Nutritional tips for living with heart failure

If you are living with heart failure, it is likely you’ve heard about the importance of eating a balanced, healthy diet many times. It can help to maintain a healthy heart and even improve symptoms.1 But we appreciate this is sometimes easier said than done.

Below are some key tips around three of the most commonly asked about areas in nutrition and heart failure, as well as a link to heart failure-friendly recipes to try at home!

Remember, if you or a family member have been diagnosed with heart failure, it is important to speak to your doctor or nurse before making any changes to your diet.

Be salt savvy

The body needs salt to function but only a little. Too much salt causes the body to retain too much water, worsening the fluid build-up associated with heart failure.2 Limiting the amount of salt consumed daily (guidelines suggest less than 6g per day, which is the equivalent of about 1 tsp) can help prevent these symptoms.3

 

Did you know, we get around 75-80% of the salt we eat each day from pre-prepared foods such as ready meals, processed meat, cereals and breads.4,5

 

3 quick tips for cutting down on salt:

  • Try experimenting with herbs, spices, garlic or lemon juice to flavor your food instead of cooking with salt
  • Don’t put a salt shaker on your table at home
  • Look at the nutritional label of foods you buy, or ask for this information when you are eating out.

Keep an eye on your potassium

Potassium is an important mineral found in many types of food - our heart relies on potassium for maintaining a regular heart rhythm.6 It is important for people with heart failure to be aware of how much potassium is in their diet as different heart failure medications can affect your potassium levels in different ways.6

Speak to your doctor about how your medications may be affecting your potassium levels, and what you can do to keep it within a suitable range.6

If you need to increase your potassium, foods like bananas, oranges, and avocados are naturally excellent sources of potassium.7

If you need to reduce your levels of potassium you can:6

  • Soak or boil vegetables and fruits to help remove some of the potassium
  • Avoid canned, salted or smoked foods
  • Limit imitation meat products (e.g. vegetarian sausages or burgers) which are often high in potassium

How can fiber help your heart?

Fiber can be a really good all-rounder for looking after your health. Not only can it help maintain digestive health (tackling constipation), but it can also help to reduce cholesterol levels in the blood which can help look after your health.8

Fiber is a complex carbohydrate and is only found in plants (there is no fiber in meat, fish or animal products like dairy) and so one of the easiest ways you can get enough fiber is to eat plenty of different fruits and vegetables.

3 more quick tips for getting enough fiber:

  • Small changes like switching to wholemeal or granary bread and wholewheat or brown pasta are easy ways to increase the amount of fiber in your daily diet9
  • Pulses, such as lentils and chickpeas, as well as fresh and dried fruit, are also high in fiber and easy to incorporate into everyday cooking and eating9
  • Increase the amount of fiber in your diet gently. Introducing too many new sources of fiber all at once can cause some digestive distress! Aim to increase gradually over a few weeks.

Before changing your diet, speak to your doctor or nurse as they can help to advise about the right amount of fiber for you (for example people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may need to be cautious about how much fibre they consume).

What next?

For more tips and recipes to try at home, check out these heart-healthy recipes from around the world.

Also, if you have any tips for cooking or eating out with heart failure, including any of your own recipes, be sure to share them with us!

 

1) WebMD. Diet and Heart Failure.
Available here: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/heart-failure/dietary-guidelines-heart-failure. Last accessed: January 2017.
2) Heart Failure Matters. What can you do. Adjusting your diet: Salt.
Available here: http://www.heartfailurematters.org/en_GB/What-can-you-do/Adjusting-your-diet-Salt. Last accessed: January 2017.
3) British Heart Foundation. Preventing heart disease. Healthy eating: salt.
Available here: https://www.bhf.org.uk/heart-health/preventing-heart-disease/healthy-eating/salt. Last accessed: January 2017.
4) NHS Choices. Salt: the facts.
Available here: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/salt.aspx. Last accessed January 2017.
5) Blood Pressure UK. Why salt is bad.
Available here: http://www.bloodpressureuk.org/microsites/salt/Home/Whysaltisbad. Last accessed January 2017.
6) Harvard Health Publications. Healthbeat. Heart failure and potassium.
Available here: http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/heart-failure-and-potassium. Last accessed: January 2017.
7) Patient. Health Information. Dietary Potassium.
Available here: http://patient.info/health/dietary-potassium. Last accessed: January 2017.
8) NHS Choices. Why is fibre important.
Available here: http://www.nhs.uk/chq/pages/1141.aspx?categoryid=51. Last accessed: January 2017.
9) NHS Choices. How to get more fibre into your diet.
Available here: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/how-to-get-more-fibre-into-your-diet.aspx. Last accessed: January 2017.