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How to Cut Back on Salt: Tips for People With Heart Failure

Making heart-healthy, low-sodium food choices is especially important for people with the condition.

delicious salad with olive oil poured on top

Americans regularly consume too much sodium (salt). It is an essential nutrient, but it can be harmful when you consume too much of it. It is especially important that people with a heart condition, like heart failure, regulate the amount of sodium they consume.

Heart failure means the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. For some people, the heart cannot fill with enough blood. For others, the heart does not have enough force to properly pump blood to the rest of the body. Some people may experience both. Heart failure does not mean that your heart is about to stop, but it is a serious condition that needs treatment.

One important way to manage the condition is to follow a heart-healthy diet. This type of diet includes cutting back on salt. Too much sodium can cause fluid to build up in the body and makes heart failure worse. Reducing salt is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that healthy adults cut their sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams a day. That recommendation is stricter — 1,500 milligrams — for people who are 51 or older, and for people of all ages who are African American or have high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease. Speak with your doctor about how much sodium is safe for you. This is especially important so your doctor can tailor your suggested sodium intake to your degree of heart failure.

Here are some strategies to help you control the amount of salt in your diet:

Cook at home: Making your own food allows you to control the amount of salt you use.

Skip salt altogether: Try to remove the salt shaker from the kitchen and dining table. Don’t add salt when you prepare pasta, rice or veggies. To add flavor, try salt-free herbs and spices, lemon juice or garlic. Rather than using packaged broths, condiments or sauces, add black or red pepper.

Train your taste buds: Over time you will get used to tasting less salt. Enjoy the natural flavors of your food. Soon you will not crave it as much.

Eat your fruits and veggies: Fresh foods are naturally low in sodium. If you opt for canned or frozen fruits or veggies, look for versions with no salt added, low-sodium or without sauce.

Read the label: Compare the nutrition labels on canned or packaged foods from different brands. Choose items that are lower in sodium.  Pay attention to portion size.

Choose low-sodium: Use low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt instead of cheese. It has less salt. Opt for fresh lean beef, poultry or seafood rather than deli and processed meats that have more sodium. Munch on a few unsalted nuts and seeds.

Order smart: When you eat out, ask restaurants to prepare a meal with less salt. Or get dressings and sauces on the side. Watch out for the condiments on the table. Soy sauce, ketchup or salad dressings may be loaded with salt.

Avoid salty foods: Keep an eye out for these common foods that can be loaded with sodium: pizza, bread and rolls, soup, poultry and sandwiches.

By Jennifer Mitchell, Editor

American Heart Association. 2013 ACCF/AHA guideline for the management of heart failure. Accessed: November 24, 2015.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. What is heart failure? Accessed: November 24, 2015.
United States Department of Health and Human Services. 2010 dietary guidelines for Americans. Accessed: November 24, 2015.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sodium: the facts. Accessed: November 24, 2015.

Last Updated: November 24, 2015