Interested in knowing the differences between a DASH diet vs. a Mediterranean diet? Both can offer the same types of heart and cardiovascular health benefits. But they both have their own unique differentiations as well!
This article will discuss the differences between a DASH diet vs. Mediterranean diet, their benefits, and how to decide which would be better for you!
Dietary patterns are the combinations of different foods, drinks, and the frequency with that they are consumed (1).
They are useful tools that can help in promoting high-quality diets. Dietary patterns help with understanding how to obtain better health and reduce the risk of disease.
It has been found that dietary patterns can reduce the risk of major diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease (2).
DASH stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension”.
First introduced in 1997 by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the DASH diet was implemented to promote healthier diets that can lead to blood pressure reduction.
- Increased intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Increased intake of fat-free foods, low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts.
- Limitation of foods high in saturated fat such as full-fat dairy products, fatty meats, and coconut and palm oil.
- Limitation of foods and beverages high in sugar.
The DASH Diet was developed through clinical trials and experimental studies by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in hopes of creating a new, innovative dietary plan for the public.
Since its release, it has been ranked as one of the best diets by various organizations for its easy-to-follow plan and ease and application to everyday life.
DASH Diet Research
The DASH Diet was studied and extensively researched by the NHLBI. It resulted in two key studies.
The first study focused on participants following two healthy diet plans – one that included more fruits and vegetables, and the DASH Diet eating plan.
The results were dramatic, showing that the DASH Diet had the greatest effect in lowering blood pressure as much as some medications on the market (5).
The second study assigned participants one of the eating plans from the first study and specific sodium intakes.
The results significantly showed that the DASH Diet once again had the greatest effect in decreasing high blood pressure. Regardless of sodium level intake (3).
Their studies found that blood pressure could be significantly reduced with an eating plan. This diet emphasized the consumption of fruits, vegetables, and unsaturated fats while avoiding foods high in saturated fat (3).
While the DASH diet promotes the consumption of various food groups that are known to have positive health benefits, there are three important minerals that are emphasized for their role in blood pressure reduction.
These include potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
Potassium does the opposite of sodium in the body, which is why potassium-rich foods can reduce blood pressure levels substantially.
Dietary potassium may play a key role in decreasing vascular smooth-muscle contraction and promoting the relaxation of blood vessels (6).
Thus, it can be understood why foods rich in potassium are often incorporated into diets that promote blood pressure reduction such as the DASH Diet.
Magnesium-rich foods are also an important part of the success of the DASH Diet.
Research on how this nutrient reduces blood pressure levels remains limited. However, studies have seen a correlation between magnesium-rich food consumption and antihypertensive activity due to its role in contracting smooth muscles like blood vessels (7).
Foods rich in calcium levels have been shown to help with blood pressure level reduction when consumed.
It has been seen that calcium-rich foods can reduce hypertension and promote blood pressure level regulation through vasoconstriction of the blood vessels (6).
The DASH Diet is a food plan that helps you plan out and reach your daily nutritional needs, while can also help to prevent the risk of hypertension and chronic diseases.
Because we need to consume foods to absorb these nutrients, it is important to understand what types of foods the DASH Diet includes, as well as servings per day and how they can contribute to your nutritional needs.
Foods To Include More Often
- Fruit (4-5 servings)
- Vegetables (4-6 servings)
- Grains (6-8 servings)
- Lean meats and lean protein, poultry, or fish (6 or less servings)
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products (2-3 servings)
- Healthy fats and oils (2-3 servings)
- Sodium (up to 2,300 mg per day)
The DASH Diet emphasizes consuming whole foods rich in potassium, magnesium calcium, and fiber. Here are some foods that are rich in these important nutrients that can help you get started on following a DASH Diet:
- Dried or fresh fruits (apples, apricots, grapes, oranges, grapefruit, melons, peaches, strawberries)
- Vegetables (broccoli, carrots, green beans, peas, potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, kale)
Foods To Have Less Often
The DASH Diet encourages the elimination of the following foods (3):
- High saturated fats
- Fatty meats
- Full-fat dairy products
- Sweets and sweetened foods and beverages
- Foods high in sodium
The DASH Diet can offer many health benefits and promote better health in the long run.
Initially created to help lower blood pressure levels, the DASH Diet can also promote overall health in many ways.
Lowers Blood Pressure
The DASH Diet has been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure levels through research studies (3).
The DASH Diet places emphasis on consuming certain foods, mainly healthy carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
These healthy carbohydrates are high in fiber and starch, which have been shown to help with hypertension as they can promote blood vessel relaxation, reduce strain, and lower cholesterol levels (9).
The consumption of certain “good” fats can also help prevent inflammation and blood vessel strain (8). In addition, these “good” fats can also promote blood vessel and muscle relaxation, which is essential in blood pressure regulation (8).
The DASH Diet has been shown to help with weight management and weight loss (8).
It can work in many ways to promote weight management because it limits unhealthy foods that would lead to weight gain and promotion of foods that would help with weight loss and a healthier system.
The DASH Diet emphasizes the consumption of many foods that are low in added sugar and can provide carbohydrates for daily nutritional needs (8). This lower intake of sugar can reduce the risk of diabetes while improving insulin sensitivity.
The emphasis on consuming these healthy carbohydrates is one of the most distinctive aspects of the DASH Diet and its present success in the dieting world.
The DASH Diet can aid in preventing many diseases that the body is vulnerable to. These diseases can include heart disease, stroke, various types of cancer, and detrimental effects on the brain and immune system.
The promotion of consuming “healthy” carbohydrates, proteins, and fats with the avoidance of their “unhealthy” counterparts can promote overall disease prevention.
The Mediterranean Diet is considered one of the oldest diets in the world, originating from countries along the Mediterranean Sea such as Italy, Greece, Spain, Morocco, and France.
In the 1950s, American scientist Ancel Keys observed that the habitants in small towns in Southern Italy were much healthier than wealthy citizens in New York (10).
It was observed their diets were lower in saturated fat and high in vegetable oils (11), a later important characteristic that presently makes up the present Mediterranean Diet.
He later found that the Mediterranean Diet presented a lower rate of blood cholesterol levels and lowered cardiovascular disease risks (11).
It was concluded that this was due to its high emphasis on olive oil, legumes, pasta, vegetables, and other plant/vegetable-origin foods while minimizing foods of red meat and animal origins (11).
Presently, it has been adopted by modern-day society as being one of the best diet plans today as it is not only easy and accessible but it is also known as a flexitarian diet and can significantly help in reducing chronic disease risk.
Mediterranean Diet Research
In addition, there are studies that suggest a reduction in other chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and neurogenerative disease with the Mediterranean Diet (13).
One of the most significant and well-consulted scientific literature studies regarding the benefits of the Mediterranean Diet is the PREDIMED intervention (Prevención con DietaMediterránea).
PREDIMED was a large study conducted by the official Spanish agency for scientific research aimed at assessing the relationship between the Mediterranean Diet and cardiovascular disease.
The results were conclusive with PREDIMED strongly supporting the idea of consuming a traditional Mediterranean Diet as a healthy dietary pattern in preventing cardiovascular disease and promoting overall health (14).
The Mediterranean Diet not only has rich historic ties to the Mediterranean region, but it also has strong, modern-day scientific evidence to back up its potential health benefits.
The Mediterranean Diet has its own unique nutritional characteristics which work to promote cardiovascular risk prevention and overall health.
Here are a few of the distinct features that make the Mediterranean Diet a special dietary plan that is considered one of the healthiest diets to follow.
The Mediterranean Diet is special in that it still encourages the consumption of foods with fat, as opposed to most modern-day health diets which emphasize the avoidance of these foods.
Fats are essential for normal bodily function. They provide energy, support cells, and immune function, and help the body absorb vitamins and produce important hormones.
It is considered a higher fat diet, making up 35% to 40% of your daily caloric intake (17).
But the type of fat is important.
The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes the consumption of low-saturated and unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, fatty fish, and avocado.
High-saturated fats like butter or the marbling meat have been shown through studies to be detrimental to health as they are essentially more difficult to break down and as a result may stay unabsorbed in the body for extended periods of time. This can lead to many cardiovascular-related diseases (18).
The Mediterranean Diet promotes the consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein foods which have a high amount of fiber present within their contents.
The fiber content is shown through countless studies to reduce chronic disease risk, particularly cardiovascular and heart diseases.
Fiber essentially relaxes the blood vessels while also protecting them from strain, thus preventing high blood pressure (9).
Soluble fiber can also remove bile which helps lower cholesterol levels too.
The Mediterranean Diet is a unique food plan that can not only provide all daily nutrients essential to maintain good. What types of food does the Mediterranean Diet include?
Foods To Include More Often
The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes increased consumption of:
- Fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and nuts
- Whole grains
- Olive oil
- A moderate amount of poultry and white meats
- A moderate amount of fish
- A moderate amount of dairy products
Foods To Have Less Often
The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes a limited consumption of :
- Red meats
- Sweets and sugary beverages
- Processed foods
The Mediterranean Diet can offer a number of health benefits due to its unique structure in dietary plans and patterning.
Here are some of the key health benefits that the Mediterranean Diet can provide for you.
Through countless studies and observations, the Mediterranean Diet has been found to promote a decreased risk of heart disease.
Due to its high content in plant-based foods rich in fiber and other important nutrients essential in combatting cardiovascular disease, the Mediterranean Diet can significantly improve heart and blood health.
In addition, the Mediterranean Diet promotes the consumption of “good” fats as opposed to “bad” fats, which are often more difficult to break down and stay unabsorbed in the body.
These two aspects of the Mediterranean Diet work together to decrease the risk of heart disease while promoting overall health.
Stroke is caused when the blood circulation to the brain fails and usually happens when something such as a blood clot causes a blockage in the brain’s blood supply or a blood vessel in the brain bursts.
This is most commonly induced by high blood pressure and cardiovascular issues (20).
Essentially, stroke can be attributed to the build-up of plaque in the blood vessels, which narrows them and causes increased blood pressure as well as an increased risk of clot formation (21).
Due to its unique dietary structure, the foods consumed from the Mediterranean Diet can work together to decrease blood pressure levels as well as promote heart and body health.
The Mediterranean Diet has also been shown to help improve the regulation of sugar levels and reduce the risk of diabetes as well.
Its unique combination of foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-saturated and unsaturated fats have been proposed to be beneficial to health (22).
The greater emphasis on fiber consumption in the Mediterranean Diet can be attributed to blood sugar regulation and weight management, which are all important in preventing diabetes (23).
The fiber can work to regulate blood sugar levels by slowing absorption and regulating consumption, as well as improving insulin sensitivity, leading to a decrease in blood sugar levels (24).
The Mediterranean Diet can not only help with cardiovascular health, but it can also help with blood sugar maintenance and diabetes prevention.
The Mediterranean Diet has been studied to have a role in helping prevent certain types of cancer in individuals.
Due to its dietary plan characterized by a high consumption of fruits, vegetables, and low-saturated and unsaturated fats, it has been shown that the Mediterranean Diet can reduce risk of cancer development due to its protective nutritional properties (25).
There was a suggestive association between Mediterranean dietary eating patterns and an increased intake of protective hormones and phytochemicals that are known to help reduce cancer risk and protect the cells from damage and deterioration (25).
The Mediterranean Diet also emphasizes the limitation of consuming red meats and foods high in high-saturated fats, which has been found to potentially induce damage to the cell thus causing cancer and other chronic health problems (26).
As a result, the unique structure of the Mediterranean Diet can help promote overall health and reduce risk of cancer.
The Mediterranean Diet can help aid in weight management in that it can not only regulate food absorption and nutrient levels, but it can also promote a limitation on consuming certain foods that would more easily induce unhealthy weight gain (27).
Weight management can be made easier with the Mediterranean Diet as it helps plan out what are the best foods to be consumed to maximize nutritional content needs while limiting the foods that should not be consumed.
The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to help prevent a reduction in cognitive performance which can often come from factors such as increased age.
It has been found in a study that older adults with increased adherence to the Mediterranean Diet had higher cognitive scores and decreased cognitive decline (28).
The nutritional content present in the Mediterranean Diet can have protective properties that can decrease the decline in brain and cognitive function.
With its unique dietary structure, the Mediterranean Diet can help prevent the risk of neurodegenerative diseases, reduce cognitive declination, and protect brain activity.
The Mediterranean Diet features a combination of plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and “healthier” types of fat.
The emphasis on plant-based food consumption can lead to a stronger immune system, as the plant-chemicals present in these foods can act as prebiotics and help strengthen gut microbiota (29).
As a result, the Mediterranean Diet’s high amount of plant-based foods can help improve immune health and strengthen the body’s defense system.
Has the Mediterranean Diet sparked your interest? Check out some more helpful articles and recipes on the Mediterranean Diet here!
Comparison Video Tutorial Summary
Comparison of Mediterranean vs DASH Diet
Both the DASH Diet and Mediterranean Diet are uniquely formulated dietary plans that have been comprehensively studied to provide numerous health benefits.
Both can provide the same types and amounts of health benefits; hence it is important to highlight the key differences between the DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet so that you can decide which is the best for you.
Similarities Between DASH and Mediterranean Diet
The key similarities between the DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet are that both:
- Promote intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds.
- Promote intake of low-fat meats, low-fat dairy products, poultry, and fish.
- Promote intake of low-saturated and unsaturated fats.
- Promote decreased intake high-saturated fats, red meats, and processed foods.
In addition to their similarities in diet structure, their common health benefits can include:
- Lower risk of cardiovascular and heart diseases
- Lower risk of developing diabetes
- Lower risk of developing cancer
- Weight management properties
- Overall health promotion and chronic disease prevention
Difference Between DASH and Mediterranean Diet
The key differences between the DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet are:
- The DASH Diet was created in the 1990s by the U.S. government with the goal of reducing pressure levels. While the Mediterranean Diet was promoted and researched in the 1950s with the goal of understanding how Mediterranean cuisine can promote overall health wellness.
- The Mediterranean Diet has historic origins to the Mediterranean region and is based on Mediterranean cuisine. While the DASH Diet was only recently formulated and based on scientific literature and research.
- The DASH Diet emphasizes the lowering of sodium intake, while the Mediterranean Diet does not mention sodium content amounts.
- The DASH Diet emphasizes the consumption of foods high in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, while the Mediterranean Diet broadly emphasizes the consumption of foods high in fiber.
- The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes an allowed moderate consumption of sweets and alcohol, while the DASH Diet recommends avoiding these foods altogether.
The DASH Diet is newer and more based on nutritional and health research. It is generally more structured and less flexible with the goal of reducing blood pressure levels and promoting better cardiovascular health.
It is important to choose which diet would work best for you. Take into consideration your individual preferences, lifestyle factors, accessibility, and personal health goals.
|The DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet Key Differences|
|Difference||The DASH Diet||The Mediterranean Diet|
|Origin||Based on health trials and studies||Based on Mediterranean cuisine|
|Goal||Reduce blood pressure||Promote overall health and cardiovascular function|
|Nutrients||Key emphasis on potassium, magnesium and calcium||Key emphasis on overall fiber-rich foods|
|Sodium||Up to 2,300 mg||Does not specify limit|
|Limitations||Limitation of high saturated fats, sweets, sodium, and alcohol||Emphasizes moderation over complete limitation|
Tips To Start Eating Plant Forward Way
Unsure of how to jump into a more plant-based diet? Here are some ways that can help you transition into a more plant-forward dietary plan):
- Look for easy and enticing vegetarian recipes to try and experiment with
- Be consistent in planning – plan out your plant-based grocery list in advance
- Include whole grains and fruit in your breakfast
- Try to eat lots of vegetables – fill your plate with a wide range of different plants for a colorful array
- Incorporate your favorite plant-based ingredients and flavors to your dishes for a personalized touch
- Get creative with what constitutes as a “protein.” There are many plant-based protein options you can try to add into your diet
- Think about animal protein as a side dish rather than as a main dish/ingredient
- Build a meal around a salad – use salad greens as your centerpiece and build a meal nutritious meal around it
- Try going “meatless” for once a week, and begin to add more days when you feel ready
- Eat fruits for dessert
- Experiment with popular plant-based protein alternatives such as tofu
- Consider using plant-rich meal kits
Looking for some plant-based recipe inspo? Here are some ideas!
Then starting any new dietary or lifestyle change plan, remember that it’s important to start slow and not rush the process of trial and commitment.
Consistency will always lead to significant changes and results, and these results rarely ever come immediately.
The MIND diet
The MIND Diet is a unique hybrid between the DASH Diet and the Mediterranean Diet.
MIND stands for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay.
The MIND Diet uniquely emphasizes the sample principles as both the DASH Diet and Mediterranean Diet in its food plans and nutritional content.
However, the MIND Diet specifically puts more emphasis on helping and strengthening neurocognitive health (30).
While the MIND Diet is deviated from both the Mediterranean and DASH Diet; there are a few key differences that distinguish the MIND Diet as its own unique food plan.
All three diets emphasize the consumption of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and meats, fish, and whole grains.
However, the differences with the MIND Diet include:
- The MIND Diet is more specific in what fruits should be consumed and generally limits this category to certain types such as berries.
- The MIND Diet is more specific in what vegetables are more prioritized to be consumed such as spinach and kale.
- The MIND Diet specifically recommends the consumption of green, leafy vegetables plus one other vegetable every day rather than a general guideline of consuming as many fruits and vegetables as you can in a day.
- The MIND Diet recommends a limitation of cheese and butter rather than a general guideline of moderating all dairy consumption.
- The MIND Diet puts emphasis on eliminating all foods that are known to have unhealthy effects on the brain such as red and processed meats, high-saturated foods and fats, and sweets.
Generally, the structure of the MIND Diet is more rigid in what is to be consumed with the goal of decreasing the risk of neurodegeneration and improving overall brain health.
As a result, food planning can be more limited with the MIND Diet. Additionally, its health benefits are more catered towards the idea of improving neurocognitive function.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is Healthier: DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet?
The DASH Diet is generally believed to be the “healthier” diet over the Mediterranean Diet. Though, the DASH Diet and Mediterranean Diet are both very similar and can offer the same types of health benefits.
The DASH Diet is more targeted specifically towards those who are looking to decrease their blood pressure levels.
The Mediterranean Diet is more broadly targeted toward those who are looking to improve overall health, particularly with cardiovascular and heart health.
As a result, the DASH Diet is generally stricter in what can be consumed, while the Mediterranean is more flexible and prioritizes moderation as opposed to complete elimination.
The DASH Diet would be theoretically considered “healthier” as it omits the most amount of “unhealthy” foods from the diet.
A stricter diet may work well for some, while others may prefer a more flexible diet that allows them to eat healthier while also keeping in mind to consume certain foods in moderation.
Is DASH diet and the Mediterranean the same?
No, the DASH Diet and Mediterranean Diet are not the same. They are two different dietary plans with their own unique features.
The DASH Diet was formulated in the 1990s with the goal of helping individuals reduce their blood pressure levels.
The Mediterranean Diet was researched and crafted in the 1950s based on classic Mediterranean cuisine and was found to improve overall health, particularly with the cardiovascular system.
With the goal of reducing blood pressure levels, the DASH Diet is stricter and more rigidly structured in its food plans, while the Mediterranean Diet tends to be more flexible and encourages the idea of moderation and the enjoyment of all foods.
The diet that is best is for you depends entirely on your personal preferences, goals, and current lifestyle.
Which is better for high blood pressure the DASH diet or the Mediterranean diet?
The DASH Diet is better than the Mediterranean Diet for reducing high blood pressure effectively.
The DASH Diet was specifically created in order to help the public with reducing blood pressure. Hence its unique structure is very effective at helping reduce blood pressure.
With its carefully formulated structure, the DASH Diet is one of the most well-researched and highly praised diets that is known to reduce blood pressure levels.
The Mediterranean Diet is a close second as well but is more known for promoting overall bodily and cardiovascular health rather than focus specifically on blood pressure regulation.
What is the difference between the Mediterranean diet and the DASH Diet?
The difference between the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet is the DASH Diet was created with the intention of helping individuals reduce and regulate blood pressure levels.
The Mediterranean Diet is based on classic Mediterranean cuisine and is more holistic in that it can promote overall health.
If you have health goals specifically related to blood pressure regulation and reduction with a more structured and dietary food plan, the DASH Diet may be a better choice for you.
If you have health goals related to broadly improving overall health and cardiovascular function with a more flexible dietary food plan, the Mediterranean Diet may be a better choice for you.
Is the Mediterranean diet good for high blood pressure?
Yes, the Mediterranean Diet can be good for reducing high blood pressure as well as improving overall health as well.
With a high emphasis on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats and proteins, the Mediterranean Diet brings these food types to work together as one to improve health and cardiovascular function, which can promote blood pressure regulation.
There are many key differentiations between the DASH Diet vs Mediterranean Diet even though both are popular diets.
Both however overall work to promote a healthy lifestyle and cardiovascular function with their unique dietary structure and food planning mechanisms.
The DASH Diet and Mediterranean Diet have both been extensively researched, studied and formulated to provide the same types of numerous health benefits.
Many factors are important to consider when choosing a diet, such as one’s own personal preferences, current health and lifestyle, goals, past and current dietary patterns, accessibility, and healthcare professional consultation.
Regardless of what diet you feel suits your needs, it is equally important to also remember that patience and consistency is key, and that trial and error is always part of the process of incorporating healthy changes to your lifestyle.
This article was written by Cindy Nguyen, Nutrition Student, and medically reviewed by Veronica Rouse, MAN, RD, CDE.