Banner Health Services  

Heart Failure and Nutrition

Kristine Brubaker  

Kristine Brubaker is a dietician at Banner Heart Hospital in Mesa, Ariz.

Question: What can I do nutritionally for heart failure?

Answer: Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to efficiently pump enough blood to keep your body in good health. Excess amounts of sodium and fluid can lead to fluid retention/edema. This results in an increase workload on the heart.

The recommended daily amount of sodium for those with heart failure is limited to less than 2000 mg per day. This equates to less than a teaspoon of salt (2300mg).  People can easily exceed this recommendation, by eating:

  • convenience foods
  • pre-packaged meals
  • canned or frozen products.

Sodium is also used widely used as a flavor enhancer and a preservative. Other foods that are high in sodium include salted nuts, seeds, chips, crackers and certain condiments.

Low sodium products may help you reduce your sodium intake, but be a savvy label reader before making your choices. Products that advertise 25-percent or 50-percent less sodium may still be excessively high, as this claim is only in comparison to the original recipe. Better choices include “low sodium” or “no added salt” products. When reading the food label a good rule of thumb is to aim for less than 300 mg of sodium per serving.

Better yet, avoid processed foods as much as possible and prepare foods fresh. Herbs and spices are a great way to season your meals without adding sodium. Salt substitutes may also be a good alternative, however should be avoided if you have kidney disease. These products substitute potassium for sodium, and can be dangerous for kidney patients who tend to build up too much potassium in their blood.

Restaurant foods can also be high in sodium. Strategies to reduce high sodium intakes while eating out include not using the salt shaker, avoiding high sodium condiments like soy sauce, and opting for salads rather than soup. You can also reduce your sodium by controlling portion size. Try splitting a meal with a friend or taking half of it home.  Some restaurants offer nutritional information on the menu or on the Internet. In addition, consuming a well balanced diet that includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy products, fish and lean meats can also help with cardiac health.

Not everyone will need a fluid restriction for heart failure. If you have been recommended to follow a fluid restriction by your health care professional, then keep in mind a fluid restriction involves foods that melt in your mouth like popsicles, ice, ice cream, Jell-o and soups.
It is also important to weigh yourself daily. This will track how your diet and medication are helping to control the fluid content in your body. If you typically weigh yourself with clothes, then make sure you weigh wearing the same amount of clothes each day for accuracy. Call your healthcare professional, if you gain more than 2 pounds per day or 5 pounds per week.

It is possible to have a good quality of life with heart failure. Dietary modifications can help in managing fluid build up and aid in the prevention of worsening heart failure.

Reviewed August 2010

Page Last Modified: 08/19/2010
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