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Managing Heart Failure With Diet - Sodium is One Piece of the Puzzle

Following a low-sodium diet and drinking less fluid can help you feel better and allow you to manage your heart failure (HF) better. At first it may be a big adjustment especially if you are use to eating out frequently, purchasing pre prepared and processed foods and drinking a lot of water and other fluids. Over time you will learn to read labels, prepare easy meals from scratch and be able to find alternative ways to flavour food (cutting back on added salt). The end result, a healthier way of eating, better management of HF and eventually a greater enjoyment of your meals.

Why do I need to cut back on salt (sodium)?

A diet high in sodium causes your body to hold on to or retain fluid. This fluid makes your heart work harder, increases your blood pressure, can cause swelling in your feet, legs or belly and can also build up in your lungs making it harder to breathe.

So where do I start with sodium?

The key is to not cut out all the sodium in your diet but aim to follow a low sodium diet equivalent to 2000 mg of sodium per day or less. A healthy recommendation for the entire family. Most Canadians nearly double this recommendation daily on a regular basis.

What does 2000 mg look like?

This amount is equivalent to about 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt. The problem is that most sodium is hidden in foods we eat and not just what is sprinkled on at the table. Even if you don’t use the salt shaker, you may still be getting too much sodium from other sources.

When the Mayo Clinic took a closer look at where sodium comes from in our diets they found that 77% of the sodium comes from processed (canned and packaged foods) and prepared foods along with restaurant eating. So where do I start?:

  • Plan your meals and grocery list ahead of time

  • When grocery shopping, choose items from the outer aisles where most fresh foods are found and get into the habit of label reading and comparing products

  • Look at the “Nutrition Facts” and for sodium related terms such as ‘No Added Salt” or “Low Sodium”. Check the DV (Daily Value) of sodium, 5% is a little and 15% is a lot

  • Buy whole fresh foods more often, cook from scratch, use healthy cooking methods and recipes. Limit convenience foods, pre-prepared and canned/packaged foods, watch salty snacks.

  • Instead of adding salt to food when you cook or eat, season foods with herbs and seasonings without salt. Try for some salt free spice blends and rubs. Fresh herbs another great choice. Make your own or choose low-sodium sauces and salad dressings.

  • Cook fresh meats and limit deli meats, processed and cured meats (including bacon, sausage and hotdogs)

  • Rethink restaurant eating. This is the time for occasional treats or special occasions. Cook your favourite restaurant dishes at home.

Lastly, give it time to adjust. Changing everything overnight is difficult. Focus on gradually changing your eating habits over time to allow this way of eating to become a lifestyle and for your taste buds to enjoy this healthy new way of eating.

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