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Heart Healthy Cardiac Diet

At Hosparus Health, we understand the discomfort that comes from navigating serious or chronic illness. If you’re living with advanced cardiac disease, sometimes called end-stage heart disease or congestive heart failure, symptoms like shortness of breath, weight gain, swelling and chest pain can significantly impact your quality of life.

Our Heart Connection program can help you manage your symptoms and empower you to get the most out of each day. Symptom management means much more than addressing your condition with medications. A key aspect of your plan of care is your cardiac diet, which will be customized based on your goals.

In advanced cardiac disease, the heart does not pump efficiently, which means your body is not getting enough oxygen. Certain foods and beverages can force your heart to work harder, making it even more difficult to breathe and worsening other symptoms. Simple changes to your diet can provide you with relief. Foods you’ll want to avoid are those that increase fluid retention, cause circulation problems and contribute to obesity.

Salt and Sodium

Reducing salt in your diet can often make the biggest difference. High levels of sodium found in processed and packaged foods, as well as some drinks, puts added strain on your heart and blood vessels, decreasing the heart’s ability to function.

Sodium causes your body to hold on to extra water. The excess fluid builds up in your ankles, legs and belly, causing a lot of discomfort and making it hard for you to get around. The swelling can increase your chances of falling, and the fluid that builds up in the abdomen can make it more difficult to breathe.

One of the first things you should do is remove the salt shaker from your kitchen. An eighth of a teaspoon “shake” adds up to more than 250 milligrams of sodium. We usually recommend no more than 500 milligrams of sodium per meal.

Here are a few low-sodium foods and seasoning options:

  • Fresh and frozen vegetables
  • Canned, unsalted vegetables
  • Fresh and dried fruits
  • Fresh meats such as chicken or fish
  • Plain rice, pasta and oatmeal (any type except instant)
  • Fresh spices and dried spice blends with no added salt
  • Garlic and onion powder
  • Lemon juice
  • Pepper

Here are some foods and beverages you should avoid:

  • Sports drinks and sodas
  • Sauerkraut
  • Pickled foods
  • Olives
  • Canned soups
  • Processed meats
  • Frozen dinners
  • Steak sauce, soy sauce and mustard


Fat and Cholesterol

Most people are aware that a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol can lead to clogged arteries and other heart-related problems. For people who already have advanced cardiac disease, it can cause more stress on your heart, and lead to further complications. Weight gain from a diet high in fat may make it harder for you to breathe and increase the severity of other symptoms.

Here are some tips that can help lessen your symptoms and prevent weight gain:

  • Eat baked, broiled, grilled, boiled or steamed foods. Frying foods in oil adds excess fat.
  • Choose lean cuts of meat over high-fat prime cuts and ground meats. Limit red meat.
  • Avoid bacon, ham and sausage.
  • Use skim or nonfat milk and dairy products.
  • Choose whole-grain breads and cereals, making sure to check the label for
  • Avoid high-fat condiments like salad dressing, mayonnaise, margarine, butter and sour cream. Enjoy them occasionally by choosing low-fat and low-sodium options.


Managing Your Diet

One of the most important things you can do when monitoring your cardiac diet is to read food labels. Excess salt and fat can be found in even the seemingly healthiest foods, like cottage cheese. And while a frozen “diet” meal may seem healthy because it’s low in calories, it may contain harmful preservatives and added sodium.

Also, beware of salt substitutes. Some are high in potassium, which can cause problems when combined with certain medicines used to manage congestive heart failure.

If you need help with heart-conscious meal planning, there are lots of low-sodium, low-fat recipes online. The American Heart Association website is a great place to start. Visit You can also view our list of suggestions for a cardiac diet here.

Hosparus Health’s specialized care allows you to be as comfortable as possible so you can spend less time focusing on the limitations of your condition and more time making precious memories with the people you love. Customizing a nutrition plan is one part of your care plan that can make a big difference in your quality of life.

If you or someone you know could benefit from our Heart Connection program, please call us at 800-HOSPICE (467-7423) to get started.

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