If you have ever visited European countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea like Italy, France, Spain and Greece, you probably noticed the slim figures of the people compared to many Americans. Like me, you may have patronized a local restaurant to find out what these people eat to keep their slender shapes.

Picture a table set with fine china on a blue and yellow tablecloth overlooking the azure waters of the Mediterranean. On the menu is grilled fish prepared with spices and herbs, whole grain bread dipped in extra virgin olive oil, and a spectacular salad. And, of course, the obligatory glass of Cabernet or Chianti. Cheers!

Now it turns out that the Mediterranean diet is recommended to prevent major chronic illnesses. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that eating monounsaturated fat such as the fat contained in olive oil, eliminating most dairy products and red meat, and helping yourself to fruit, veggies and nuts throughout the day may help prevent cancer, heart disease, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

The best part of switching to a Mediterranean diet is that it really is not a diet at all. When you think of a diet, you think of an eating plan to follow for a period of time before going back to your old habits. Following a Mediterranean diet is more like a way of life. Preparing fish, seafood or chicken for dinner instead of a steak, using an olive oil-based dipping sauce instead of butter, and enjoying a glass of red wine with dinner is a regimen I can live with.

Some people may feel that they need to make the change “cold turkey,” but for me a gradual change was easier. That meant having the occasional hamburger at first. Eventually I found that I actually preferred to eat along the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet. The food looked fresher and more appetizing, and I felt lighter and more energized after eating a meal.

I began to notice that those greasy hamburgers came with strings attached in the form of the “food coma” feeling I got from all that red meat. For me, an added bonus is that meals prepared according to Mediterranean diet guidelines remind me of the time I spend in romantic spots while on vacation in Europe.

Now when I think of the “meat and potatoes” meals I prepared previously, I can’t imagine how I ever managed to ingest such heavy food on a regular basis. Keeping my weight down becomes more of a struggle with each passing year, and I believe that if I ever gave up my Mediterranean diet I would surely pack on the pounds.

So I raise my glass of Cabernet to the Mediterranean diet. It’s a winner, in more ways than one.