opt for wholegrain varieties, which means the grain has remained intact throughout the milling process. They're high in fibre, which is essential for bowel health, and packed with minerals and B vitamins for a healthy heart, blood and bones.
Related: How much fibre do we need?
Those prickly leaves may make fresh artichokes tough to prepare, but they’re well worth the effort. Not only do they taste delicious, but they're a particularly good source of dietary fibre and boast more antioxidants than blueberries. A serving tip? Artichoke hearts are great for livening up a salad.
Related: Try this delicious French recipe Artichokes à la Barigoule
Delicious figs are one of the best sources of potassium, which helps control blood pressure – as well as dietary fibre, which promotes good digestive health and helps keep weight in check. And if fresh figs are out of season? Buy dried ones instead. Dried fruit is just as healthy as fresh, according to a 2011 report.
Related: Try this tempting recipe for puff pastry tart with goat’s cheese and figs