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Sodium information for patients with heart failure

Sodium is a compound found widely in nature and in foods. Many foods contain sodium naturally, but do not taste salty.


For heart failure patients, the recommended sodium intake is 2,000 milligrams a day.

One teaspoon of salt contains 2,400 milligrams of sodium. A low-sodium diet allows 2,000 milligrams a day.

Eating high amounts of sodium can be especially harmful if you have heart failure. When you have heart failure, your heart cannot pump as well as it once did. Sodium causes your body to retain, or hold, more water. This increases the work of your heart as it pumps blood through your body.

A guide to choosing foods low in sodium

If you are on an eating plan of 2,000 milligrams of sodium a day, the chart and recipes below may be a help in planning your meals and snacks.


Many salt substitutes are high in potassium. Some people with heart failure should not take large amounts of potassium, especially if they are taking an ACE inhibitor.

Check with your doctor before using any salt substitutes.

PDF icon Low-sodium foods chart

Spice blend recipe

Herb blend recipe

It is best to limit yourself to only one food a day with more than 400 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Special low-sodium cooking tips

There are a few simple things you can do to reduce the sodium in your diet:

  • Use less salt when you cook.
  • Leave the salt shaker off the table.
  • If salt is important to the flavor of the food, reduce the salt amount gradually (by a fourth, then by a half, and then by three-fourths).
  • Use herbs and spices to season food. Try flavored vinegar, sherry, wine and lemon juice. Parsley, thyme, and basil are flavorful in many foods.
  • Cut back or eliminate: processed foods (such as luncheon meats, prepackaged soups and sauces, Hamburger Helper® and Tuna Helper®, TV dinners) and salty foods (such as pickles, olives, sauerkraut, salted snacks, flavored salts, seasoned salts).
  • Avoid products with these words on the labels: monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium nitrate, sodium benzoate, sodium bicarbonate.
  • Use bouillon granules in half the amount called for on packaging; they contain a high amount of sodium. Use lower sodium bouillon granules.
  • Use lemon and lime juices or tomatoes to add zest to meat, salads, vegetables and fruits.
  • Save cooking liquid from vegetables to use in place of water in sauces and gravy.
  • Replace garlic and onion salt with garlic and onion powder.
  • Rinse canned vegetables to remove some of the sodium (about one-third). To reduce more sodium, use fresh, frozen or low-sodium canned vegetables.

*Follow any sodium restrictions given to you by your health care team.

Great low-sodium meals


  • two pieces of raisin toast with margarine or cream cheese, fresh or canned fruit, juice and coffee
  • cereal with 6 to 8 ounces milk, juice and coffee
  • omelet of 1/2 cup egg substitute with vegetables, toast with cream cheese, juice and coffee
  • oatmeal (not instant), toast with jelly, juice, fruit and coffee.

Lunches and dinners

  • sandwich of unprocessed turkey on two slices of bread with lettuce and tomato, fruit, carrot sticks
  • broiled or baked fish, baked potato with 1 teaspoon margarine, dinner salad, salad dressing
  • macaroni and cheese from Kraft® using only half the cheese packet, dinner salad, salad dressing
  • 2 ounces boiled shrimp, 1 cup rice, sliced tomatoes
  • Healthy Choice® frozen dinner, fruit cup

Salt-free flavoring ideas


bay leaf, curry, dry mustard, sage, marjoram, mushrooms, nutmeg, onion, pepper, thyme


curry, garlic, mint, pineapple, rosemary


apples, applesauce, garlic, onion, sage, peaches


apricots, bay leaf, curry, ginger, marjoram, oregano


bay leaf, lemon juice, marjoram, mushrooms, paprika


cranberries, paprika, thyme, sage


lemon juice


green pepper, tomato

Green beans

dillweed, lemon juice, marjoram, nutmeg, unsalted french dressing


onion, mint, mushrooms, green pepper


onion, mace, green pepper


cinnamon, ginger, mace, onion


basil, onion, oregano



Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts