Avoid These Foods if You Have Heart Failure

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If you’re living with heart failure, making some simple adjustments to your diet can improve your quality of life. 

For starters, aim to eat a variety of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, which can help you maintain a healthy weight. They’re also loaded with vitamins and minerals and full of fiber, which helps your body regulate blood sugar levels and lower cholesterol. 

One nutrient to consider when choosing produce is potassium, as some medications for heart failure can affect your body’s potassium levels. Most diuretics can lead to loss of potassium, while angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) can increase it. 

You’ll also need to reduce or eliminate certain foods and drinks from your diet, especially things that increase fluid retention, contribute to blood sugar problems, or lead to obesity. 

Here are the most common culprits.


Heart failure prevents the heart from pumping as well as it used to. Alcohol can make the problem worse and may weaken the heart muscle. It’s best to avoid it in all forms, including wine. Research linking a daily glass of red wine to improve heart health remains inconclusive.


Consuming too much salt (sodium) can result in fluid retention in the healthiest of people. In those with heart failure, excess sodium can cause serious complications. It can also worsen high blood pressure (hypertension), which can exacerbate existing heart failure. 

What’s more, high-sodium diets are usually high in fat and calories as well, which can contribute to obesity and its complications. 

Unfortunately, sodium is in almost everything we consume, which can make a low-sodium diet feel like a challenge. It is especially high in processed, prepared, canned, and smoked foods. Here are a few things to try:

  • Remove the salt shaker from your counter or table.
  • Find some easy low-sodium recipes on the internet.
  • Find creative ways to season your food with herbs and spices. Also, consider lemon, garlic, ginger, vinegar, and black pepper.
  • Get into the habit of reading food labels. A sodium level of 140 mg or less on the nutrition facts label is considered low sodium.
  • Choose canned foods with “no added salt”.

Highly Processed Grains

Highly processed grains, like white bread, white rice, white pasta, and many sugar-sweetened breakfast cereals, have been stripped of their fiber. That’s especially problematic for people with heart failure because it often co-exists with conditions like Type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol

Instead of processed grains, seek out whole grains. Like fruits and vegetables, they’re nutrient-rich and excellent sources of fiber.

Processed Meats

Avoid cured and processed meats, which are high in sodium. Burgers and steaks, even unseasoned, present their own problem: they’re high in the types of fat that can lead to clogged arteries. 

Instead, aim to eat more fish than red meat, especially salmon, tuna, trout, and cod. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids and low in saturated fat that help lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. When you do eat meat, trim the visible fat before cooking it, and remove the skin from chicken.

Not all fat is bad, though. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can lower your risk of stroke and heart disease. They also help you maintain a healthy blood pressure and lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) levels, while boosting the “good” cholesterol (HDL). Good sources include olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds. 

About this Blog

The Penn Heart and Vascular blog provides the latest information on heart disease prevention, nutrition and breakthroughs in cardiovascular care.

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