What Goes Into a Healthy Diet?

When panels of experts come together to try to make sense of all of the fad diets consumers have to choose from and decide which ones are the “best,” it’s the Mediterranean and DASH diets that tend to trade off the top spot. 

Ever wonder what’s so special about these two? Why are these prized above keto, paleo and other more widely known ways of eating in the U.S.? 

Let’s take a look at their similarities and differences and what makes them so healthy. Both of them have been around for decades, so many variants of them have sprung up, including at least one merged “Med-DASH” diet. We will stick to the essence of each way of eating as much as possible. 

Common Ground: 

  • Both plans emphasize higher consumption of plant foods like vegetables, fruits, nuts and whole grains. Moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry, fish and healthy fats also are included. Red and processed meats and sugar are eaten least frequently. 
  • They advocate the use of whole, minimally processed foods and preparing meals at home. 
  • They encourage physical activity, without prescribing which exercises to do or how long to do them.
  • Both have been linked to success in losing weight, lowering blood pressure and inflammation, and reducing risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and cancer. 

Forks in the Road:

  • The Mediterranean diet came out of a study of eating patterns from different parts of the world and is presented as a “lifestyle” change with less emphasis on prescribing specific foods or amounts at each meal. 
  • DASH is an acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and was initially developed to lower blood pressure without the use of drugs. It has two versions based on the amount of sodium consumed per day —2,300 milligrams or 1,500 milligrams. 
  • The Mediterranean diet includes more servings of meat, poultry and seafood during the week than DASH, which is closer to a vegetarian diet. 
  • Mediterranean diet plans often include consumption of red wine, while DASH plans tend to endorse limited or no alcohol use.