When it comes to diets which are considered to be healthy by experts, it is no surprise that two of the top contenders are balanced, nutritious diets containing a healthy variety of foods from all the food groups. Whilst numerous fad diets may be successful ways to lose weight, when it comes to overall health, the Mediterranean diet and Dash have been shown to have the best results. However, is one of these diets healthier than the other or is either a great choice for good health?
What is the Mediterranean diet?
The Med diet is based on the traditional way of eating for countries on the Mediterranean coast, the people from many of which have been shown to have longer lifespans and less incidence of lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. High in heart healthy fats from olive oil and fish, it also involves a high intake of fruit, vegetables and nuts and often includes an attractive low to moderate intake of red wine. The diet is low in saturated fats and is based mainly on whole foods, avoiding the majority of processed foods.
The key components of the diet include eating mainly plant based foods, whole grains, legumes and nuts, consuming healthy fats rather than trans of saturated fats by replacing foods such as butter with olive oil and using herbs and spices to flavor food rather than salt. Red meat should be eaten only a few times a month with fish and poultry the main proteins sources. There is also a strong emphasis on being physically active and sharing food and mealtimes.
What is the DASH diet?
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, or DASH, was first created by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute as the ideal eating plan to lower the blood pressure. It is not designed specifically for weight loss, however, due to the healthy nature of the diet this is often a side effect. There are two versions of the diet, one which limits sodium intake to 2,300 mg/day and for those with certain conditions, a version limiting sodium to 1500mg/day.
The diet focuses on portion control, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, lowering fat intake, with a specific focus on including healthy monounsaturated fats, and limiting intake of sweets and alcohol.
What are the key differences?
Whilst the two diets share many common features such as their focus on a high intake of fruit and vegetables, fish, and whole grains and a low intake of salt, there are also some key differences. The DASH diet tends to take a more prescriptive approach, giving more specific guidelines as to serve sizes and nutrients such as sodium. The Med diet is a more relaxed lifestyle type diet, giving recommendations for intake rather than specific guidelines for nutrients, which may suit some people. The Med diet is also less strict when it comes to alcohol consumption and encourages less meat consumption and more a higher intake of healthy fats than the DASH diet.
Both diets are designed for overall health and wellbeing, rather than simply as a weight loss solution and offer a wide variety of whole foods, whilst steering clear of processed foods.
Which diet is healthier?
A ranking of the best overall diets carried out by a team of experts at U.S. News and World Report saw the DASH diet come at number one with a score of 4.1 out of 5. The ranking system took into account the effectiveness of each of the 29 reviewed diets in categories including nutritional completeness, safety, ease with which it could be followed, long and short term weight loss, heart disease prevention and diabetes prevention and management.
In the same ranking system, the Mediterranean diet came in at number four with a score of 3.9 out of 5. Although it was the top plant based diet and received positive reviews from the majority of experts, the higher fat levels may mean that this diet is not quite so efficient for weight loss than the DASH diet.
Although this diet evaluation saw the DASH diet come out on top in terms of health, there is no doubt that both diets represent a healthy and varied way of eating that can have numerous health benefits. With the majority of Americans eating a large quantity of fast and processed foods as part of a diet high in unhealthy saturated fats, sugar, salt and calories, a change to either of these diets is likely to bring about an improvement in health.
When choosing a diet for health benefits, people should not only consider the expert opinion on the health benefits of a diet, but also take into account which of the diets fits in better with their personal way of eating and will be easiest to follow for them. A diet which involves fewer changes in eating habits and is easier to adapt to is more likely to become a long term way of eating. Cost may also be factored into the equation and should be considered when choosing an appropriate diet.