Mediterranean and Dash Diet: Health Benefits & Sample Menus
Learn the proven benefits and recommended foods of two popular diets, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH diet.
Starting a new diet is one of the best things you can do for your health - but it’s also one of the most overwhelming.
There’s hundreds of eating plans out there. But not all are sustainable, widely-researched, or safe.
Here’s where the Mediterranean and Dash diets help. Endless studies show both diets reduce the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Mediterranean and and DASH diets come highly rated. Year after year, a panel of nutrition and diet experts have ranked the Mediterranean and Dash diets best in terms of weight loss, safety, and other health outcomes.
Most importantly, they’re easy to follow. This is a good thing because it means you’re more likely to stick with it long-term.
If you’re looking to switch to the Mediterranean or DASH diet, use these food lists, recommendations, and eating plans to get started.
Mediterranean vs DASH Diet
Below, I’ve broken down the details, recommended foods, and health benefits of the Mediterranean and Dash diets. You’ll see there’s a ton of similarities. Broadly, both diets are high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in processed foods and added sugars.
Mediterranean diet overview
The Mediterranean diet is based on the traditional way of eating in countries along the Mediterranean Sea. Healthline summarizes the Mediterranean diet’s general guidelines like this:
“Although there are no strict rules or regulations for the diet, it typically encourages fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and heart-healthy fats. Processed foods, added sugar, and refined grains should be restricted.”
Generally, anti-inflammatory foods are a key focus of the Mediterranean diet, reports The Harvard Medical School. Think: salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, cherries, and olive oil.
So, it tracks that research suggests the Mediterranean diet reduces inflammation and regulates blood sugar levels. More specifically, following the diet is linked with weight loss, healthy aging, and better heart health.
One paper published in the Diabetes Spectrum reviews the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. And its findings are consistent with earlier studies: the Mediterranean diet improves blood sugar levels and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.
“The proposed mechanisms for this reduced CVD risk include that this eating pattern decreases oxidative stress and inflammation,” write researchers.
The Nutrients journal reports that the diet also improves insulin resistance. If you have PCOS, chances are you've heard the Mediterranean diet is one of the best choices around.
To get started with the Mediterranean diet, food blog The Mediterranean Dish recommends:
- Eating these foods every day: leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, vegetables, fruits
- Eating these foods weekly: lean proteins from poultry, fish, and eggs
- Reducing these foods: red meats and sweets
Use extra virgin olive oil liberally, and eliminate processed foods and added sugars.
Check out this complete Mediterranean diet food list and PDF.
To give you an idea of what you might be eating, here’s a sample one-day Mediterranean diet meal plan:
- Breakfast: Greek yogurt with with berries, chia seeds, and walnuts
- Lunch: Chicken grain bowls with olives, cucumbers, red onion, and avocado
- Supper: Roasted chicken with root vegetables
For a deeper dive, check out the best books on the Mediterranean diet.
- The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook: 500 Vibrant, Kitchen-Tested Recipes for Living and Eating Well Every Day
- The Mediterranean Diet for Beginners: The Complete Guide - 40 Delicious Recipes, 7-Day Diet Meal Plan, and 10 Tips for Success
- The 30-Minute Mediterranean Diet Cookbook: 101 Easy, Flavorful Recipes for Lifelong Health
DASH diet overview
Known as the DASH diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension was created in the 1990s to reduce high blood pressure.
“The DASH diet was developed specifically to help people lower high blood pressure and is promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which is part of the National Institutes of Health,” reports Everyday Health.
Harvard Medical School cites it as one of the healthiest eating patterns:
“It includes foods low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol, and lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Protein is supplied by low-fat dairy, fish, poultry, and nuts. Red meat, sweets, and sugary drinks are limited. DASH is high in fiber, potassium, calcium, and magnesium and low in sodium.”
Similarly to the Mediterranean diet, DASH has an anti-inflammatory effect. Registered dietitian Julia Zumpano speaks about why the diet is so effective at fighting inflammation in this Cleveland Clinic article.
“This diet has been shown to reduce inflammation, probably because it reduces blood pressure and promotes weight loss.”
Here are recommendations for DASH diet servings.
The following is a sample DASH diet meal plan for one day:
- Breakfast: oatmeal, banana, and bagel
- Lunch: chicken breast sandwich
- Supper: spaghetti, spinach salad, and canned pears
Differences between Mediterranean and DASH diet
While they share a lot in common, the Mediterranean and the Dash diet differ in some ways.
The DASH diet allows more dairy and doesn’t place as much emphasis on fish and olive oil, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Chrissy Carroll, registered dietitian, writes in VeryWellFit that DASH has a greater focus on protein and comes with a sodium limit.
Dietitian Anne Mathews said the DASH diet was specifically created to reduce blood pressure. As such, it’s fairly prescriptive to make sure you get enough calcium, potassium, and mag. The diet is also low in saturated and trans fats, all the goal of keeping blood pressure in check.
Conversely, the Mediterranean diet doesn’t provide strict rules for what you can and can’t eat.
“(The DASH diet) guidelines come with day to day recommendations of how from each food group, where the Mediterranean diet is more a dietary pattern where you’re more free to choose different foods from different food groups, but they have a very similar base.”
The Mediterranean diet also inches ahead when it comes to to simplicity, writes Carroll:
“Like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet can be feasible to follow for life. However, it does require more planning to meet specific food group servings and sodium restrictions, which may prove challenging for those who aren't highly motivated.”
If most diets fail because we struggle to follow them long-term, the Mediterranean diet might be an ideal option due its flexibility and ease.
Combining the Mediterranean and DASH Diets
As you can see both diets have similar foundations. They emphasize fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting processed foods, sodium, and sugars.
And new research suggests combining these two eating patterns can improve your health significantly.
The Mediterranean DASH diet
In the Mediterranean DASH Diet Cookbook, Gellman writes about the health benefits associated with a Mediterranean DASH diet:
- Blood pressure
- Heart health
- Diabetes prevention
- Weight loss
- Gut health
Gellman outlines the staples of the Mediterranean DASH diet. You can add these ingredients when preparing your Mediterranean and DASH diet shopping list.
Whole grains and starches
Aim for four to six servings, recommends Gellman.
- Brown rice
- Sweet potatoes
Fruits and vegetables
Gelman’s advice is to consume four to five servings.
Animal and plant proteins
Gellman recommends six ounces per day.
- Lean beef
- Lean poultry
Fats and oils
Aim for two to three teaspoons of fats and oils daily.
- Avocado oil
- Olive oil
Try to consume two to three servings of dairy.
- Plain yogurt
- Cottage cheese
Limit processed foods, added sugar, and sodium. Read the food label and look for labels that say low-sodium or no salt added.
Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay
Studies show even combining these diets is beneficial for brain health.
Researchers have developed the MIND diet to slow cognitive decline. The diet encourages eating berries, olive oil, quinoa, fish, chicken, and salads.
The MIND diet discourages fried food, sweets, cheese, butter, and margarine.
An example of a MIND meal plan:
- Breakfast: Oatmeal topped with blueberries and walnuts
- Lunch: Pasta salad with spinach, tomato, and chickpea
- Supper: Chicken breast with quinoa and kale
Sticking to a Mediterranean DASH diet
Both diets are easy to follow, highly recommended by experts, and rich in nutrient-dense food.
To get started with the Mediterranean or DASH diet, researchers recommend adopting small changes, like adding a fruit or vegetable to each meal and having at least one meatless main meal per week. Always check in with your medical health professional before starting a new eating plan.