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Nutrition for a Healthy Heart

Salt (sodium) causes fluid to build up in the body. This makes the heart work harder to pump blood. Fluid buildup also causes symptoms such as shortness of breath and edema, or swelling. Controlling the amount of salt you eat may help prevent fluid from building up. Your doctor may tell you to reduce the amount of fluid you drink as well.

Reading Food Labels

Read food labels to keep track of how much sodium you eat. Keep in mind that canned, frozen and processed foods can be high in salt. Check the amount of sodium in each serving. (Remember, there may be more than one serving in the package.) Also, watch out for high-sodium ingredients like MSG (monosodium glutamate), baking soda, and sodium phosphate. Your health-care provider will tell you how much sodium is okay for you to eat each day.

Eating Less Salt

Give yourself time to get used to eating less salt. It may take a little while, but your heart is worth it. Here are some tips to help:

  • Take the saltshaker off the table. Replace it with salt-free herb mixes and spices. (Many salt substitutes are high in potassium, which can be dangerous if you take certain diuretics. Ask your doctor about safe choices.)
  • Eat fresh or plain frozen vegetables. These have much less salt than canned vegetables. If you use canned vegetables, rinse them well.
  • Choose low-sodium snacks such as sodium-free pretzels, crackers or air-popped popcorn.
  • Get a cookbook containing low-salt recipes. It can give you ideas for meals that are healthy for your heart and taste great, too.
  • Don't add salt to food when you're cooking. Instead, season your food with pepper, lemon, garlic or onion.
  • When you eat out, ask that your food be cooked without added salt.
  • If you buy antacid tablets, choose a sodium-free brand. 


If You're Told To Limit Fluids

You may need to limit fluid intake to help prevent edema, or swelling. This includes anything liquid at room temperature, such as ice cream and soup. If your doctor tells you to limit fluid, try these tips:

  • Measure drinks in a measuring cup before you drink them. This will help you meet daily goals.
  • Chill drinks to make them more refreshing.
  • Suck on frozen lemon wedges to quench thirst.
  • Only drink when you're thirsty.
  • Rinse your mouth with water but don't swallow it.
  • Chew sugarless gum or suck on hard candy to keep your mouth moist.


Other Things To Avoid

Heart failure patients are also sometimes told to restrict caffeine and alcohol. Other dietary guidelines may be given if you have other health problems. If you have questions about what's safe to eat or drink, ask your health-care provider.

For great heart-healthy recipes, click here.

To learn more about cardiac services at Baptist Health Paducah, including the Baptist Heart Center, phone Baptist Health Line at (270) 575-2918. If you are experiencing chest pain, speak to one of our cardiac nurses at the award-winning, 24-hour Chest Pain Hotline, 1-800-575-1911.

For a schedule of upcoming Understanding Heart Failure classes, click here.