DASH diet and Mediterranean diet are both well-studied eating patterns and have evidence to support their benefits on cardiometabolic wellness, including improvements in weight, blood pressure and blood sugar, as well as reduction of cardiac events and certain chronic diseases.
We are going to look at the similarities and differences between these eating patterns to help you decide if one may be better for your specific situation.
As a quick note, you will see throughout the article that the term ‘eating pattern’ is frequently used in place of the word ‘diet’.
The reason for this is to distinguish that these plans are not rigid plans that you must follow to a ‘T’ to see health benefits but instead are general healthy eating guidelines that you can incorporate into your routine and lifestyle, as you desire.
What is the DASH diet?
The DASH diet stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The DASH diet focuses on nutrient rich foods high in calcium, potassium and magnesium. It also tends to be lower in sodium and fat and higher in fiber and carbohydrate.
The foods that are emphasized include fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, nuts, poultry and fish. Processed foods, red meat, added sugars and high-fat items are limited.
The basics of the DASH diet include a general daily intake of the following1:
- 6-13 servings of whole grains such as oatmeal, quinoa & high fiber bread (1 serving = 1 oz.)
- 3-6 servings of vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli, carrots & cabbage (1 serving = ½ cup cooked or 1 cup leafy vegetables)
- 4-6 servings of fruit such as orange, strawberries & apples (1 serving = ½ cup fruit or 1 medium fruit)
- 2-4 servings of low-fat dairy, such as milk, yogurt & cheese (1 serving = 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 oz. cheese)
- 1-3 servings of lean meat, poultry or fish, such as chicken, salmon & lean beef (1 serving = 3 oz)
- 3/week – 1/day of nuts, seeds or legumes, such as walnuts, black beans & flax seed (1 serving = ⅓ cup of nuts, 2 tbsp of nut butter or seeds or ½ cup of beans or peas)
- 2-3 servings of fat, such as oil & salad dressing (1 serving = 1 tsp oil or 1 tbsp of dressing)
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Mediterranean diet is an eating pattern based upon the traditional dietary patterns of a group of individuals living in Mediterranean countries that was noted to be associated with lower cardiovascular related disease risk and death.
A hallmark of the Mediterranean diet includes consuming adequate olive oil and other healthy fat sources that are great sources of health promoting monounsaturated fat. This seems to be a major part of the health benefits associated with this eating pattern.
Other items emphasized include plenty of fruits, root vegetables, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fish, plenty of spices and herbs and allows red wine in moderation (no more than 1-2 glasses per day, depending on individual).
Similarly to the DASH diet, a Mediterranean diet, promotes limiting sweets, added sugars, processed foods and excessive dairy or meat.
Another great part of the Mediterranean diet is the emphasis on non-nutrition related factors, such as increasing daily physical activity, shopping locally and cooking from fresh ingredients and enjoying meals with others, when able.
The basics of the Mediterranean diet include general intake of the following1:
- Include some of these items as a base for all meals: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, herbs & spices
- Include at least twice per week: fish & seafood
- Include moderate portions daily to weekly: poultry, eggs, cheese & yogurt
- Include less often: processed foods, meat, sweets & added sugars
Differences between DASH and Mediterranean diets
Even though there is a lot of overlap between these eating patterns, there are a few notable differences.
- The DASH Diet has a more regimented structure, with a daily checklist of specific food groups and amounts to be eaten daily. The Mediterranean diet is more flexible and allows you to follow general guidelines that are less restrictive.
- Sodium Content
- DASH is lower in sodium, which may be helpful for some individuals who are salt sensitive or retaining fluids.
- The Mediterranean diet does not restrict sodium. It may have less sodium than the typical diet due to cooking whole foods from scratch and limiting processed foods.
- Fat Content
- The DASH diet is considered a low fat diet. The Mediterranean diet is a higher fat diet. Fat tends to be more filling and satisfying, which can be beneficial when trying to lose weight.
- Carbohydrate Content
- The DASH tends to be a higher carbohydrate diet. A Mediterranean diet can be adapted to a higher or lower carbohydrate diet, depending upon your individual food preferences and needs.
- Potassium & Magnesium
- The DASH diet specifically focuses on getting more potassium and magnesium through nutrient dense food choices, which both have some very cardiometabolic protective benefits.
- Other Lifestyle Factors
- The Mediterranean diet also includes recommendations for non-nutrition lifestyle components such as decreasing social isolation by eating with others, being more physically active throughout the day and shopping locally and preparing fresh foods, when able.
Everyone is different; some people prefer the DASH diet and others prefer the Mediterranean diet. Personally, I like the Mediterranean diet better because I find it more flexible and it promotes an all-encompassing lifestyle program without being overly strict.
Both of these eating patterns have positive aspects and can be beneficial for cardiometabolic wellness. The choice you should make will depend on your preferences, lifestyle and personality.
These eating patterns can be flexible and easily modified to make it your own. Some people follow a combination of the DASH and Mediterranean diet. One such combo is the MIND diet, which has been shown to provide protection of brain health.
You can make each of these dietary patterns fit your lifestyle. Some people choose to follow a lower carbohydrate version and others choose more of a plant-based version to meet their specific health needs and nutrition preferences.
Also of note is that these eating patterns are meant to be a way of life instead of a quick fix. Therefore, they should be followed long term to reap maximum benefits.
Of course, you don’t have to follow either eating pattern all of the time. You can take principles of each eating pattern and incorporate them into your lifestyle more often to make them your own. Any improvement in your diet is going to be beneficial for your health.
Remember, it’s about progress, not perfection!
If you would like to determine your cardiometabolic risk level, please download my free guide. There are also meal planning tips included. If you want to have more support, join my wellness program to get started on improving your health.
1 Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process (L.K. Mahan, S. Escott-Stump & J.L. Raymond). 13th Ed.