Part of a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle

The DASH eating plan is just one key part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, and combining it with other lifestyle changes such as physical activity can help you control your blood pressure and LDL-cholesterol for life.

To help prevent and control high blood pressure:

  • Be physically active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Manage and cope with stress.

Other lifestyle changes can improve your overall health, such as:

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Get plenty of sleep.

To help make lifelong lifestyle changes, try making one change at a time and add another when you feel that you have successfully adopted the earlier changes. When you practice several healthy lifestyle habits, you are more likely to achieve and maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Controlling Daily Sodium and Calories

To benefit from the proven DASH eating plan, it is important to limit daily sodium levels to 2,300 mg, or 1,500 mg if desired, and to consume the appropriate amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight if needed.

Ways to Control Sodium Levels

The key to lowering your sodium intake is to make healthier food choices when you’re shopping, cooking, and eating out.

Tips For Lowering Sodium When Shopping, Cooking, And Eating Out



Eating Out

  • Read food labels, and choose items that are lower in sodium and salt, particularly for convenience foods and condiments.*
  • Choose fresh poultry, fish, and lean meats instead of cured food such as bacon and ham.
  • Choose fresh or frozen versus canned fruits and vegetables.
  • Avoid food with added salt, such as pickles, pickled vegetables, olives, and sauerkraut.
  • Avoid instant or flavored rice and pasta.
  • Don’t add salt when cooking rice, pasta, and hot cereals.
  • Flavor your foods with salt-free seasoning blends, fresh or dried herbs and spices, or fresh lemon or lime juice.
  • Rinse canned foods or foods soaked in brine before using to remove the sodium.
  • Use less table salt to flavor food.
  • Ask that foods be prepared without added salt or MSG, commonly used in Asian foods.
  • Avoid choosing menu items that have salty ingredients such as bacon, pickles, olives, and cheese.
  • Avoid choosing menu items that include foods that are pickled, cured, smoked, or made with soy sauce or broth.
  • Choose fruit or vegetables as a side dish, instead of chips or fries.

*Examples of convenience foods are frozen dinners, prepackaged foods, and soups; examples of condiments are mustard, ketchup, soy sauce, barbecue sauce, and salad dressings.

Most of the sodium Americans eat comes from processed and prepared foods, such as breads, cold cuts, pizza, poultry, soups, sandwiches and burgers, cheese, pasta and meat dishes, and salty snacks. Therefore, healthier choices when shopping and eating out are particularly important.

Ways to Control Calories

To benefit from the DASH eating plan, it is important to consume the appropriate amount of calories to maintain a healthy weight. To help, read nutrition labels on food, and plan for success with the DASH Eating Plan: Healthy Eating, Proven Results and other heart-healthy recipes.

The DASH eating plan can be used to help you lose weight. To lose weight, follow the DASH eating plan and try to reduce your total daily calories gradually. Find out your daily calorie needs or goals with the Body Weight Planner and find tips to lowering you calorie intake on DASH.

General tips for reducing daily calories include:

  • Eat smaller portions more frequently throughout the day.
  • Reduce the amount of meat that you eat while increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, or dry beans.
  • Substitute low-calorie foods, such as when snacking (choose fruits or vegetables instead of sweets and desserts) or drinking (choose water instead of soda or juice), when possible.

Meal Planning and Tips

NHLBI meal planning tools and tips can help you follow the DASH eating plan to meet nutritional goals.

Meal Planning Tools

The following tools can help you prepare and choose meals that meet the nutritional goals of the DASH eating plan.

  • DASH Eating Plan: Healthy Eating, Proven Results: Contains DASH nutrition planning to help you learn how to shop for healthy foods and easy tips for dining out and everyday choices on DASH.
  • Weekly DASH menus: Provides sample daily DASH eating plan menus at 1,500 mg or 2,300 mg daily sodium levels. These menus are based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet, and suggested serving sizes may be adjusted if other daily calorie targets are desired.
  • Heart-healthy recipes: Provide additional ideas for menu planning.

Tips for Lifelong Success

When changing lifestyle habits, it is normal to slip off track occasionally. Follow these tips to get you back on track.

  • Ask yourself why you got off track. Find out what triggered your sidetrack, and restart the DASH eating plan.
  • Don’t worry about a slip. Everyone slips, especially when learning something new. Remember that changing your lifestyle is a long-term process.
  • Don’t change too much at once. When starting a new lifestyle, try to avoid changing too much at once. Slow changes lead to success.
  • Break down the process. Break goals into smaller, simpler steps, each of which is attainable.
  • Write it down. Use the Daily DASH Log to keep track of what you eat and what you’re doing while you are eating. You may find that you eat unhealthy foods while watching television. If so, you could start keeping a healthier substitute snack on hand.
  • Celebrate success. Instead of eating out to celebrate your accomplishments, try a night at the movies, go shopping, visit the library or bookstore, or watch your favorite TV show.

Increasing Daily Potassium

The DASH eating plan is designed to be rich in potassium, with a target of 4,700 mg potassium daily, to enhance the effects of reducing sodium on blood pressure. The following are examples of potassium-rich foods.

Sample Foods And Potassium Levels


Potassium (mg)

Potato, 1 small


Plain yogurt, nonfat or low-fat, 8 ounces


Sweet potato, 1 medium


Orange juice, fresh, 1 cup


Lima beans, ½ cup


Soybeans, cooked, ½ cup


Banana, 1 medium


Fish (cod, halibut, rockfish, trout, tuna), 3 ounces


Tomato sauce, ½ cup


Prunes, stewed, ½ cup


Skim milk, 1 cup


Apricots, ¼ cup


Pinto beans, cooked, ½ cup


Pork tenderloin, 3 ounces


Lentils, cooked, ½ cup


Kidney beans, cooked, ½ cup


Split peas, cooked, ½ cup


Almonds, roasted, ⅓ cup