Certain dietary changes, such as limiting sodium and excess fluids, may help reduce fluid buildup caused by heart failure.

Congestive heart failure (CHF) occurs when extra fluid builds up and affects your heart’s ability to pump blood effectively.

There’s no specific diet for people with CHF. Instead, doctors usually recommend making dietary changes to reduce extra fluid. This generally involves a combination of reducing your sodium consumption and restricting your fluid intake.

Too much sodium can cause fluid retention, and drinking too many fluids can also impact your heart’s ability to properly pump blood.

Read on to learn tips to help you reduce your sodium and fluid intake.

Your body is constantly trying to strike the perfect balance between electrolytes, including sodium, and water. When you consume a lot of sodium, your body hangs on to extra water to balance it. For most people, this just results in some bloating and mild discomfort.

However, people with CHF already have extra fluid in their bodies, which makes fluid retention a more serious health concern. Doctors generally recommend that people with CHF limit their sodium intake to about 2,000 milligrams (mg) per day. This is slightly less than 1 teaspoon of salt.

While this might seem like a hard amount to limit yourself to, there are several easy steps you can take to eliminate extra salt from your diet without sacrificing flavor.

1. Experiment with alternative seasonings

Salt, which is about 40 percent sodium, might be one of the more common seasonings, but it’s definitely not the only one. Try swapping salt for savory herbs, such as:

  • parsley
  • tarragon
  • oregano
  • dill
  • thyme
  • basil
  • celery flakes

Pepper and lemon juice also add a good amount of flavor without any added salt. For extra convenience, you can also purchase salt-free seasoning blends.

2. Tell your waiter

It can be hard to know how much salt you’re consuming when eating at restaurants. The next time you go out to eat, tell your server you need to avoid extra salt. They can tell the kitchen to limit the amount of salt in your dish or advise you on low-sodium menu options.

Another option is to ask that the kitchen not use any salt and bring a small container of your own salt-free seasoning.

3. Read labels carefully

Try to look for foods that contain less than 350 mg of sodium per serving. Alternatively, if sodium is one of the first five ingredients listed, it’s probably best to avoid it.

What about foods labeled as “low sodium” or “reduced sodium”? Here’s what labels like this actually mean:

  • Light or reduced sodium. The food contains one-quarter less sodium than the food usually would.
  • Low sodium. The food contains 140 mg of sodium or less in one serving.
  • Very low sodium. The food contains 35 mg of sodium or less per serving.
  • Sodium-free. The food contains less than 5 mg sodium in one serving.
  • Unsalted. The food might contain sodium, but not any added salt.

4. Avoid prepackaged foods

Prepackaged foods, such as frozen meals, often contain deceptively high levels of sodium. Manufacturers add salt to many of these products to enhance flavor and lengthen shelf-life. Even prepacked foods marketed as “light sodium” or “reduced sodium” contain more than the recommended maximum of 350 mg per serving.

However, that doesn’t mean you need to eliminate frozen meals completely. Here are 10 low-sodium frozen meals for the next time you’re in a time crunch.

5. Watch for hidden sodium sources

Salt is used to enhance the flavor and texture of many foods you wouldn’t suspect of being high in sodium. Many condiments, including mustard, steak sauce, lemon pepper, and soy sauce, contain high levels of sodium. Salad dressings and prepared soups are also common sources of unexpected sodium.

6. Get rid of the salt shaker

When it comes to reducing salt in your diet, “out of sight, out of mind” is an effective approach. Simply getting rid of the salt shaker in your kitchen or on the dinner table can make a big impact.

Need some motivation? One shake of salt contains about 250 mg of sodium, which is one-eighth of your daily intake.

In addition to limiting sodium, a doctor may also recommend limiting fluids. This helps to keep the heart from being overloaded with fluids throughout the day.

While the amount of fluid restriction varies from person to person, doctors often recommend people with CHF aim for 2,000 milliliters (mL) of fluid a day. This is the equivalent of 2 quarts of fluid.

When it comes to restricting fluid, make sure to account for anything that’s a fluid at room temperature. This includes things like soups, gelatin, and ice cream.

1. Find alternative thirst quenchers

It’s tempting to guzzle a bunch of water when you’re thirsty. But sometimes, just moistening your mouth can do the trick.

The next time you’re tempted to gulp down some water, try these alternatives.

  • Swish water around your mouth and spit it out.
  • Suck on sugar-free candy or chew sugar-free gum.
  • Roll a small ice cube around the inside of your mouth.

2. Track your consumption

If you’re new to restricting fluids, keeping a daily log of the fluids you consume can be a big help. You might be surprised by how quickly fluids add up. Alternatively, you might find that you don’t need to restrict yourself as much as you originally thought.

With a few weeks of diligent tracking, you can start making more accurate estimates about your fluid intake and ease up on the constant tracking.

3. Portion out your fluids

Try to distribute your fluid consumption throughout your day. If you wake up and drink a bunch of coffee and water, you might not have much room for other fluids throughout the day.

Budget the 2,000 mL throughout your day. For example, have 500 mL for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This leaves with room for two 250 mL drinks between meals.

Work with your doctor to determine how much you need to restrict your fluid intake.

4. Eat water-heavy or frozen fruit

Fruits that are high in water, such as citrus or watermelon, are a great (sodium-free) snack that can quench your thirst. You can also try freezing grapes for a cooling treat.

5. Track your weight

If possible, try to weigh yourself every day at the same time. This will help you keep track of how well your body is filtering fluid.

Call your doctor if you gain more than 3 pounds in a day or consistently gain a pound a day. This could be a sign that you may need to take other measures to reduce your fluid intake.

CHF involves a buildup of fluid that makes it hard for your heart to work efficiently. Reducing the amount of fluid in your body is an important aspect of any CHF treatment plan. Work with your doctor to determine how much you should be restricting your fluid.

When it comes to sodium, try to stay under 2,000 mg per day unless your doctor recommends a different amount.