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DASH Diet vs. Mediterranean Diet: Which one is best for you?

    • May 17, 2024
    • Eat Well
    • 5 minute read
  • Laura O'Hara MS, RD/LD

If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or are interested in eating healthier, then you may have heard of the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or the Mediterranean diet. While both diets have great benefits to heart health, it can be confusing to tell the difference and decide which one may be the right fit for your nutrition goals.

Continue reading to learn the important differences between the two diets and find a heart healthy recipe to try this month. 

What is the DASH diet?

Stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” and was first introduced in 1997 to target high blood pressure. The DASH diet focuses on adding key heart healthy nutrients to your diet (like potassium, magnesium, calcium) and limits the amount of added sugar and sodium (salt) you are eating. This diet has a more structured eating plan than the Mediterranean diet as it recommends daily recommended servings for each food group. 

DASH diet recommendations include: 

  • Eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, beans, and nuts
  • Limiting saturated fats found in full-fat dairy, fatty meats (like chicken thighs and pork sausage), coconut and palm oil
  • Reducing how much alcohol you consume.
  • Limiting foods and drinks that have a lot of added sugars (think candies and soda).
Dash diet daily guidelines include eating: 
  • Fruit (4-5 servings)
  • Vegetables (4-6 servings)
  • Grains (6-8 servings)
  • Lean meats, poultry, 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)

What is the Mediterranean diet? 

The Mediterranean diet started to become popular in the 1950s and emphasizes whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. This diet focuses on overall health and balanced eating. The Mediterranean diet offers more flexibility in what types of foods you can eat than the DASH diet and promotes moderation. Some adults find this more enjoyable and easier to stick to. This diet has been found to decrease blood cholesterol levels and lower heart disease risks due to Mediterranean foods being high in heart-healthy fats and the diet’s focus on eating more fiber-rich foods found in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Recommendations for the Mediterranean diet include: 

  • Eat more fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, whole grains, olive oil, turkey, chicken, moderate amounts of fish and low-fat dairy products.
  • Eat less foods with saturated fats like red meats, butter, whole milk dairy products, processed foods. Processed food are items like potato chips, breads, microwave ready meals and canned soups.
  • Take a moderation approach to alcohol, sweets, and sugary beverages.

What are the key differences between the DASH and Mediterranean diets? 

  • The DASH diet was created by the U.S. government with the goal of reducing blood pressure levels, while the Mediterranean diet was promoted and researched with the goal of understanding how Mediterranean foods and meals can promote overall health and wellness.
  • The DASH diet emphasizes the importance of potassium, magnesium, and calcium, while the Mediterranean diet focuses on consuming more fiber.
  • The DASH diet emphasizes eating less salt, while the Mediterranean diet does not mention salt.
  • The DASH diet recommends avoiding alcohol, sweets and sugary beverages altogether while the Mediterranean diet allows for moderate consumption of alcohol, sweets and sugary beverages.

How to decide if the DASH or Mediterranean diet is best for you

Neither the DASH diet nor the Mediterranean diet is superior to the other as they both encourage healthy foods for better heart and overall health.

Both diets emphasize an increase in plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, plant-based proteins such as nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Both diets also recommend a decrease in high saturated fat foods such as red meats, whole milk dairy products, processed foods, and butter.

Some of the things you should consider when choosing either diet are:

  • Which diet includes food I know how to prepare?
  • Do I already have high blood pressure and/or consume a lot of sodium?
  • Is my goal primarily to decrease sodium intake with either processed foods or limiting adding table salt to meals?
  • Which diet is easier for me to maintain in the long run?
  • What type of changes can I afford right now? Example: Should I try limiting added sugar by buying less desserts and/or soda? Can afford fruits and vegetables each week?

If you are unsure where to start with beginning a healthier diet, begin with small sustainable changes such as eating more fruits and veggies throughout your week, or limiting soda, sweet tea and desserts if you have them often. Following just a few of the strategies of either the DASH or Mediterranean diet will help your heart.

If you have high blood pressure it is also important to focus on limiting your salt intake by eating more fresh foods and by choosing “low sodium” or “no sodium added” products. Look for food labels that say one serving has less than 460 mg of sodium (or 20% DV (daily value). You can also try seasoning your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt. Aim to keep your sodium intake at about 1,500 mg/day on average and try to not exceed the daily recommended allowance of 2,300 mg/day.

Remember you can always talk to your ArchWell Health provider about healthy eating. Your primary care provider can discuss different diets and ways to add heart healthy foods to your nutrition plan.

Heart Healthy Recipe: Kale Apple Slaw

A cold salad made from chopped raw veggies that can make a perfect side dish this summer or be made into a meal by adding lean proteins and complex carbohydrates (ex: chicken, fish, quinoa, brown rice). This is a tasty way to eat the rainbow and involves inexpensive ingredients with no cooking involved, and packs loads of heart-healthy fiber! This dish will meet your vegetable needs for the DASH and Mediterranean diet.

Slaw ingredients:

  • 4 cups shredded kale: packed with flavonoids that help manage heart disease. Be sure to remove the stems and wash/dry before shredding.
  • 1 cup red cabbage: contains anthocyanins to lower blood pressure. Easily shred by using a cheese grater.
  • ½ medium red onion: also provides anthocyanins to lower blood pressure.
  • 1 medium carrot grated – rich in vitamins A, C, E and polyphenols to aid in heart health. Use the cheese grater to shred here, too!
  • 1 apple cut into thin slices – red or green, apple gives this salad some crunch and extra fiber!
  • 1/3 cup unsalted pumpkin or sunflower seeds: full of heart-healthy unsaturated fats.
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries: provides a nice color contrast while adding antioxidants, additional fiber, and nutrients.

Dressing ingredients:

  • ½ cup Greek yogurt: used instead of mayonnaise to boost protein content
  • 1 tbsp olive oil: a staple in both the Mediterranean and DASH diet
  • 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup to give some sweetness
  • 1 ½ tsp Dijon mustard: mustard seed can lower blood pressure while providing a delicious flavor!
  • ½ lemon juiced: citrus fruit is a tasty way to add flavor instead of adding salt, and softens kale to make it easier to chew

One serving contains:

  • 8 g protein
  • 7 g fiber
  • An abundance of calcium, potassium, and magnesium to manage blood pressure
  • Low sodium to further lower blood pressure

Instructions: Prepare vegetables and dressing and mix well in a bowl. Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Recipe By Veronica Rouse, MAN, RD, CDE

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About the Author

Laura O'Hara MS, RD/LD, Nutrition Education Program Manager

Laura was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and landed in Oklahoma City after graduating college at Oklahoma State University (go pokes!) She obtained a master's degree in nutrition, and officially became a Registered Dietitian in 2019. Since then, Laura has worked with people of all ages and all conditions, from neonates to seniors. Laura says, "My passion for the senior population grew immensely when I heard of and learned about ArchWell Health and their value-based care model, and I quickly realized the growing need for and importance of nutrition education in this specific population."

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