Last year the Dash and Mediterranean diets were rated as two of the best diets for health and wellbeing by an expert panel from U.S. News & World Report. The highest scorer, The Dash diet, (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), endorsed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was designed to lower blood pressure and focuses on a low saturated fat and sodium approach. The Mediterranean diet scored slightly lower, but also promotes a low saturated fat eating plan. So what is the difference between these diets and is one really better than the other?
The Dash Diet
Originally designed for patients with high blood pressure this diet is based on a high intake of fruit and vegetables, low or non-fat dairy products, nuts, legumes and whole grains. This combination results in a high fibre, low fat diet, high in potassium, calcium and magnesium. Lean red meat, poultry and fish can also be eaten. The diet aims to provide 30% of daily calories from unsaturated fat sources such as olive oil and margarine. There are two versions of the Dash diet, one where up to 2300mg of sodium can be consumed each day (the American dietary guideline) and a reduced sodium version designed for those with hypertension or pre-hypertension, where only 1500mg can be consumed. The diet recommends an alcohol intake in line with the American guidelines of two or less standard drinks per day for men and one or less for women.
The Med Diet
The Med diet is based on the heart healthy eating style traditionally seen in countries on the Mediterranean coast such as Greece, Spain and Italy. It is also based on a high intake of fruit and vegetables, nuts, legumes and whole grains and is a high fibre, nutrient rich diet. Fish is the recommended source of protein, providing cardiac protective Omega 3 fatty acids. The eating style promotes a moderate to high intake of unsaturated fats, in particular olive oil, which provides antioxidants in addition to healthy fats. Low fat dairy products are eaten, but in moderation, and red wine is also promoted in moderated amounts. Saturated fat sources, including red meat are limited.
DASH Diet Vs Mediterranean diet – The similarities
As summarized above, both diets are based on a food intake high in fruit and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. The aim of both the Dash and Med diet, is not weight loss, although both have been used successfully as part of a weight loss program. Both diets also promote a long term change in eating style, rather than a fad or short term regime. Unsaturated fats are heavily promoted, whilst saturated fats, high sugar products and empty calories are discouraged. While the Dash diet has slightly more structure in terms of the number of serves of foods per day depending on caloric requirements, both diets are reasonably flexible and do not involve calorie counting.
DASH Diet Vs Mediterranean diet -The differences
Whilst the diets are based on the majority of the same concepts, there are a number of key differences in the recommended food intake of each plan. The Dash diet suggests a reduction in sodium intake, in line with the American guidelines, or even lower, depending on the version of the diet you are following. The Med diet however, offers no guidelines for salt, and although it is generally thought to be a low salt eating pattern, a number of common Mediterranean foods, such as olives, are high in salt. This suggests that this eating plan is likely to be higher in sodium than the Dash diet.
Although both diets advocate a low saturated fat intake and promote the use of vegetable oils, the high consumption of heart healthy olive oil featured in the Med diet means that overall this is probably a higher fat (and therefore possibly higher calorie) diet. It also means that the Med diet may be healthier for the heart due to the high level of cholesterol lowering unsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants found in olive oil.
Another main area of difference between the two diets is the level of red meat and dairy intake. Whilst the Dash diet sees followers consuming low fat or non fat diary daily, the Mediterranean diet recommends a more moderated approach. This may mean that calcium intake on the Med diet is less than that of the Dash. The Dash diet is also higher in red meat, which is limited in the Med diet and replaced with a greater intake of fish and seafood. In terms of nutrients, this adds to the likelihood that the Med diet is higher in Omega 3 fatty acids than the Dash.
The last significant difference between the two diets is red wine intake. While the Dash diet does not feature alcohol apart from suggesting normal American healthy guidelines should be followed, the Med diet actively promotes the intake of red wine for its heart healthy antioxidants. Although it does not encourage those who do not already drink to take up the habit.
Which diet is better for me?
When it comes down to it, these two diets are really very similar, and both are likely to improve health of individuals following them correctly. The Dash diet may be more suited to those with or at risk of high blood pressure, as sodium is restricted. Similarly if you are looking to lose weight, the Dash diet has a more controlled approach to energy intake and generally would have a lower fat intake due to a less lenient approach to olive oil consumption. However, the Mediterranean diet has also shown success as a weight loss diet in some people. The Med diet is also known to be rich in heart healthy unsaturated fats and Omega 3 fatty acids, as well as antioxidants, and therefore may be a wiser approach for those at risk of heat disease. Both diets however, are nutrient and vitamin rich, low in saturated fats, high in fibre and in conjunction with exercise will provide health benefits. To find out which of these diets is more suited to your particular nutrition requirements and goals, it is best to consult your health care professional.