The Mediterranean diet (MD) emerged as a healthy food regimen long before it could be recognised which nutrients or foods were responsible for its observed benefits, and it was only in the middle of the last century that the first scientific approach 'The Seven Countries Study' appeared. Epidemiological and anthropological studies of the MD converged, first by investigating at single nutrients or foods, then by adopting the more holistic approach of dietary patterns (DP), and now with a molecular approach. These studies resulted in convincing evidence that a MD decreases the risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality and incidence. A risk reduction of developing type 2 diabetes is probable. Evidence is less stringent for other metabolic diseases and all cancers but from possible to probable for some cancer sites. Although DP showed that the MD has to be considered in its totality, olive oil could have a specific role. Lifestyle factors such as physical activity for energy balance, outdoor life for vitamin D synthesis and conviviality are also probably partly responsible for the health benefits. The MD is a lifestyle well suited for coping not only with personal health but also with wider societal concerns in relation to environment, public health and economy.
Keywords: Dietary patterns; Health benefits; Mediterranean diet; Societal relevance.