Heart Failure & Salt (How to follow a low salt diet)

Just because you need to watch the sodium in your diet doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy food. Food is a part of every-day life, the center of social events and something that brings great pleasure. People with heart failure can enjoy good food that is also healthy. When thinking about food, think “What kind of food can I enjoy while staying healthy?” There are plenty of tasty low salt foods that can be part of your healthy diet.

With Heart failure, the body holds on to extra fluid. You may see this extra fluid as swelling in many parts of your body, such as in your legs. This swelling can build up anywhere in your body, including the space around your heart and lungs. This can make breathing hard and causes more strain on your heart. One way to prevent this is to limit the amount of salt you eat.

Fluid and salt are chemically attracted to each other, where one goes, the other follows. If you eat too much salt, your water or fluid pills may not work as well. Salt is found in most foods so you don’t need to add it to your food. Most people eat 7,000 to 12,000 mg of salt a day. But people with heart failure need to limit their salt to 2500-3000 mg per day, unless told otherwise by their doctor.

The best way to limit salt is to choose foods in their natural state. If they have not been processed or cured, they will likely be low in salt. Check food labels for the amount of salt, or sodium, when shopping. Try to stay under 175 mg of sodium per serving.

If no salt, then what? There are some very tasty all-herb spices that can be used to add flavor to food such as Mrs. Dash and Lawry’s Salt-Free. Pure herbs and spices, such as garlic, onion and chili powder also are great choices (Hint: Make sure you don’t pick up garlic salt or onion salt by mistake). Buy spices in small amounts as they lose their flavor in a few months. Salt is added to many processed foods to keep them fresh for a longer shelf life.

Some foods to avoid include:

  • “Salt Substitutes”- These can contain potassium, which can build up in your blood and cause an irregular heartbeat if you eat too much of the salt substitute.
  • Seasonings that contain sodium or potassium in the ingredients.
  • Any product that has “light salt” which may contain sodium or potassium.
  • Seasoning salts, meat tenderizers, monosodium glutamate, baking soda, garlic and onion salt, Cajun seasoning, lemon pepper and bouillon cubes.
  • Processed meats, such as corned beef, sausage, frankfurters and luncheon meats; smoked, cured or dried fish and meats, including bacon, salt pork, beef jerky and ham.
  • Canned, frozen, or packaged dinners.
  • Processed cheeses, blue cheese, Roquefort cheese, and creamed cottage cheese and cheddar cheese.
  • Canned, preserved or convenience foods, such as canned vegetables, soups and broth, instant soups, rice mixes and macaroni and cheese mixes.
  • Condiments such as catsup, mustard, soy sauce, light soy sauce and barbecue sauce.
  • Salted snack foods, such as saltine crackers, rye krisp, salted snack chips, salted nuts, and pre-packaged popcorn.
  • Pickles, olives, salsa and guacamole (unless made fresh without salt), sauerkraut and hominy.
  • Buttermilk, tomato juice, vegetable juice and sport drinks
  • Croissants, breads and other baked goods made with baking soda and baking powder, including biscuits, corn bread, muffins and cakes.
  • Never add table salt to your food.
  • Consider buying or checking out a cookbook from the library such as American Heart Association Low Salt Cookbook.
  • Avoid the use of certain over-the-counter medications that either contain salt such as Alka-seltzer or cause fluid retention such as those that contain ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, Aleve) or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (Indomethicin).