Low Sodium - Where To Start?

From personal experience, adjusting to a low sodium diet can be overwhelming at first. As a newly diagnosed patient, once you start looking into it you realize that salt is everywhere!

Also, even if you ate a heart healthy diet before you were diagnosed, there is a difference between heart healthy and heart failure sodium limits. Said another way, things that are "heart-friendly" are not necessarily heart failure friendly! So, even if you ate a healthy diet before diagnosis, odds are that as a heart failure patient you will have to adjust your diet.

So, I wanted to share how I tackled it when I was first diagnosed, in case this helps others. Also, I am only 5 years in, so I can still remember how (very) hard it was for me to adjust.

Figuring out my sodium intake: Research and tracking

First, I started by learning how much sodium I was eating and where it was coming from.

Sodium is truly everywhere; some foods naturally contain sodium, some foods are made with a lot of sodium and processed, or ultra processed foods can contain astronomical amounts of sodium. So, it is important that you keep track of the sodium in EVERYTHING that enters your mouth because sodium is probably in everything that you eat, and it adds up fast.

If you are eating premade food, takeout food, or restaurant food, you can a lot of nutritional information online if you Google it. You can even ask places if they have the information as well.

I would also recommend figuring out a good record keeping system, whether that's an app, just keeping a list on a piece of paper that you have easy access to, or keeping track on your phone. You will most likely forget what you looked up or read earlier in the day, and it really is important to add everything up at the end of the day to get a realistic idea of your total sodium intake. What we eat can vary day to day, so it is also important to gather information OVER SEVERAL DAYS.

Making small changes to adjust to a low sodium diet for heart failure

You will know at that point where you stand, and your medical team can give you guidelines on minimum and maximum sodium limits. The next step is really dependent on how you typically eat. For instance, if you eat a lot of takeout or restaurant food, you might have to look at cutting back how often you order or eat out and what choices you make; however, if you are someone that cooks a fair amount at home, you are probably still going to have to adjust what products that you buy to make your food and thus what kind of meals you make. You will find that premade grocery store food can also contain a lot of sodium. For example, jarred pasta sauce, bread, and healthy snacks like hummus and pretzels or peanut butter crackers can be loaded with salt.

So, once you have your data, the next step is taking a look at where you sodium is coming from and what sacrifices you are willing to make. Remember that this is just the first adjustment, and big goals are better accomplished by small steps.

Start with small manageable steps, and keep at it. For example, you can do something like take away your favorite bread to start, and tackle the cheese, or a favorite barbeque sauce next.

Replacing salt with other flavors

And be creative. For instance, instead of taking away your favorite foods completely, maybe you can bulk up meals with no salt vegetables or whole grains so the largest portion of your meal is not coming from unhealthy sources. Remember, small steps and give your taste bud's time to adjust.

Lastly, as you are thinking about what you can live without, also think about what you can add! Salt is a flavoring, so if you are taking it away food may taste better if you can think about flavorings to add. Realize that salt is just one of several taste's that your taste buds recognize, and you can add flavor by incorporating dried spices, fresh herbs, vinegars, and mustards, just to name a few. Texture and smell also go a long way!

Most importantly: Stick with it!

Very lastly, is do not give up. Think about your coping mechanisms and try to give yourself time to grieve and adjust. In the meantime, we are there for you.

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