In heart failure, the heart is weakened and can't pump as well as it should. As a result, fluid builds up in the tissues of your body. This excess fluid causes symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue and swelling (edema) in the legs, feet or abdomen. Fluid buildup in the lungs (pulmonary edema) can be life-threatening.
Sodium (salt) causes your body to hold water, which can make heart failure worse. Reducing the amount of sodium you take in can ease your heart's workload and reduce your symptoms. Cutting back on sodium is one of the most important steps you can take to control heart failure.
Tips to reduce sodium
Your doctor can tell you how much sodium is safe for you to take in each day. Most people with heart failure are advised to get no more than 2,000 mg of sodium a day. Just one teaspoon of salt contains 2,300 mg of sodium. Most people get a lot more than that.
It can be challenging to limit sodium. Here are some strategies to help you stay within your daily limit.
Ban salt from your kitchen
- Don't salt food at the table.
- Don't add salt when you cook.
- To add flavor, experiment with salt-free options such as herbs, pepper, garlic, lemon juice or vinegar.
- Ask your doctor or dietitian if you can use a salt substitute (ones that are high in potassium may not be safe for you).
Avoid high-sodium foods
Learn which foods contain a lot of salt so you can avoid them. Some examples of high-sodium foods are:
- Seasonings such as soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, bouillon, cooking sherry, steak sauce, ketchup and barbecue sauce
- Processed foods such as canned soups, frozen pizza, tomato sauce, canned beans and pot pies
- Processed meats such as lunch meats, sausage, hot dogs, bacon and cured ham
- Snack foods such as crackers, chips, salted nuts, pretzels, olives and popcorn
- Most fast foods
Sodium is added to many foods and even some over-the-counter medicines. Always read labels carefully to look for sodium. Common forms include:
- Sodium sulfite
- Sodium caseinate
- Disodium phosphate
- Sodium benzoate
- Sodium citrate
- Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Choose low-sodium foods
- Choose fresh foods and prepare them yourself without added salt. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh lean meats, beans and eggs are naturally low in sodium.
- Look for prepared foods labeled "salt-free," "low sodium" or "low salt." Still, always check to see how much sodium is in a serving.
- Get a low-salt cookbook and try out different ways to make your favorite dishes.
- When using canned beans or vegetables, rinse and drain them to remove extra sodium.
When you eat out:
- Ask to have your food prepared without salt or MSG.
- Choose steamed, grilled, broiled or boiled foods.
- Have sauces, dressings and condiments served on the side and then use only small amounts.
- Choose steamed rice instead of fried rice.
- Avoid foods with breading, which often have a lot of salt.