Congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when the heart does not pump efficiently and is not able to deliver enough oxygen to the body. It can be caused by high blood pressure or other heart problems. When you eat too much sodium (and salt) or drink too many fluids, your heart has to work even harder to pump the extra blood volume through your blood vessels. The heart does not have to work quite as hard when you make changes to your diet.
All heart-healthy guidelines are important for people with CHF, but it is extra important to follow a low-sodium diet-1,500 milligrams-to prevent fluid retention in the body. Sodium makes you thirsty and makes your body hold onto fluids rather than urinating them out. In addition, it is important to limit the amount of fluids you drink. The amount can vary and your doctor will let you know how much you should be drinking in a day. The extra fluid may make it very hard to breathe and it may be life-threatening and require hospitalization. So, following low-sodium and fluid guidelines are a vital part of the treatment for CHF.
Here are some ways to help manage congestive heart failure with your eating plan:
1. Slash Sodium.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are naturally low in sodium.
- Choose fresh foods, including lean meats, fish, poultry, dry and fresh legumes (or rinsed canned beans), eggs, milk, yogurt, plain rice, pasta and oatmeal.
- Choose lower-sodium sensible snacks.
- Avoid using the salt shaker. Or replace it with a sodium-free blend of herbs, such as Mrs. Dash.
- Cut the sodium completely, or at least reduce it by half in recipes. Be a creative cook-use herbs, onion, garlic, citrus and other fruit juices, and vinegars to add flavor.
- Be careful of condiments-ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, olives, marinades, tenderizers, soy sauce, lemon pepper and some seasoning blends contain a lot of sodium. Check the ingredient list for salt.
- Avoid convenience foods, Chinese food, and fast foods. Follow tips for heart-healthy dining out, but limit how frequently you go out to eat because it is very difficult to restrict sodium enough even when special requests can be made.
- Read food labels for sodium content before you buy packaged or canned foods.
2. Weigh Yourself Daily
In order to catch any fluid retention or worsening of congestive heart failure early, it is very important to weight yourself every day. A gain of 1 to 2 pounds overnight, or 5 pounds in a week, is a signal that your body is retaining extra fluid. If this occurs, call your healthcare provider right away because you may need to make adjustments in your diet or medications. Noting and dealing with fluid weight gain promptly may prevent worsening heart failure and the need for hospitalization.
Weigh yourself on the same scale every day when you wake up. Urinate first, and always wear the same amount of clothing. Record your weight, and bring your log with you to all of your appointments with your healthcare provider.
3. Keep Food Intake (and Calories) in Check
Because CHF can make it hard to breathe, physical activity may be restricted by your doctor. As a result, it may be difficult to maintain or reach a healthy weight with weight loss. It is even more important to restrict calorie intake to prevent weight gain if exercise must be limited due to heart-related breathing problems. Learning how to read food labels can help you keep track of calories.