Dear Dietitian – Help with a Low Salt Diet?

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Published Saturday, March 3, 2018
by Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC

I have just been diagnosed with congestive heart failure and have been told to follow a low salt diet. I have been trying, but it really seems almost impossible! Can you help? --Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

Low sodium diets are often prescribed for patients with congestive heart failure, a condition where the heart does not pump efficiently. When we consume salt, or sodium chloride, this can have an impact on how the heart works. Salt draws water, which can build up around the heart, but the heart cannot effectively pump the fluid away. This can result in shortness of breath or fluid build-up in the legs or abdomen. Lowering salt in your diet helps prevent these problems.

The key to following a new diet is planning ahead. Focus on fresh foods, meats, fruits, vegetables. Plan meals ahead of time. Avoid canned and processed foods, such as canned vegetables, frozen pizzas, pot pies, tv dinners, and cheese.

Learn how to read food labels. Keep sodium less than 200 mg sodium per serving. Look for Low sodium on the label; these foods have 140 mg sodium or less per serving.  You can also read the ingredient list to learn more about the source of sodium. Watch for words like sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and sodium benzoate.

Learn how to season foods without salt. Use curry or onion for eggs. Try sage or rosemary for tomatoes. Dry mustard or oregano can spice up your pork. Be sure to consult your doctor before using salt substitutes that contain potassium; these may cause your potassium level to rise.

When dining out, ask that foods be prepared without salt. Avoid buffets and cafeterias, as these foods are often high in sodium.

Finally, give yourself at least six weeks to adjust to a new diet. You won't do it perfectly, so try to be patient. If you find you need more help, consult your local registered dietitian.

Leanne McCrate, RD, LD, CNSC, is an award-winning dietitian with over fifteen years of experience. Have a question?  Email Leanne at