DASH Diet: Preventing Heart Attacks and Strokes

Get all the information you need to follow this dietary pattern proven to protect your cardiovascular health.


Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the U.S. The DASH eating plan (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) has been proven to help control two of the major cardiovascular disease risk factors—high blood pressure and high blood levels of LDL cholesterol. Whether you want to reverse high blood pressure and high LDL cholesterol, or prevent them, this article will provide the information you need to get started.

The Basics. The DASH diet requires no special foods or calorie counting. Instead, it provides general daily and weekly intake goals to ensure you get plenty of foods rich in certain beneficial nutrients (for instance, potassium, calcium, magnesium, fiber, and protein) and not a lot of saturated fat, sodium, or added sugars. (See The DASH Eating Plan for more information.) It is easy to tailor the specific foods you choose to your personal preferences and lifestyle.

The basic DASH diet is higher than the typical American diet in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products and lower in total fat, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol. Variations on this diet that are lower in sodium, replace some carbohydrates with (largely plant) protein, or replace some carbs with unsaturated fats have proven to be at least as effective, and often more so. The results of several landmark studies suggest specific actions we can take to follow a DASH-style diet proven to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease by lowering blood pressure and LDL cholesterol levels. See Research-Based Actions for the details of these studies, and what they mean for you.

Take Charge!

These tips will help you move toward protecting your cardiovascular health with the DASH diet.

  • Assess where you are now. Take time to consider how your current eating habits line up with the recommendations in The DASH Eating Plan box. If you want more guidance, try the What’s on Your Plate? worksheet available at nhlbi.hih.gov/health-topics/dash-eating-plan.
  • Change gradually. Pick one or two goals to work on at a time. For example: Replace a bit of your protein or carbohydrate with a serving of vegetables at lunch or dinner (or both); build breakfast around fruit (like fresh or frozen berries and yogurt, or a banana with nut butter) or choose fruit as a snack; commit to eating fish or seafood twice a week; swap a soda for seltzer with a splash of 100 percent fruit juice; try a new whole grain (like quinoa, barley, or farro) or choose whole grain pasta and brown rice.
  • Season it yourself. Start with plain fresh or frozen vegetables and lean proteins, and boost flavor with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, or salt-free seasoning blends.
  • Limit salty foods. Processed foods like crunchy snacks, frozen dinners, canned soups, and packaged mixes and restaurant options like pizza, burgers, and Chinese dishes are typically high in sodium. Preparing meals at home gives you more control over sodium, not to mention saturated fat and added sugars.
  • Read labels. Compare Nutrition Facts labels on processed/prepared foods (if you buy them) and choose those with the lowest sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat. You can also look for the words “low,” “reduced,” or “no” on the front.
  • Don’t worry. Remember that not every day or item needs to be perfect. If you fall short in one food group one day, get back on track the next day. Try your best to average the recommended servings and sodium level over the course of several days.


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