If you’re diagnosed with heart failure, your doctor will prescribe medications to help treat it. In some cases, they might recommend surgery or medical devices to help your heart beat properly.

Your doctor might also encourage you to make changes to your lifestyle, including your diet. Eating a healthy diet may help relieve symptoms of heart failure and stop it from getting worse or triggering exacerbations. A nutrient-rich diet can also promote good overall health.

There are a few different types of congestive heart failure, including systolic or diastolic. No matter which type of heart failure you have, dietary recommendations are similar.

Read on to learn about meal plan options and dietary changes that might help you manage heart failure.

The DASH diet is an eating plan that was designed to lower blood pressure. It’s rich in plant-based foods and heart-healthy fats. So is the Mediterranean diet, an eating pattern that’s common in many Mediterranean countries.

Following the DASH diet or Mediterranean diet might help you meet your healthy eating goals. It’s possible to choose low-sodium foods while following these diets, especially if you limit your consumption of processed and prepackaged products.

To learn more about these diets, talk to your doctor or dietitian. They can help you learn about the potential upsides and downsides of different eating patterns.

You don’t necessarily need to follow a specific diet or prescribed meal plan to eat in a way that supports your heart health. Another option is to learn to incorporate healthy foods into your daily routine and to make heart-smart choices at every meal.

To meet your body’s nutritional needs, it’s important to eat a wide variety of foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other essential nutrients. On the other hand, it’s best to limit your consumption of foods that contain a lot of calories but few nutrients.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating a diet rich in plant-based foods, such as:

  • fruits and vegetables
  • beans and other legumes
  • nuts and seeds
  • whole grains

You can also get many essential nutrients from lean animal products, such as:

  • seafood
  • skinless poultry
  • low-fat dairy products

On the other hand, the AHA recommends limiting your consumption of red meat, sweets, and other foods that are high in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, or refined sugar.

When you eat a lot of salt or sodium, it causes your body to retain fluids. When fluids build up in your body, it increases your blood pressure and puts more strain on your heart.

In heart failure, this is particularly important as sodium can make heart failure symptoms worse. It can also have long-term effects on the kidneys and heart.

To help manage heart failure, your doctor will likely encourage you to follow a low-sodium diet, usually restricted to <2,000 mg daily for heart failure patients. This may vary based on your specific condition and type of heart failure — systolic or diastolic.

Sodium is naturally found in many foods, including seafood, poultry, red meat, dairy products, and plant products. But the biggest source of sodium is salt, which is added to many homemade dishes and most processed foods.

To help reduce the amount of sodium in your diet:

  • Limit your consumption of processed and pre-packaged foods, including canned soups, frozen dinners, cured meats, seasoned pasta and rice mixes, salad dressings and other condiments, and crackers and other snack foods.
  • When you buy processed or prepackaged foods, read the nutrition labels and choose low-sodium options.
  • Cut back on the amount of salt that you add to homemade dishes. Instead, season them with herbs, spices, citrus juice, or other low-sodium ingredients.

To help you learn how to cut back on sodium and make other changes to your diet, your doctor might refer you to a dietitian.

If you have heart failure, your doctor might also encourage you to track and limit the amount of fluids that you drink each day. You need to consume enough fluids to stay hydrated. But drinking too many fluids may raise your blood pressure and strain your heart if you have heart failure.

Ask your doctor how many cups of fluids you should drink each day. In some cases, they might prescribe diuretics, commonly known as water pills, to help your body get rid of excess fluids.

To help protect your heart and blood vessels, your doctor might encourage you to limit your consumption of alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can raise your risk of a heart attack, stroke, and other health problems.

Ask your doctor if it’s safe for you to drink moderate amounts of alcohol.

In some cases, your doctor might encourage you to lose weight to help reduce the stress on your heart. To lose weight, most people need to eat fewer calories.

Ask your doctor if it’s a good idea for you to restrict your calorie intake to lose weight. If you need help cutting calories, they may refer you a dietitian. Your dietitian can help you learn how to make nutrient-rich food choices, while trimming calories. They can also help you learn how to choose lower-calorie foods that leave you feeling full and satisfied.

Eating a nutrient-rich diet is important for supporting your physical and mental health. If you have heart failure, your doctor may also encourage you to limit your consumption of salt, alcohol, and other fluids. To help make changes to your diet, they may refer you to a dietitian.