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DASH vs. the Mediterranean Diet: Heart-Healthy, But Very Different

The DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet have similar cardiovascular, immunity and weight loss benefits. However, there are major key differences between the two regimens — DASH is inherently low-fat, whereas the Mediterranean diet greatly values healthy fats, such as olive oil. Both are considered to be healthy, but both are good for different things.

Jordan Hill, RD, of Top Nutrition Coaching tells Woman’s World that although DASH is low fat, and Mediterranean is high in unsaturated fat, both aim to boost cardiovascular health: “The DASH diet and Mediterranean diet have different messaging around fat but are essentially aiming for the same outcome,” Hill explains.

The DASH diet focuses on low-fat options, emphasizing a goal of lowering saturated and trans fat intake while the Mediterranean diet promotes healthy fat intake by encouraging an increased intake of unsaturated fats. Whether we increase unsaturated fats and/or decrease saturated and trans fat, the likely outcome is improved heart health.

Jordan Hill
Mother and daughter cooking healthy food in the kitchen
One of the most important things about adhering to the DASH and Mediterranean diet is preparing food in advance.Getty

Comparing the DASH Diet and Mediterranean Diet

DASH DietMediterranean Diet
Permitted FoodsFruits, vegetables, whole grains, low- or no-fat dairy, lean meats, heart-healthy fats/oilsVegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, extra virgin olive oil, lean meats, natural cheese and yogurt, tofu, small amounts of red wine
Restricted FoodsHigh salt foods, processed meats, red meat, full-fat dairy, refined sugarsProcessed foods, processed red meats, butter, refined oils, refined carbohydrates, refined sugars, excessive amounts of alcohol
Short-Term EffectivenessStarts lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol within two weeks; can lose about a pound per weekStudies show it improves mood and cognition; improves sleep and reduces inflammation; dieters can lose weight quickly depending on caloric restriction
Long-Term EffectivenessCan help lower BMI, stave off cancer, and can reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, gout (mostly in men), kidney disease and heart diseaseParticipants can lose up to 8.7% of body weight in 12 months; can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and increase lifespan
How It Makes Dieters FeelDASH can help boost your energy and prevent depressionThe Mediterranean diet often makes people feel more full than usual; it may also boost cognition and memory
Side EffectsDieters have reported side effects of bloating and gas with increased amounts of fiber Possible weight gain from more olive oil and nuts; low iron levels; possible calcium loss
Calorie Restrictions2,000 per day (or less)None
Cost/AvailabilityAbout $5,722 per year, according to Science DirectAbout $4,056 per year, as per News-Medical
Cheat DaysInfrequent cheat days are fineCheat days are allowed

The DASH Diet Was Designed to Lower Blood Pressure

Woman checks heart rate while sitting on an exercise ball
The DASH diet is designed to help lower blood pressure, though it comes with a slew of health benefits.Getty

DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a low-fat diet that was created by the National Institute of Health’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHBLI) in 1997. It eliminates processed meat, red meat, high-fat dairy, saturated fat, sodium and refined sugars. It allows for fruits and vegetables, seeds, legumes, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean proteins — along with occasional cheat meals.

DASH Also Comes With Many Other Benefits

In addition to relieving hypertension, there are significant benefits of the DASH diet, including weight loss (up to two pounds per week) and lowered cholesterol levels. In the long-term, many have also reported lower BMI levels; a reduced risk of cardiovascular issues, cancer, metabolic syndrome, and kidney disease; as well as gout relief.

Day-To-Day, Many Report Feeling Energized

Smiling woman goes out for a power walk
Although the DASH diet has dieters eating less, many report feeling energized because of the nutrient-dense foods it permits.Getty

Although dieters are instructed to consume fewer calories on DASH, followers of the diet have reported boosted energy and mood. This is likely from including more fiber in their day-to-day eating, which tends to make people feel more satiated and therefore, more emotionally stable.

Kim Schewitz of Business Insider explained in a week-long review of DASH that although she may not continue doing the diet long-term, she will continue eating this way in the mornings because of how it made her feel.

“The breakfasts I ate kept me feeling full until lunch and gave me a base level of energy that boosted my mood and helped me manage my morning anxiety better,” she writes. “This is definitely something I will continue doing.”

Adding a Lot of Fiber to Your Diet at Once Can Cause Bloating and Indigestion

People who aren’t accustomed to eating as much fiber as DASH calls for may experience tummy troubles. Harvard’s review of the DASH diet recommends adding high-fiber foods in small increments, instead of all at once, to avoid any issues.

Some people may experience gas and bloating when starting the diet due to the high fiber content of plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. This can be minimized by adding one or two new high fiber foods a week instead of all at once.

Harvard Nutrition Source

The Mediterranean Diet Takes Inspiration from Greece, Italy, France and Spain

Meat and vegetable skewers on a grill
Meat and vegetable skewers on a grillGetty

In the 1950s, American scientist Ancel Keys described the Mediterranean diet as a means of curing cardiovascular issues which he connected to the American diet. It takes inspiration from dietary customs from countries along the Mediterranean Sea, emphasizing the importance of healthy fats like olive oil, and eliminating processed foods, refined sugars and carbohydrates, and red meat.

The Mediterranean Diet Is Popular Among Dietitians

Because of its lack of restrictions and many health benefits, dietitians like Stacy Antine, MS, RDN, of HealthBarn USA tend to lean towards the Mediterranean diet over many others: “I recommend following a balanced, healthful eating pattern more similar to the Mediterranean diet, which incorporates lean meats, fish, nuts, legumes, whole grains, healthy fats, plus fruits and vegetables,” she tells Woman’s World.

This inclusive, moderate approach to healthful eating allows you to enjoy all different types of food, while staying healthy. Once you establish this eating plan, then, it’s a matter of reducing the serving sizes of each meal to get to a goal weight.

Stacy Antine

The Mediterranean Diet Comes With Both Physical and Mental Health Benefits

Woman adds olive oil to avocado mixture
Adding healthy fats like olive oil can go a long way.Getty

In addition to helping with weight loss and lowering BMI, the Mediterranean diet may also help prevent cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and other major chronic health issues. It’s also been linked to lowering the risk of depression, while improving both mood and cognition.

There Are Few Risks of the Mediterranean Diet

There are some — albeit few — health risks to adhering to the Mediterranean diet. Depending on one’s approach, dieters can gain weight from indulging on the allotted nuts and olive oil. Penn Medicine also warns in a breakdown of the diet that some have experienced lower iron and calcium levels.

Both Diets Are Also Somewhat Costly

Woman pays for groceries at checkout
Groceries may be more expensive while adhering to the DASH or Mediterranean diets.Getty

Like any diet, DASH and the Mediterranean diets tend to be more costly than the average American diet. A grocery haul filled with fresh produce, whole grains, and lean cuts of meat inherently costs more than a haul of processed foods and refined carbohydrates.

This can be combatted by opting for seasonal produce, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, cheaper proteins such as eggs and tinned fish. And olive oil, one of the centerpieces of the diet, is one of the most counterfeited foods in the world, and substituted with unhealthy or even dangerous low-grade oils, making the real thing even more expensive.

The DASH and Mediterranean Diet Are Both Widely Approved by Doctors

The DASH and Mediterranean diets are both relatively uncontroversial, especially in the diet world. While most wouldn’t adhere to the DASH diet without high blood pressure, it’s an overall non-restrictive and nutrient-heavy diet that results in weight loss, and other health benefits.

The Mediterranean diet is another that has high approval ratings — in addition to preventing chronic health issues later in life, it can also help with weight loss, and even mental health conditions like depression and dementia.

Recent research between gut biome health and physical and mental health makes both diets even more appealing, as they’re high in the plants and fiber that are critical parts of hut-healthy eating.

Can the DASH diet help with weight loss?

The DASH diet wasn’t initially designed to help with weight loss — it was designed to help with high blood pressure. However, dieters often report weight loss of up to two pounds per week.

Is the DASH diet difficult to follow?

Although the DASH diet may be stricter than what the average American is used to, it isn’t highly restrictive and is relatively easy to follow. Preparing food in advance, however,will help — DASH requires a few extra steps in meal planning, since packaged snacks and fast food aren’t an option on the diet.

Is the Mediterranean diet a weight loss diet?

The Mediterranean diet is designed to be more of a healthy lifestyle than a diet. However, those who adhere to it often report weight loss.

Are there risks of the Mediterranean diet?

There aren’t many risks to the Mediterranean diet. Since it cuts out red meat and limits dairy, some have reported iron and calcium deficiencies. And those who indulge too much on the olive oil and nuts may experience weight gain.

Why is the Mediterranean diet so popular?

The Mediterranean diet gained popularity in the 1950s after scientist Ancel Keys realized the correlation between diet and heart health. Since, it’s been a highly approved diet for its lack of restrictions and wide range of health benefits.

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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