Living With Heart Failure: How To Improve Nutrition

Lisa Nelson, RD, LN | Jul 10th 2017

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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.

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To successfully manage heart failure, it is important to:

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  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
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Reduce your sodium intake.

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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.
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What does the label mean?

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“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.

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What is one serving?

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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.

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Select lean dairy and proteins.

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  • Use low-fat milk.
  • Opt for lean cuts of meat.
  • Trim visible fat from meats.
  • Limit added fats when cooking.
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Consume foods rich in potassium and magnesium.

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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.
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Supplement omega-3 fatty acids.

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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.

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Should you take a multivitamin?

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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.

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The right multivitamin

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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
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How advanced is your heart failure?

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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.