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Mediterranean vs. DASH Diet: Similarities & Differences

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a plate is divided into two parts_one with dash-diet meal example, another with mediterranean meal example_mediterranean dash diet
Jonathan Valdez post Reviewer Jonathan Valdez post Reviewer
Verified by Jonathan Valdez
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified Dietitian/Nutritionist in NYC, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

Table of Contents

The Mediterranean and DASH diets are evidence-based diets recommended by health professionals like registered dietitian nutritionists for heart health. 

These dietary patterns are often implemented to reduce the risk or prevalence of cardiovascular disease, including hypertension or high blood pressure. In this article, we will cover the difference between the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet, their similarities, and use cases. 

Mediterranean Diet: Rules and Benefits

The Mediterranean diet is a popular eating pattern that originated in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. 

The exact nutrient composition of the Mediterranean diet can vary greatly, especially when comparing the diets of each country surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. [1]

It is important to differentiate that the Mediterranean “diet” is more of a dietary lifestyle than an actual dietary regimen because these changes are not restrictive or short-term, nor does the diet encourage the elimination of other foods. 

The Mediterranean diet can be classified as a dietary lifestyle pattern because it focuses on specific foods over others. For the purposes of this article, we will continue to use the term “diet” to describe the Mediterranean eating pattern.

Mediterranean Diet Principles

While the exact nutritional profile of the Mediterranean diet can vary in terms of the actual number of servings of each food group per day or week, there are some common principles we can discuss here. 

Individuals following a Mediterranean diet often emphasize consuming 

  • Fruits and veggies
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Bread and potatoes
  • Wine with meals in moderation
  • Olive oil as the primary fat source (instead of tropical oils, such as palm kernel oil) [2]

Additionally, the Mediterranean involves a lower consumption of processed foods. The diet contains some animal sources of protein, such as low-fat dairy, eggs, poultry, and fish.

Therefore, no foods need to be completely eliminated. However, there is an emphasis on plant-based foods over animal sources. 

mediterranean diet daily servings of fish, fruits, vegetables, meat, wine, sweets, dairy, etc_mediterranean dash diet

*serving size:

Fruits and vegetables – 4 to 6 ounces / 100 to 170g.

Meat and fish – 3 ounces / appx. 85g.

Oil – 1 teaspoon.

Whole grains – 0,5 ounces / 15g.

Legumes (cooked) – 4 ounces / appx. 115g.

Proven Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

While the primary benefit of the Mediterranean diet seems to revolve around heart health, there are other potential health benefits as well. 

According to a meta-analysis published in the journal Nutrients in 2021, research supports the beneficial effect of the Mediterranean diet on the prevention or management of the following non-communicable age-associated diseases [3]:

  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Neurodegenerative diseases
  • Bone fractures
  • And more

Additionally, since the Mediterranean diet is primarily plant-based, it may also have environmental benefits on sustainability. A review describes how the Mediterranean diet and other plant-based diets are more environmentally friendly and sustainable. [4]

Dash Diet Rules and Benefits

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the DASH eating plan, also known as the DASH diet, stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop hypertension. [5]

It was created by the part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), known as the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The NIH is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. 

Hypertension is another term to mean high blood pressure. Therefore, the main facets of the DASH diet include decreased sodium consumption. 

Sodium can contribute to increased blood pressure, or hypertension, over time. But how does that happen? 

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), when you consume too much salt, your body holds onto water in the blood to compensate for the increased amount of sodium present. [6] 

This water retention increases the blood volume, which can put stress and pressure on the blood vessel walls, which eventually causes them to stiffen. Stiffer blood vessels make the heart work harder to maintain normal blood flow, which can increase the risk for cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and stroke. 

In other words, elevated blood pressure levels can increase your risk for heart attack or stroke. Therefore, the main goal of the DASH diet is to lower blood pressure levels.

DASH Diet Principles

Per the NIH, the DASH diet focuses on increased consumption of the following foods and food groups: 

  • Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy, meats, fish, and poultry instead of fatty meats and full-fat dairy products
  • Incorporating vegetable oils and nuts instead of tropical oils

The DASH diet also includes limiting beverages that are sweetened with sugar (such as soda beverages, juices, and lemonades) and desserts.

dash diet daily servings of fish, fruits, vegetables, meat, sweets, dairy, etc_mediterranean dash diet

Proven Benefits of the DASH Diet

In addition to lowering blood pressure and reducing hypertension, the DASH diet also aims to reduce blood cholesterol levels. More specifically, the DASH diet hopes to reduce LDL cholesterol levels, which are low-density lipoproteins or “bad” cholesterol. 

However, more research needs to be done to examine further benefits of the DASH diet beyond heart health. 

Mediterranean Diet vs. DASH Diet: How They Compare

Besides the very similar over-arching guidelines and both eating plans utilizing the word “diet” in colloquial and formal language, the DASH diet has more specific recommendations for daily and weekly nutrient intake when compared to the Mediterranean diet, which does not have specific guidelines.

For instance, according to the NIH, an individual following the DASH diet would consume four to five servings of nuts and seeds each week. The DASH diet also recommends consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily. However, they emphasize that consuming no more than 1,500 milligrams lowers blood pressure even further and therefore is better for heart health. 

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Additionally, while both diets are meant to improve heart health, the DASH diet targets blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Neither diet has any specific foods that must be included, making them easier to incorporate into anyone’s dietary plan.

Also, both diets are well-balanced and follow the recommendations outlined in the United States Department of Agriculture or USDA’s 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. [7]

Let’s summarize this information. 

Similarities Between Mediterranean Diet and DASH Diet

  • Well-balanced diets with an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
  • Do not eliminate or include specific foods and, therefore, can be customized to preferences and goals.
  • Designed to improve heart health (DASH) or have the same effects but without intention (Mediterranean).

Differences Between Mediterranean Diet and DASH Diet

Mediterranean DietDASH Diet 
Intended to improve overall heart health.Specifically intended to improve blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels, such as LDL cholesterol. 
Limited processed foods.Limited fatty meats, sugary desserts and beverages, and high-sodium foods.
Primarily plant-based.Not specifically plant-based.
General guidelines for eating that do not include specific serving goals.Specific guidelines for daily and weekly food consumption, including daily servings of meat, veggies, fruits, and dairy.
May also benefit the prevention or management of cancer, depression, orthopedic injuries, and more.Primarily benefits heart health (blood pressure and cholesterol). More research needs to be done on other benefits. 

DASH vs. Mediterranean Diet: What to Choose for Health and Weight Loss

While neither the Mediterranean diet nor the DASH diet is designed or intended for weight loss, following either of these eating plans may aid in weight loss and the improvement of overall health. 

Both diets focus on including more nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and healthy fat sources, such as nuts, seeds, or olive oil. These foods are more filling, satisfying, and nutritious than foods high in saturated fat, sugar, and salt and low in nutrients.

Since the Mediterranean diet focuses on plant-based foods instead of animal products, it typically contains less saturated fat, calories, cholesterol, and more. 

In an article published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, researchers explain that plant-based diets are an effective and sustainable way to aid in the promotion of weight loss, especially when compared to a low-carbohydrate diet. [8]

If you are hoping for a more structured eating plan for weight loss, the DASH diet may be more beneficial because it outlines servings per day or week of different food groups.

However, the Mediterranean diet may be better for those who want a set of general guidelines on which food groups to increase in their diet. 

If you are struggling to lose or maintain your weight, consider speaking with a registered dietitian nutritionist for individualized health advice. They can offer many easy tips to improve your nutrition and health. Additionally, a weight-loss app can aid in providing guidance, support, and accountability during your weight-loss journey. 

Final Words

Let’s summarize some key takeaways from this article. 

  • The Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet both have an emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils.
  • The Mediterranean diet is based on the diets of countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. In contrast, the DASH diet was created by an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health (specifically the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). 
  • The Mediterranean diet limits processed foods, while the DASH diet reduces the consumption of fatty meats, sugary desserts and beverages, and high-sodium foods.
  • While the Mediterranean diet supports overall heart health, the DASH diet targets blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to aid in the prevention, treatment, or management of other age-related non-communicable chronic disease states, such as depression, respiratory disease, cancer, and more. 
  • Though intended to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, these diets may also help with weight loss or weight management because of the focus on healthy foods that are filling, nutritious, and satisfying as opposed to foods that are high in fat, sodium, and sugar and low in nutrition.
  • The Mediterranean diet may be more beneficial to those looking for an unstructured eating plan. In contrast, the DASH diet provides specific guidelines for serving size consumption of different food groups daily and weekly. 
  • Both are healthy and beneficial diets that help support long-term and sustainable improvement in overall health, cardiovascular health, and weight loss. 

As always, speaking with a registered dietitian nutritionist can aid in weight loss or weight management and making healthy choices for heart health, including lowering blood pressure and reducing your risk for cardiovascular disease. 

Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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