Sodium is a mineral found naturally in foods and also added to foods. Sodium plays an important role in maintaining normal fluid balance in the body. A low-sodium diet is important to follow in order to control your heart failure symptoms and prevent future heart problems.

  • Limiting your sodium and fluid intake will help prevent and control the amount of fluid around your heart, lungs, or in your legs.
  • When you carry extra fluid, it makes your heart work harder and may increase your blood pressure.

A low-sodium diet means more than eliminating the salt shaker from the table!

  • One teaspoon of table salt = 2,300 mg of sodium.

General guidelines

  • Eliminate the salt shaker.
  • Avoid using garlic salt, onion salt, MSG, meat tenderizers, broth mixes, Chinese food, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, barbeque sauce, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, pickle relish, and croutons.
  • Use fresh ingredients and/or foods with no added salt.
  • For favorite recipes, you may need to use other ingredients and delete the salt added. Salt can be removed from any recipe except for those containing yeast.
  • Try orange, lemon, lime, pineapple juice, or vinegar as a base for meat marinades or to add tart flavor.
  • Avoid convenience foods such as canned soups, entrees, vegetables, pasta and rice mixes, frozen dinners, instant cereal and puddings, and gravy sauce mixes.
  • Select frozen meals that contain around 600 mg sodium or less.
  • Use fresh, frozen, no-added-salt canned vegetables, low-sodium soups, and low-sodium lunchmeats.
  • Look for seasoning or spice blends with no salt, or try fresh herbs, onions, or garlic.
  • Do not use a salt substitute unless you check with your doctor or dietitian first, due to potential drug or nutrient interactions.
  • Be aware of and try to limit the “Salty Six” which include:
    1. Breads, rolls, bagels, flour tortillas, and wraps
    2. Cold cuts and cured meats
    3. Pizza
    4. Poultry (much poultry and other meats are injected with sodium. Check the Nutrition Facts for sodium content or read package for a description of a solution, for example, “Fresh chicken in a 15% solution.”)
    5. Soup
    6. Sandwiches

Learn to read food labels. Use the label information on food packages to help you make the best low-sodium selections. Nutrition labels and an ingredient list are required on most foods, so you can make the best selection for a healthy lifestyle.

Review the food label below. Determine the total amount of sodium in this product, or ask your dietitian or healthcare provider to show you how to read food labels and apply the information to your personal needs.

Maintain a healthy body weight. This includes losing weight if you are overweight. Limit your total daily calories, follow a low-fat diet, and include physical activity on most, if not all days in order to maintain a healthy weight. Eating a healthy diet to either maintain or lose weight often means making changes to your current eating habits.

In order to make sure you are meeting your specific calorie needs, as well as vitamin and mineral needs, a registered dietitian can help. A registered dietitian can provide personalized nutrition education, tailor these general guidelines to meet your needs, and help you implement a personal action plan.

Restaurant dining tips

  • Choose a restaurant that will prepare items to your request and substitute items.
  • Plan ahead by reducing your serving sizes of foods high in sodium.
  • Order food a la carte or individually to get only the foods you want.

Appetizers

  • Avoid soups and broths.
  • Request fresh bread and rolls without salty, buttery crusts.
  • Avoid breaded items.

Salads/vegetables

  • Avoid pickles, canned or marinated vegetables, olives, cured meats, seasoned croutons, cheeses, salted seeds, and nuts.
  • Order salad dressings on the side and dip your fork in them before taking a bite of the food item.
  • Request steamed vegetables.

Main courses

  • Select meat, poultry, fish, or shellfish choices that include the words broiled, baked, grilled, roasted, and without breading.
  • Request plain noodles or vegetable dishes.
  • Ask the server about the low-sodium menu choices, and ask how the food is prepared.
  • Request food to be cooked without salt or monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • Avoid restaurants that do not allow for special food preparation, such as buffet-style restaurants, diners, or fast food chains.
  • Avoid casseroles and mixed dishes. Ask for gravies and sauces on the side or omit them all together.
  • At fast food restaurants, choose the salad entrees or non-fried and non-breaded entrees, and skip the special sauces,  condiments, and cheese.*
  • Avoid breaded items.

*Avoid salted condiments and garnishes such as olives, pickles, and relish.

Desserts

  • Select fruit, sherbet, gelatin, and plain cakes.
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