Follow Your Diet

When you're diagnosed with heart failure, you'll need to make 3 important adjustments to your diet:

  1. Salt: Lose your salt shaker! Consume less than 2 grams (2,000 mg) per day.
  2. Fluids: Limit your intake to less than 8 cups (64 ounces, 2 quarts, or 2 liters) per day.
  3. Alcohol: Limit your drinking to one cocktail, beer, or glass of wine each day, if any.

You may also need to make other adjustments in the way you eat and drink. These adjustments can ease your heart's workload and help you feel better. A care provider or dietitian can give you specific guidelines and suggestions.

Healthy Additions

At the same time that you're limiting salt, fluids, and alcohol in your diet, you can be adding healthy foods for balance. This means eating moderate amounts of the following:

  • Fresh and dried fruits and vegetables
  • Low-fat, low-salt cheeses
  • Cooking oils, such as olive, canola, and safflower oil
  • Fresh fish, chicken, and turkey
  • Lean cuts of beef, veal, pork, and lamb
  • Breads, cereal, grain, and other starches (potatoes, pasta)

Limiting Salt in Your Diet

Most healthcare providers will recommend that you eat less than 2,000 mg of salt (sodium) per day. To meet this goal, you'll need to follow a low-salt (low-sodium) diet. In addition to following the guidelines given by your healthcare providers, you should develop the following habits as part of your low-salt diet:

  • Take the salt shaker off the table. If it's not there, you can't use it!
  • Substitute other spices for salt in your cooking. Try these flavor-enhancers: allspice, dill, lemon, onion, curry, pepper, and garlic powder (not garlic salt). If you want to try salt substitutes, ask your healthcare providers which are safest.
  • Substitute fresh or frozen vegetables for canned foods. Canned foods often contain salt.
  • Rinse canned foods for 30 seconds. If you can't substitute fresh or frozen vegetables, you can still reduce sodium content 30% by first rinsing canned food with water.
  • Avoid processed meats. Foods such as hot dogs, salami, bacon, and other lunch meats usually contain a lot of salt.
  • Stay away from salty snacks, such as potato chips, salted nuts, and pretzels.
  • Cut out headache or heartburn medicines that contain salt in the form of sodium bicarbonate or sodium carbonate. (The labels will tell you whether sodium is an ingredient.)
  • Choose foods labeled “unsalted,” “no salt added,” or “low sodium.” You'll be pleasantly surprised that many of your favorite foods also come in low-salt versions.
  • Take time to read and compare food labels.
  • Ask that your food be prepared with less salt (or no salt) when eating out.

Limiting Your Fluid Intake

Another way to reduce the fluid retention caused by your heart failure is to drink less fluid - only 8 cups a day (64 ounces). Keep in mind that feeling thirsty doesn't mean your body needs more fluid. So, instead of drinking liquids when you're thirsty, try these alternatives:

  • Chewing gum
  • Sucking on ice chips or hard candy
  • Rinsing your mouth with water

See our Heart Failure Fluid Tracker to help you calculate how much fluid you drink each day. As you can see, this still allows you to drink a fairly normal amount of fluid per day.

Limiting Your Alcohol Consumption

Here are a couple of good reasons to limit your alcohol intake to one drink per day:

  • It helps limit your fluid intake to reduce the strain on your heart.
  • It prevents heart muscle damage that may be caused by more-than-moderate alcohol use.

Your one-drink limit allows one beer, glass of wine, or cocktail each day.

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