DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet: What’s the Difference?

DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet: What’s the Difference?

Both the DASH diet vs Mediterranean diet are known for their heart-health benefits.

Intro

Two popular diets, the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, are known to positively benefit heart health.

And for good reason, they both emphasize plants and unsaturated fats while limiting highly processed foods and foods high in sodium. 

With so many similarities, it’s difficult to tell the difference between the two diets. Here, we’re sharing the details about the DASH diet vs Mediterranean diet and giving you the pros and cons of each.

What is the DASH Diet?

DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet is a research-backed dietary intervention proven to improve blood pressure in people with hypertension.

Basics

The DASH diet is promoted by the National Institute of Health.

In 1997, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed a significant reduction in blood pressure in participants who were randomly assigned to eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy (1). 

The diet prescribed to the intervention group was the DASH diet and is still the basis for the diet today. Since then, it has been extensively studied as an intervention for blood pressure management.

DASH diet basics:

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy
  • Eat both plant- and lean animal-based proteins like poultry, beans, and fish
  • Choose unsaturated fats like vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds
  • Avoid foods with added sugar 
  • Avoid foods high in saturated fat including full-fat dairy and high-fat meats
DASH Diet Basics.

DASH Diet Pros and Cons

The DASH diet has many advantages as well as a few disadvantages worth considering before deciding if the eating plan is right for you.

Pros

  • Research-backed benefits
  • Free to get started
  • Nutrient-dense
  • Flexible
  • Doesn’t require calorie counting
  • Doesn’t eliminate food groups

Cons

  • May be time-consuming
  • Requires cooking and meal-prep skills

Sample Day of Eating on the DASH Diet

Below is a sample day of eating on the DASH diet. Note that calories vary from person to person and portion sizes should be adjusted based on individual needs.

Breakfast 

Hummus Toast + Yogurt Bowl

Hummus toast: 

1 piece of whole wheat toast

2 Tbsp hummus

½ cucumber, sliced

Yogurt bowl: 

½ cup low-fat yogurt

½ cup blackberries or raspberries

1 Tbsp hemp hearts

Lunch

Chopped Salad with Tuna

2 cups kale or mixed greens

½ cup canned tuna or tuna salad made with olive oil mayonnaise

1 cup chopped vegetables of your choice (tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, roasted beets, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.)

½ cup garbanzo beans

2 Tbsp olive oil and red wine vinegar (mixed 2:1)

Optional: fresh fruit or a handful of mixed nuts

Dinner

Pan-seared Salmon with Soba Noodles

4-5 ounces of salmon, pan-seared with ginger and garlic

½ cup whole wheat soba noodles

1 cup sauteed bok choy

½ cup shredded carrots

1 Tbsp sesame oil

1 medium apple

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

The Mediterranean diet is a diet pattern that follows the traditional diets in the Mediterranean region

It first gained recognition due to the exceptional health of the Mediterranean population and has grown in popularity over the past 50-70 years because of its positive health benefits.

Basics

The Mediterranean diet has been studied extensively and is recognized as one of the best diets for heart health.

Because differences in diet patterns exist between countries in the Mediterranean region, the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid, published by Oldways, is often used as the reference point for the diet. 

The Mediterranean diet pattern is also outlined in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Mediterranean diet basics:

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains daily
  • Add seafood on a weekly basis
  • Focus on unsaturated fats from nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados
  • Choose low-fat dairy, but not every day
  • Limit meats including poultry and eggs to a weekly basis
  • Avoid added sugars and highly processed foods
  • Avoid red meat and processed meats
Mediterranean Diet Basics.

Mediterranean Diet Pros and Cons

The Mediterranean diet has multiple advantages and a few disadvantages to consider before adopting it as a diet to follow.

Pros

  • Research-backed benefits
  • Free to get started
  • Nutrient-dense
  • Doesn’t require calorie counting
  • Doesn’t eliminate entire food groups

Cons

  • May be time-consuming
  • Requires cooking and meal-prep skills
  • May be more expensive than some other diets

Sample Day of Eating

Below is a sample day of eating on the Mediterranean diet. Note that calories vary from person to person and portion sizes should be adjusted based on individual needs.

Breakfast

Oatmeal and Fruit

½ cup oatmeal cooked with non-dairy milk (like soy milk or pea milk)

1 Tbsp almond butter

1 banana, sliced

1.5 tsp cinnamon

Lunch

Hummus and Veggie Wrap

¼ cup garlic hummus

1 whole wheat tortilla

Add tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce or mixed greens, sprouts, roasted red peppers, and any other vegetables you like

2 clementines

Dinner

Halibut with Rice and Veggie Skewers

4-5 ounces of grilled halibut

½ cup brown rice

2-3 grilled veggie skewers (vegetables of your choice and seasoned with olive oil and herbs)

DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet for Heart Health 

Both the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are known to have heart-health benefits.

Research shows that the DASH diet can improve blood pressure in those with hypertension, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

Additionally, lowering blood pressure can reduce the risk of stroke and kidney disease.

The DASH diet is high in many essential nutrients known to benefit heart health including fiber and potassium.

It’s also low in sodium, saturated fat, and added sugar – nutrients that should be avoided in excess to promote a healthy heart.

A review published in 2019, found that the DASH diet was associated with a decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease in diet followers with and without diabetes (2). 

In a separate study where participants were followed for 13 years, those who ate a diet that was the most like the DASH diet had a decreased incidence of heart failure (3). 

Multiple other studies have shown an association between the DASH diet and improved heart health outcomes. 

Similarly, the Mediterranean diet is associated with a decrease in heart disease risk. 

One study found that participants who ate a Mediterranean diet, supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil and/or mixed nuts, had a lower incidence of major cardiovascular events than those who did not follow the diet (4).

The Mediterranean diet has also shown to be associated with improvements in endothelial function in followers who have existing coronary heart disease (5).

DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet for Weight Loss

Neither the DASH diet nor the Mediterranean diet are marketed as weight loss diets.

However, because of their emphasis on foods associated with weight management, the diets may benefit weight loss efforts. 

Importantly, neither the DASH diet nor the Mediterranean diet promotes calorie counting or measuring foods.

If choosing to follow either diet to promote weight loss, you should become aware of total calorie intake to ensure a caloric deficit. 

Additionally, both diets emphasize a mix of nutrient-dense foods, some of which are also calorie-dense. For example, good sources of unsaturated fats like avocado, nuts, and oils are calorie-dense foods. 

This could make it easy to eat more calories than you realize, hindering your effort to remain in a caloric deficit.

Both the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet recommend avoiding added sugars and highly processed foods which is beneficial for long-term weight management (6). 

The diets also promote an increased intake of high-fiber foods which can play a role in satiety and weight management (7).

The DASH diet allows for greater intakes of certain protein sources such as poultry, seafood, and dairy products which may contribute to greater overall intakes of dietary protein. 

Protein contributes to satiety at meals and is an important nutrient for weight loss and weight management (8).

However, because the Mediterranean diet encourages seafood as well as other plant-based protein sources, it’s unlikely that following the diet will result in inadequate protein intakes overall.

Ultimately, the best diet to follow for weight loss is one that you can stick with long-term. This could mean following the DASH diet, the Mediterranean diet, or some combination of the two.

Which is Healthier: DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet?

When it comes to the healthiest diet, both the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are amongst the healthiest diets you can follow. The similarities of the diets are difficult to ignore.

Both Diets:

  • Encourage eating a diet rich in produce
  • Emphasize whole grains
  • Emphasize unsaturated fats from nuts, oils, seeds, and fatty fish
  • Limit red and processed meats in favor of alternative protein sources like poultry or fish
  • Discourage added sugar and highly processed foods

The DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet both offer significant health benefits when followed as intended.

Ultimately, the healthiest diet for you is one that meets your individual nutrient needs while also being enjoyable and sustainable long-term. 

If you find that it’s difficult to follow one diet or the other, then you may consider combining the two into what’s known as the Mediterranean DASH diet (or the MIND diet). 

This combination allows for more flexibility as you build a diet that includes principles of both the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet. 

The Bottom Line

When comparing the DASH diet vs Mediterranean diet, it’s important to consider individual needs as well as the research that supports both diets. 

You can feel confident choosing either of these diets as both are well-studied, nutrient-dense diets that promote long-term health. 

Are you looking for a heart healthy meal plan that is easy to follow? Grab my free 1 week Mediterranean meal plan here.

You can learn more about both diets and other strategies to promote heart health by enrolling in our 3 months nutrition coaching program. In this VIP program you will work closely with a dietitian to crush the overwhelm you feel about heart healthy diet, and feel confident about eating to optimize your heart health!

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