A Day on DASH

This heart-healthy eating plan is easy to follow and helps more than just your heart


Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you’re smart to choose foods that are proven to improve heart health.

The DASH diet was designed by experts to help curb high blood pressure. It emphasizes the foods you can eat—like plenty of fruits and vegetables, grains, lean protein, and healthy fats—not the foods you should cut out.

DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been shown to lower systolic blood pressure (the upper number) by about 12 points and diastolic pressure (the lower number) by about six points.

The eating plan also brings down total cholesterol levels by about 7 percent. Even better, studies show DASH can help people lose weight and improve their overall health, while also reducing their risk of diabetes and depression.

Here’s how to build your meals and snacks using the DASH plan. (Daily goals are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.)

  1. Start with fruits and vegetables. They’re loaded with heart-healthy fiber and minerals like potassium and magnesium that help bring down blood pressure by lessening the effects of sodium and easing tension in blood vessel walls. Make a point of including at least one in every meal and snack.
    Daily goal: Four to five servings of each.
  2. Choose a variety of grains, preferably whole grains. Major sources of much-needed fiber are versatile, filling, and help keep your energy levels up. Try whole grains like oatmeal, brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, and quinoa.
    Daily goal: Six to eight servings.
  3. Eat (or drink) low-fat dairy. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are among the best sources of calcium, which helps the body manage blood pressure. They’re also an excellent source of protein.
    Daily goal: Two to three servings.
  4. Fill up with small amounts of lean protein. Fish, poultry, lean meats, and eggs are high in magnesium and protein, which have been shown to help lower systolic blood pressure.
    Daily goal: Six servings or less.
  5. Get modest amounts of healthy fats. Choose heart-healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and legumes. When enjoyed in moderation, healthy fats can help lower bad cholesterol levels.
    Daily goal: About 27 percent of your calories can come from fats (including what’s added to food or used for cooking); that’s about two to three servings of things like cooking oil, mayonnaise, and salad dressing. Aim for four to five servings a week of nuts, seeds, and legumes.
  6. Limit salt and sweets. The DASH plan allows for 2,300 mg of sodium a day, but to lower your blood pressure even further, a 1,500 mg limit is the sweet spot. Speaking of sweets, you can have them, but choose desserts with little or no added sugar.
    Weekly goal: Five servings or less.