Changing your diet can help reduce symptoms and exacerbations of heart failure. This may include increasing plant-based foods and lean meats while decreasing salt, as well as alcohol and other fluids.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of 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. A nutrient-rich diet can promote good overall health, no matter which type of heart failure — systolic or diastolic — you have.

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 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 the Mediterranean diet might help you meet your nutritious eating goals. It’s possible to choose low sodium foods while following these diets, especially if you limit how many processed and prepackaged products you eat.

To learn more about these diets, talk with a doctor or dietitian, if you have access to one. They can help you learn about the potential upsides and downsides of different eating patterns.

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. At the same time, 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

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 because sodium can make heart failure symptoms worse. It can also have long-term effects on your kidneys and heart.

The AHA generally recommends limiting your sodium intake to 1,500–2,300 milligrams (mg) daily.

That said, it’s important to note that the evidence for restricting sodium even further in cases of heart disease is actually inconclusive. One 2023 study has even found that it had the potential to increase the risk of death in people with heart failure.

Your doctor will need to determine how much sodium you should consume 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 prepackaged 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, depending on your specific symptoms, your doctor may encourage you to track and limit the amount of fluids that you drink each day at a rate of 30 milliliters per kilogram of body weight (1/2 ounce per pound).

You need to consume enough fluids to stay hydrated. However, drinking too much 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, if you drink.

The British Heart Foundation says that people with a heart condition can still drink in moderation, but some heart conditions may require you to eliminate alcohol entirely.

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other health concerns. Note that the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for 2020–2025 say that moderate alcohol intake equals 2 drinks or fewer daily for males and 1 drink or fewer daily for females.

If you drink, ask your doctor whether it’s safe for you to drink moderate amounts of alcohol.

In some cases, losing weight can be beneficial because it can help reduce the stress on your heart.

That said, most people need to eat fewer calories to lose weight, and it’s important not to restrict your nutrition too severely either.

Ask your doctor whether it’s a good idea for you to restrict your calorie intake to lose weight and, if so, how many calories you should reduce from your daily intake. If you need help cutting calories while making sure you’re still getting all the needed nutrients, your doctor may refer you to 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.

What should I not eat or drink with heart failure?

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.

What is a cardiac diet menu plan?

You can consult with a dietitian if you feel like a defined meal plan will work better for you. They can help you develop a daily or weekly menu containing meals that include all the necessary nutrients.

However, you also don’t necessarily need to follow a specific diet or prescribed meal plan to eat in a way that supports your heart health. You can simply add healthy foods into your daily routine and make heart-smart choices at every meal.

What is a healthy breakfast for heart failure patients?

Oatmeal is a heart-healthy choice for breakfast, and you can add variety with spices, fruit, or nuts. Here are four heart-healthy breakfasts that take 20 minutes or fewer to make, including oatmeal.

What is the best meat for heart failure?

The best meat to eat with heart failure includes poultry, fish, and lean cuts of red meat like pork or beef.

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.