Heart Failure Diet: 6 Low-Sodium Alternatives to Your Favorite Foods | MyHeartDiseaseTeam

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Heart Failure Diet: 6 Low-Sodium Alternatives to Your Favorite Foods

Posted on August 23, 2023

If you’ve been diagnosed with heart failure, you may feel unsure about how to adopt a heart-healthy diet. The first place to start is limiting sodium (salt). Sodium increases water retention and causes hypertension (high blood pressure), which puts extra strain on the heart.

Limiting fast food, buying low-sodium products, and putting away the salt shaker are all steps to reduce salt intake. In addition, moving toward a more plant-based diet can help increase your intake of heart-healthy fiber and potassium.

Below are six food swaps you can make to reduce added salt and improve the overall quality of your diet. As always, meet with your health care provider or registered dietitian to learn about your specific sodium, potassium, and other nutrient requirements.

1. Dish Up Oatmeal Instead of Processed Cereal

Not only is oatmeal inexpensive, but it’s also filled with fiber, a carbohydrate with many benefits for your cardiovascular system, including lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Add berries to plain oatmeal for improved flavor and an extra fiber and nutrient boost.

Many options in the cereal aisle may be high in sugar and sodium. The American Heart Association recommends that, in addition to limiting sodium, people with heart failure also limit their added sugar intake. When shopping for breakfast cereal, don’t just look for choices with whole grains and a healthy helping of fiber: Check the label for added sugar and sodium content as well.

If you’re not ready to ditch your favorite cereal entirely, you can mix it with plain shredded wheat and fresh fruit to retain the flavor you enjoy while reducing sugar and sodium.

2. Crunch More Nuts and Seeds and Fewer Chips

When it comes to crunchy snacks, some are far more nutritious than others. Choosing whole foods, like nuts and seeds, can give you fiber, vitamins, minerals, protein, and some healthy fats. Look for unsalted nuts and seeds. You can buy a mix or individual packages and make your own mix. You can measure out your portions rather than eating directly from the container.

Many potato chip options are high in salt and saturated or trans fats, making them not ideal for heart health. The American Heart Association recommends people with heart failure limit their intake of saturated and trans fats.

3. Chill With Frozen Fruit Instead of Ice Cream

Frozen fruit has plenty of heart-healthy fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. If you find that your bunch of bananas or bowl of apples turn brown before you get to it, frozen fruit might be a better option to keep on hand. You can find frozen fruit on sale and stay stocked for smoothies and yogurt parfaits. Sprinkle on mini chocolate chips, shredded coconut, or a teaspoon of honey.

Ice cream is high in saturated fat and added sugar. If you want ice cream, order a child-size cup to keep the portion small. Blending your frozen fruit can be a nice alternative to ice cream.

4. Build Muscle With Beans and Lentils Instead of Processed Meat

Beans and lentils are nutritious proteins for a more plant-based diet. Experiment with bean burger recipes or season lentils with cumin for a meaty flavor that’s great in tacos or curry dishes. Your heart and digestive system will benefit from the added fiber and potassium these plants offer.

Processed meat, including pepperoni, sausage, and bacon, is high in sodium, preservatives like nitrates, and saturated fat. In addition, they offer less protein than many lean meats or plant-based proteins. Researchers have found an association between eating highly processed meats and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

There are many simple ways to limit your intake of processed meats through everyday changes, especially when ordering out. For example, you can:

  • Opt for a veggie pizza instead of the meat lover’s special.
  • Skip the bacon bits on your salad.
  • Add a tomato slice to an egg sandwich instead of bacon.

5. Choose Potatoes (With Skin) as a Side Dish Instead of White Rice or Pasta

People sometimes associate potatoes with salty options like French fries or chips. But potatoes are naturally free of saturated fat, low in sodium, and high in potassium, making them a great choice for your heart.

When preparing potatoes, keep the skin on, as it contains plenty of fiber, iron, and vitamins. Limit the cheese, butter, or salt on your potatoes. For added flavor, you can instead roast them in the oven with olive oil and garlic — or cook them in the microwave for a quick baked potato. You can also top baked potatoes with a veggie bean chili or low-fat cottage cheese for additional flavor. Look for cottage cheese that’s low-sodium or salt-free.

Refined carbohydrates like white rice and pasta have less heart-healthy fiber and fewer nutrients than some other options. You can try starchy root vegetables or roasted cauliflower to get more nutritional bang in your dinner.

6. Add Avocado, Hold the Mayo

There’s a strong consensus that healthy fats from foods like avocados are good for your health. You can use avocados to add a creamy texture to dips, sandwiches, and salads and make guacamole to enjoy with cut up carrots or other vegetables.

Full-fat dips and spreads like mayonnaise, sour cream, and cheese sauces can be problematic for those with heart failure. These ingredients add saturated and trans fat to your meal and can also be high in sodium.

As you start to think more creatively about your food choices, you may discover other healthy alternatives to mayonnaise, including mashed avocados, Greek yogurt, and natural herbs and spices. These changes will further help you reduce sodium and saturated fats.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyHeartDiseaseTeam is the online social network for people with heart disease and their loved ones. On MyHeartDiseaseTeam, more than 57,000 members come together to discuss life with heart disease and share their experiences.

Do you follow a low-sodium diet for heart failure? What other healthy eating or lifestyle changes have you made to improve your health and well-being? Post your story in the comments section or discuss this topic on your Activities page.

    Posted on August 23, 2023
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    Kathryn Shohara, MS, RDN, LDN, CNSC is a clinical dietitian for adults at Baylor Scott & White Hospitals. Learn more about her here.
    Anastasia Climan, RDN, CDN is a dietitian with over 10 years of experience in public health and medical writing. Learn more about her here.

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