What diet should you follow to treat heart failure?

Following a heart-healthy diet is one of the most important steps you can take to treat heart disease. If your congestive heart failure is mild to moderate, you may be able to lead a nearly normal life by making important lifestyle changes. These may include exercise and sticking to a healthy diet. Even if your heart failure is more severe, you may be able to improve your symptoms and slow down its progression. There are also some foods you should avoid if you have heart failure. 

To treat or prevent heart failure, follow a diet that includes a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat protein, nuts, legumes, and unsaturated fats. It's also important not to eat more calories than you burn every day. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet is a healthy diet that meets these goals. 

The DASH diet limits sodium to 2300 milligrams per day. The number of servings you should have for each food group varies based on how many calories you should eat, but healthy choices can be made from the following: 

Grains

Whole grains are a good source of fiber and nutrients. They should make up most of your grain servings. Choose from foods such as:   

  • Whole grain bread and rolls
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • English muffins
  • Pita bread
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • Popcorn 

Vegetables

A serving of vegetables is either one cup of leafy vegetables, one-half cup of raw or cooked vegetables, or one-half cup of vegetable juice. Depending on how many calories you need, eat three to six servings of vegetables, which can include:  

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Collards
  • Green beans
  • Green peas
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes

Fruits

One serving of fruit is one medium-sized fruit, one-fourth cup of dried fruit, one-half cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit, or one-half cup of fruit juice. You should have between three and six servings of fruit daily. Some examples include:  

  • Apples
  • Apricots
  • Bananas
  • Dates
  • Grapes
  • Mangoes
  • Melons
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries

Low-fat or fat-free dairy products

Eat two to four servings of low-fat or fat-free dairy products. A serving size is one cup of milk or yogurt or one and one-half ounce of cheese.

Lean meat, fish, and poultry

Choose lean cuts of meat and trim away any visible fat. Remove the skin from poultry. Cook by broiling, roasting, or poaching. A serving size is one ounce cooked or one egg. Eat between three and nine servings.  

Nuts, seeds, and legumes

Eat between three and seven servings per week of nuts, seeds, and legumes. Servings sizes are one-third cup of nuts, two tablespoons of peanut butter or seeds, and one-half cup of cooked legumes or peas. Some options are:

  • Almonds
  • Mixed nuts
  • Peanuts
  • Walnuts
  • Peanut butter
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans
  • Split peas

Fats and oils

Choose unsaturated fats as often as possible. Have between one and four servings daily. A serving size is one teaspoon of margarine or vegetable oil, one tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise, or two tablespoons of light salad dressing.

Foods to limit or avoid if you have heart failure

In addition to following a healthy diet. there are also foods you should avoid if you have heart failure: 

Salt

Salt can cause fluid retention and increase your blood pressure. Both of these conditions can make heart failure worse. Too much sodium can cause complications in people who have heart failure. Season your foods with herbs and spices instead of salt. Get into the habit of reading the label to check the sodium content of packaged foods because many are high in salt. 

Alcohol

Alcohol can weaken your heart muscle and make it pump less effectively. If you have heart failure, you should avoid alcohol completely.  

Processed grains

Highly processed grains have had their fiber removed. Since people with heart failure often have type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol as well, whole grains are a healthier choice. Avoid grains such as: 

  • White bread
  • White rice
  • White pasta
  • Sugar-sweetened cereals

Processed meats

Finally, avoid cured and processed meats because they're high in salt. You should also avoid fatty meats such as burgers and steaks because they are high in saturated fats, which can clog your arteries.


 

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Medically Reviewed on 9/28/2021
References
SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "Lifestyle Changes for Heart Failure," "The American Heart Association Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "DASH Eating Plan."

Penn Heart and Vascular Blog: "Avoid These Foods if You Have Heart Failure."