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Mediterranean and DASH Diets: Heart Healthiest

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

The Mediterranean and DASH Diets Top the List

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It's almost too good to be true – foods such as whole grain pasta, seafood, nuts, fruits, beans and olive oil are not only nutritious and delicious but about as healthy as it gets.

The DASH diet – Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension – was recently named the healthiest overall diet by US News and World Report. The diet became popular after a research study demonstrated that a diet rich in mostly plant foods could lower blood pressure. Following a DASH plan can lower blood pressure within two weeks and also can be an excellent weight loss plan.

Some experts consider the Mediterranean diet – rich in plant foods and monounsaturated fats like olive oil – to be the poster child for a heart healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with heart health, longevity and more benefits. Beyond that, it also can be an excellent weight loss plan, as long as you eat in moderation.

Following either a DASH or Mediterranean diet is an investment in good health. Both diets are used as examples in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines as a model for heart healthy eating.

"The Dash and Mediterranean diets provide similar recommendations with their strong base of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthier fats from oils and nuts" says Connie Diekman, M.Ed, RD, LD and author of The Everything Mediterranean Diet Book.

The DASH Diet Plan

The DASH diet eating plan lowers blood pressure, cholesterol and promotes weight loss when consumed in combination with physical activity.1

A key feature of the DASH diet is to limit sodium to 1500-2400 mg/day while enjoying more plantbased foods, and less poultry, fish, nuts and very small amounts of red meat, sweets and sweetened beverages.

Most DASH plans are based on the standard reference 2000 calorie diet, which includes the following servings:

  • 4-5 servings fruits
  • 4-5 servings vegetables
  • 2-3 servings low fat or non-fat dairy
  • 7-8 servings grains
  • 2 or less servings of lean meat, poultry or fish
  • 4-5 servings nuts, seeds, beans per week
  • 2-3 servings fats and oils
  • <5 servings of sweets per week

Eggs are not typically eaten on the DASH diet, but Columbia University's Wahida Karmally, DrPH, RD, CDE, says there is room at the table for them. "Eggs have lots of good nutrition, excellent protein, lutein, iron and low in saturated fat" she says. According to the AHA, an egg a day is OK for healthy adults.

The Mediterranean Diet Plan

There is no one Mediterranean diet, instead it is a dietary pattern of countries located around the Mediterranean Sea and is based on fresh, seasonal, less-processed and healthy foods. Generally, most diets emphasize a plant-based diet with moderate amounts of dairy (not necessarily low fat), a broader selection of protein sources, plenty of heart healthy fats and alcohol. Portion sizes and numbers of servings are not as specific as the DASH diet and instead they are provided in general terms.