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Heart Failure – Nutrition

This guide provides basic information to help you start or continue following your heart failure diet. Planning what you eat and balancing your meals are important ways to manage your health. Eating healthy often means making changes in your current eating habits. A registered dietitian can provide in-depth personalized nutrition education, tailor these general guidelines to meet your needs, and help you implement a personal action plan.

Here are some basic guidelines that will help you get started. These guidelines are explained in more detail inside this handout.

  • Control the sodium in your diet. Decreasing the total amount of sodium you consume to 2,000 mg (2 g) per day is one of the most important ways to manage heart failure.
  • Learn to read food labels. Use the label information on food packages to help you to make the best low-sodium selections.
  • Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need.
  • As advised by your health care provider, eat foods that are high in potassium such as:
    • Bananas
    • Strawberries
    • Dried fruits (such as prunes, dates and raisins)
    • Spinach
    • Potatoes
    • Avocados
    • Tomatoes
    • Squash
    • Nuts and whole grains
    • Broccoli
    • Oranges, other citrus fruits and citrus juices
  • Your potassium levels may drop if you are taking diuretics. Learn the signs of low potassium, such as fatigue, weakness, severe thirst, excessive urination, and heart beat changes. Call your doctor if you notice these signs.
  • Include high-fiber foods such as vegetables, cooked dried peas and beans (legumes), whole-grain foods, bran, cereals, pasta, rice and fresh fruit. Fiber is the indigestible part of plant food that helps move food along the digestive tract, better controls blood glucose levels and may reduce the level of cholesterol in the blood. Foods high in fiber include natural antioxidants, which are critical to vascular health. The goal for everyone is to consume 25 to 35 grams of fiber per day.
  • Carefully follow your fluid management guidelines. Reduce your fluid intake if you have become more short of breath or notice swelling. General rule: limit fluids to 8 1/4 cups or less per day (which is equal to 2 liters or less OR 66 ounces or less).
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. This includes losing weight if you are overweight. Limit your total daily calories, follow a low-fat diet and exercise regularly to achieve or maintain your ideal body weight.

Learning to read food labels

Food labels are standardized by the U.S. government's National Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). Nutrition labels and an ingredient list are required on most foods so you can make the best selection for a healthy lifestyle. Review the food label below. If you do not know how much total sodium is in this product, ask your dietitian to show you how to read food labels and apply the information to your personal needs.

The serving size is based on the amount most eaten. This may or may not be the serving size you normally eat.

The sodium content is listed on the food label per serving size. Decreasing the total amount of sodium you consume to 2,000 mg (2g) per day is one of the most important ways to manage heart failure

Sodium guidelines

Sodium is a mineral found in many foods. It helps keep normal fluids balanced in the body. Most people eat foods containing more sodium than they need. Some foods may be high in sodium and not taste salty. Eating too much salt causes the body to keep or retain too much water, worsening the fluid build-up in heart failure. Following a low-sodium diet helps control high blood pressure (hypertension), swelling and water build-up (edema), and/or decrease breathing difficulties for people who have kidney, heart or liver problems.

You should consume no more than 2,000mg (2g) of sodium per day. A low-sodium diet means more than just eliminating the salt shaker from the table! However, it is a good start since one teaspoon salt = 2,300mg of sodium.

Before using a salt substitute, check with your doctor. Salt substitutes generally contain other ingredients that can be just as harmful.

Comparison of Sodium in Foods

Food Serving Size Milligrams/Sodium
Please note: These are sodium content ranges - the sodium content in certain food items may vary. Please contact your dietitian for specific product information.
Source: Food Values of Portions Commonly Used, 16th edition, 1994 Bowes & Church
Bacon 1 medium slice 155
Chicken (dark meat) 3.5oz roasted 87
Chicken (light meat) 3.5oz roasted 77
Egg, fried 1 large 162
Egg, scrambled with milk 1 large 171
Dried beans, peas or lentils 1 cup 4
Haddock 3oz cooked 74
Halibut 3oz cooked 59
Ham (roasted) 3.5oz 1300-1500
Hamburger (lean) 3.5oz broiled medium 77
Hot dog (beef) 1 medium 585
Peanuts, dry roasted 1oz 228
Pork loin, roasted 3.5oz 65
Roast lamb leg 3.5oz 65
Roast veal leg 3.5oz 68
Salmon 3oz 50
Shellfish 3oz 100 to 325
Shrimp 3oz 190
Spareribs, braised 3.5oz 93
Steak, T-bone 3.5oz 66
Tuna, canned in spring water 3oz chunk white 300
Turkey, dark meat 3.5oz roasted 76
Turkey, light meat 3.5oz roasted 63
Dairy Products
American cheese 1oz 443
Buttermilk, salt added 1 cup 260
Cheddar cheese 1oz 175
Cottage cheese, low fat 1 cup 918
Milk, whole 1 cup 120
Milk, skim or 1% 1 cup 125
Swiss cheese 1 oz 75
Yogurt, plain 1 cup 115
Vegetables and Vegetable Juices
Asparagus 6 spears 10
Avocado 1/2 medium 10
Beans, white cooked 1 cup 4
Beans, green 1 cup 4
Beets 1 cup 84
Broccoli, raw 1/2 cup 12
Broccoli, cooked 1/2 cup 20
Carrot, raw 1 medium 25
Carrot, cooked 1/2 cup 52
Celery 1 stalk raw 35
Corn (sweet, no butter/salt) boiled 1/2 cup 14
Cucumber 1/2 cup sliced 1
Eggplant, raw 1 cup 2
Eggplant, cooked 1 cup 4
Lettuce 1 leaf 2
Lima beans 1 cup 5
Mushrooms 1/2 cup (raw or cooked) 1-2
Mustard greens 1/2 cup chopped 12
Onions, chopped 1/2 cup (raw or cooked) 2-3
Peas 1 cup 4
Potato 1 baked 7
Radishes 10 11
Spinach, raw 1/2 cup 22
Spinach, cooked 1/2 cup 63
Squash, acorn 1/2 cup 4
Sweet potato 1 small 12
Tomato 1 small 11
Tomato juice, canned 3/4 cup 660
Fruits and Fruit Juices
Apple 1 medium 1
Apple juice 1 cup 7
Apricots 3 medium 1
Apricots (dried) 10 halves 3
Banana 1 medium 1
Cantaloupe 1/c cup chopped 14
Dates 10 medium 2
Grapes 1 cup 2
Grape juice 1 cup 7
Grapefruit 1 medium 0
Grapefruit juice 1 cup 3
Orange 1 medium 1
Orange juice 1 cup 2
Peach 1 0
Prunes (dried) 10 3
Raisins 1/3 cup 6
Strawberries 1 cup 2
Watermelon 1 cup 3
Breads and Grains
Bran flakes 3/4 cup 220
Bread, whole wheat 1 slice 159
Bread, white 1 slice 123
Bun, hamburger 1 241
Cooked cereal (instant) 1 packet 250
Corn flakes 1 cup 290
English muffin 1/2 182
Pancake 1 (7-inch around) 431
Rice, white long grain 1 cup cooked 4
Shredded wheat 1 biscuit 0
Spaghetti 1 cup 7
Waffle 1 frozen 235
Convenience Foods
Canned soups 1 cup 600-1,300
Canned and frozen main dishes 8oz 500-2,570

Sodium Guidelines: Foods to Choose

Protein - Choose 2-3 servings per day
  • 2-3 ounces of fresh or frozen fish, shellfish, meat (beef, veal, lamb, pork) or poultry
  • 1/2 cup cooked dried beans or peas
  • 1/2 cup low sodium canned fish (such as salmon or tuna)
  • 1 low sodium frozen dinner (less than 600mg sodium per meal) - Limit to one per day
  • 1 egg
Dairy Products - Choose 2 or more servings/day
  • 2-3 ounces of low-sodium cheese
  • 1 cup milk (fat-free, 1%, 2% or whole)
  • 1/2 cup low sodium cottage cheese
  • 1 cup soy milk
Vegetables and Fruits - Choose 5 or more servings/day
  • 1/2 cup chopped, cooked, frozen or canned fruit
  • 1/2 cup chopped, cooked, frozen or no-salt added canned vegetables
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium tomato juice or V-8 juice * 1/2 cup low-sodium tomato sauce
Bread and Grains - Choose 6 or more servings/day
  • Low-sodium breads, rolls, bagels and cereals (1 serving = 1 slice bread, 1 small roll, 1/2 bagel,
  • 1/2 cup pasta (noodles, spaghetti, macaroni)
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • Low-sodium crackers (read label for serving size)
Sweets and Snacks (include sparingly)
  • 2 1/2 ounces unsalted nuts
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium potato chips, pretzels,
  • popcorn and other snacks
  • 3 fig bars or gingersnaps
  • 1 slice angel food cake
  • 1 tbsp jelly or honey
  • 1 cup sherbet, sorbet or Italian ice; 1 popsicle
  • 8-10 jelly beans; 3 pieces hard candy
Fats, Oils and Condiments (use sparingly)
  • Olive and canola oils
  • Low-sodium butter and margarine
  • Low-sodium soups
  • Low-sodium salad dressing
  • Homemade gravy without salt
  • Low-sodium broth or bouillon
  • Low-sodium catsup
  • Low-sodium mustard
  • Low-sodium sauce mixes
Fats, Oils and Condiments (can use freely)
  • Lemon juice
  • Vinegar
  • Herbs and spices without salt

Sample Menu

  • Fresh fruit
  • Low sodium cereal (hot or cold)
  • Milk
  • Low sodium toast or bagel
  • Low sodium margarine
  • Lean roast turkey on whole wheat bread with low sodium mustard
  • Raw carrot sticks
  • Applesauce
  • Milk
  • Vanilla Wafers
  • Grilled chicken
  • Boiled potatoes
  • Steamed fresh vegetables
  • Tossed salad and low sodium dressing
  • Low sodium roll with low sodium margarine
  • Fresh melon
  • Angel food cake
  • Fruit
  • Vanilla wafers
  • Graham crackers
  • Unsalted pretzels
  • Sherbet

Sodium Guidelines

  • Use fresh ingredients and/or foods with no salt added.
  • For favorite recipes, you may need to use other ingredients and delete or decrease the salt added. Salt can be removed from any recipe except from those containing yeast.
  • Try orange or pineapple juice as a base for meat marinades.
  • Avoid convenience foods such as canned soups, entrees, vegetables, pasta and rice mixes, frozen dinners, instant cereal and puddings and gravy sauce mixes.
  • Select frozen entrees that contain 600mg or less of sodium. However, limit to one of these frozen entrees per day. Check the Nutrition Facts label on the package for sodium content.
  • Use fresh, frozen, no added salt canned vegetables, or canned vegetables that have been rinsed before they are prepared.
  • Low sodium canned soups may be used.
  • Avoid mixed seasonings and spice blends that include salt, such as garlic salt
Spice Blends: use instead of salt

Directions: Combine all ingredients in small bowl and blend well. Spoon into shaker. Store in a cool, dark place.

Spicy Blend

2 tbsp dried savory, crumbled
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 tbsp dry mustard
1/4 tsp ground cumin
2 1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp curry powder

Saltless Surprise

2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp basil
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp powdered lemon rind or dehydrated lemon juice

Spicy Seasoning

1 tsp cloves
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp paprika
1 tsp coriander seed (crushed)
1 tbsp rosemary

Herb Seasoning

2 tbsp dried dill weed or basil leaves, crumbled
1 tsp celery seed
2 tbsp onion powder
1/4 tsp (pinch) dried oregano leaves, crumbled freshly ground pepper

Restaurant Dining Tips

  • Select fresh fruit or vegetables
  • Avoid soups and broths
  • Stay away from bread and rolls with salty, buttery crusts
  • Select fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid pickles, canned or marinated vegetables, cured meats, seasoned croutons, cheeses, salted seeds
  • Order salad dressings on the side and use small amounts of them
Main Courses
  • Select plain foods including broiled, grilled or roasted meat, poultry, fish or shellfish
  • Select plain vegetables, potatoes and noodles
  • Ask the server about the low sodium menu choices and ask how the food is prepared
  • Request food to be cooked without salt or monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Avoid restaurants that do not allow for special food preparation (such as buffet style restaurants or diners)
  • Avoid casseroles, mixed dishes, gravies and sauces
  • At fast food restaurants, skip the special sauces, condiments and cheese
  • Avoid salted condiments and garnishes such as olives and pickles
  • Select fresh fruits, ices, ice cream, sherbet, gelatin and plain cakes
Alcohol Guidelines

Because alcohol can slow your heart rate and worsen your heart failure, your health care provider may tell you to avoid or limit alcoholic beverages. Alcohol may also interact with the medications you are taking. Ask your health care provider for specific guidelines regarding alcohol.

Talk to a Nurse: Mon. - Fri., 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. (ET)

Call a Heart & Vascular Nurse locally 216.445.9288 or toll-free 866.289.6911.

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