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Heart Failure

Adjusting Your Diet

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 - 09:49

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

When you have heart failure, what you eat and drink can definitely affect the health of your heart. Your doctor may want you to do some or all of the following:

  • Reduce your sodium (salt) intake. Sodium causes your body to retain fluid. We get most of our sodium from salt, though we also get it from other sources, such as baking soda or MSG (monosodium glutamate), a preservative used commonly in Chinese foods and pre-packaged foods.
  • Eat more foods rich in potassium to replace the potassium you lose when you take diuretics. Potassium is present in green leafy vegetables and most fruits, especially bananas, oranges, and dried fruit.
  • Eat less fat.
  • Control your weight.
  • Regulate the amount of fluid you consume.

The Importance Of Vegetables And Fruit

Vegetables and fruit are the perfect food for heart failure patients.

  • They are naturally low in fat, low in sodium, and high in potassium.
  • They help control weight.

Aim to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

Why Eat Less Fatty Foods?

Eating less fat can help in two ways:

  • Eliminates extra weight that puts strain on your heart.
  • Reduces cholesterol in the blood that blocks arteries and makes the heart work harder.

To lose weight or to control your cholesterol level:

  • Cut down on fat from meat. Eat smaller portions of red meat. Trim fat off meat. Eat chicken or fish instead. Don't fry your food.
  • Eliminate butter on vegetables. Eat fruit instead of pastry for dessert.
  • Choose low-fat or non-fat milk and other dairy products.
  • Check "Nutrition Facts" labels and buy the brands of food that have low fat or no fat.
  • Use olive oil. Although still high in calories, olive oil doesn't raise the "bad" cholesterol level in your blood.

How-To Information:

It's not easy making adjustments to what you eat, especially if your doctor wants you to make the changes in a hurry. Don't try to go it alone!

If there is a dietitian on your health team, take advantage. Ask for help in making changes without "going on a diet." Eating should still be enjoyable!

Watching Your Sodium

Sodium causes your body to retain fluid. In some cases, people with heart failure need to avoid sodium altogether, or your doctor may just want you on a low-sodium diet (for example, consuming less than 2,000 milligrams a day, which is about half the average).

Although we get most of our sodium from salt, we also get some from other sources, such as monosodium glutamate or baking soda.

When food shopping, look for foods labeled "very low sodium," "sodium free," or "unsalted." Or check the "Nutrition Facts" label on packaged food and choose the brand lowest in sodium.

How-To Information:

Tips for Reducing Sodium

You can train yourself to like foods with much less salt.

  • Move the salt shaker off the table.
  • Use much less salt in cooking.
  • Substitute seasonings such as garlic, lemon, onion, pepper, mustard, herbs, and spices.
  • Rinse canned vegetables before heating or cooking.
  • Ask for food low in sodium or sodium free when dining out.


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