Nutrition Tips for Congestive Heart Failure

If you have congestive heart failure, follow these nutrition guidelines:

Salt and Sodium

Sodium acts like a sponge to hold extra water in the body, which makes the heart work harder. Cutting down on sodium is one of the most important parts of your treatment plan. Sodium is found in large amounts in salt (sodium chloride) and is added to most prepared and processed foods.

Here are some tips to lower the amount of sodium you eat:

Follow this general guide: Eat three meals each day limited to 500 milligrams or less of sodium. Limit your snacking throughout the day to less than 500 milligrams of sodium.

Avoid using salt at the table or in cooking. Remove the salt shaker — you'll be less likely to use it.

Experiment with new flavors. Use spices, herbs, and other seasonings instead of salt to flavor foods.

Eat fresh or frozen vegetables Fresh or frozen vegetables are low in sodium. Do not add salt or high-sodium seasonings (such as soy sauce). Balsamic vinegar and lemon juice enhance the flavors and can be used in place of salt.

Eat fresh vegetable salads and avoid bottled salad dressings. Make your own dressing and choose an oil and vinegar dressing while eating out. Potato or macaroni salads are often high in sodium. Ask if salt or pickles are used in these salads before ordering.

Eat fruit for dessert. Fresh, frozen, and canned fruit are lower in sodium than baked desserts.

Avoid processed foods that come in cans or boxes. Canned and ramen noodle soups, macaroni and cheese, canned vegetables, tomato juice, baked or refried beans, packaged or bottled salad dressings and seasoning mixes, and instant potatoes are examples of processed foods high in sodium.

Limit cheese. Most cheeses are high in sodium. If you love cheese, learn to read labels so you can find a low-sodium option to eat in small amounts.

Eat fresh meats, chicken, and fish. Processed and smoked foods, such as bologna, sausage, pepperoni, bacon, ham, hot dogs and battered chicken or fish, are all high in sodium.

Snack on fresh fruits, vegetables, and unsalted nuts instead of salty snack foods such as chips or salted nuts. Healthy snacks are low in calories and good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Learn to read labels. Read food labels when you shop. The amount of sodium in the product is listed on the label. By reading labels, you can find low-sodium foods you like that can take the place of high-sodium foods you used to eat.

Find a low-sodium cookbook or check the internet for low-sodium recipes and suggestions.

Be patient. Changing food habits is a skill that takes time and practice. It takes taste buds three weeks to lose their taste for sodium. Get support from your family and friends and set realistic goals.

Spice It Up

Herbs and spices are a great way to make foods tasty without using salt. Some general guidelines for cooking with herbs and spices are:


Avoid alcohol. If your congestive heart failure is alcohol-related, it's especially important for you to avoid alcoholic beverages.

Fat and Cholesterol

A diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol can lead to more heart problems, such as clogged arteries. Instead of saturated fats such as butter, shortening, and stick margarine, choose small amounts of olive, canola, or peanut oil.

Follow these tips to lower fat and cholesterol intake:

Eating Out

Eating out is convenient, a nice break from cooking and a fun way to celebrate special occasions. Below are some tips for eating out without getting too much sodium.

Clinical review by Barbara Larrabee, RN
Group Health
Reviewed 03/01/2014