DASH to Heart Health

No, it's not meant to make you run faster – but it may help your heart. It's the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan. It follows the basics of a healthful diet. But, it emphasizes foods that may help lower blood pressure, which can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke with results sometimes seen within a few weeks. These foods contain certain minerals – such as potassium, magnesium, calcium – as well as protein and fiber.

Along with other healthful lifestyle changes, the DASH eating plan can help you:

  • Control blood pressure. High blood pressure makes your heart work too hard and increases your risk of heart disease. Lowering blood pressure can help reduce that risk.
  • Lower LDL – "bad" – cholesterol. DASH helps you cut back on saturated fat and cholesterol. This also can help decrease the risk of heart disease.
  • Shed pounds. Following a low-calorie version of DASH may help you lose weight. This may lower blood pressure and further reduce heart disease risk.

What is DASH?

Here's how it works: The DASH plan calls for a certain number of daily servings from a variety of food groups. It also eliminates most fats and oils, sweets, and added sugars. And, it limits sodium to 2,300 milligrams or less a day. Limiting sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day may help reduce blood pressure even more. This is especially important if you have high blood pressure or you're at risk of it.

Check out this chart, which shows how many servings from each food group you should aim to eat every day. And, it gives some real-life examples of serving sizes:

Food group Servings* Example of one serving
Grains Six to eight a day One slice of bread. 1/2 cup cooked rice.
Fruits and vegetables Four to five of each a day One cup of raw, leafy vegetables. 1/2 cup of cut-up raw or cooked vegetables. One medium piece of fruit
Fat-free or low-fat milk and dairy products Two to three a day One cup of milk or yogurt
Lean meats, poultry and fish Six or fewer a day One ounce of cooked meat
Fats and oils Two to three a day One teaspoon of vegetable oil or soft margarine
Nuts, seeds and legumes Four to five a week Two tablespoons of peanut butter
Sweets and added sugar Five or fewer a week One tablespoon of jelly

* Based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Calorie needs vary depending on gender, age and level of physical activity.

Making DASH work for you

You can get started with DASH by making small, gradual changes. For example:

  • Add one serving of vegetables and one of fruit to a meal.
  • Replace a meal that includes meat with one that doesn't.
  • Switch to whole-grain products.
  • Exchange full-fat products for fat-free and low-fat options.

Want to learn more about putting the DASH plan to work for you? Talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian. He or she can also discuss other healthful lifestyle changes.

Tip: Get Less Sodium in Your Diet

A big part of the DASH eating plan is getting less sodium in your diet. These tips may help:

  • Choose low-, reduced- or no-sodium versions of foods. Products may be labeled no salt added.
  • Rinse canned food, such as beans, to remove some of the sodium.
  • Use herbs and spices instead of salt when cooking.
  • Remove the saltshaker from your table.