Living With Heart Failure: How To Improve Nutrition

Health Professional
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Heart failure is a condition caused by cardiovascular disease that occurs when the heart does not adequately circulate blood throughout the body. It is estimated to affect about 5.7 million Americans.


To successfully manage heart failure, it is important to:

  1. Take medications as prescribed
  2. Stop smoking
  3. Maintain physical activity
  4. Lose weight (if overweight or obese)
  5. Limit alcohol intake
  6. Follow a heart healthy diet


Reduce your sodium intake.

Monitoring sodium intake becomes even more critical if you experience edema or breathing difficulties.

1 teaspoon of salt contains 2300 milligrams (mg) of sodium.

Limit sodium to 1500 mg/day if you have heart failure.

  • Stop adding salt to foods.
  • Use salt-free seasoning blends.
  • Read food labels to avoid foods high in sodium.


What does the label mean?

“Reduced sodium” on the food label does NOT mean it is a low sodium product.

If the original product contains 1000 mg of sodium per serving, “reduced” means the product contains 25% less sodium. Still too much. (1000 – 250 = 750 mg/serving).

“Low sodium” means the product contains 140 mg/serving or less.


What is one serving?

Don’t assume a small package contains one serving. Check the label. A small bag of chips could contain two or three servings.

If one serving contains 200 mg of sodium and you consume a small package made up of three servings, you’ve consumed 600 mg of sodium.


Select lean dairy and proteins.

  • Use low-fat milk.
  • Opt for lean cuts of meat.
  • Trim visible fat from meats.
  • Limit added fats when cooking.


Consume foods rich in potassium and magnesium.

Magnesium regulates the level of sodium, potassium, and calcium within cells, while the balance of sodium and potassium impacts blood pressure levels.

  • Potassium rich foods include avocados, potatoes, raisins, cantaloupe, and bananas
  • Magnesium rich foods include peas, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, lima beans, broccoli, and spinach.


Supplement omega-3 fatty acids.

Studies indicate omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may reduce heart disease death by almost ten percent.

A large 2008 study found 840 mg of omega-3 fish oil per day cut hospitalization by eight percent and death rate from heart failure by nine percent.

Discuss all supplements with your doctor.


Should you take a multivitamin?

While a well-balanced diet is optimal to meet your nutrient needs, you may not always hit your goal. A multivitamin can be used to “bridge the gap” when dietary choices don’t quite meet your nutrient needs.

Discuss supplementing a multivitamin with your doctor.


The right multivitamin

Select a multivitamin that contains at least...

  • 2.4 mcg vitamin B12
  • 400 mcg folate
  • 420 mg magnesium (men), 320 mg magnesium (women)
  • 1.1 mg thiamine


How advanced is your heart failure?

The right diet to treat heart failure is based on your stage of heart failure and symptoms.

Eat a low-fat and low-cholesterol diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

More advanced stages equal greater sodium restriction.