Can a nutritionist help someone with congestive heart failure?

Marisa Rendon
Nutrition & Dietetics

Absolutely. Nutritional management of the Congestive Heart Failure patient is complex because several nutritional problems can occur, including sodium and fluid retention, malnutrition and dietary management of coexisting disorders, e.g. diabetes mellitus. Although dietary advice on sodium and fluid restriction is considered essential in the management of Congestive Heart Failure patients a lot of patients are not appropriately counseled about diet. Dieticians have an important role in dietary intake evaluation; formulating tailored dietary advice according to specific patient needs (e.g. combine a CHF and diabetes diet), helping patients to attain or maintain an optimal nutritional status and to improve compliance with prescribed nutritional recommendations.

Linda Rohyans
Cardiac Rehabilitation

When you have Heart Failure (HF), what you eat and drink is very important. Because HF is a chronic condition, you have more nutritional needs. Eating healthy often means making changes in your current eating habits. Many people find that a dietician, or nutritionist, is an excellent resource for support, education, and advice; such as, eating small frequent meals instead of three heavy meals. Planning what you eat is a good way to manage your HF. A nutritionist may provide in-depth, personalized nutrition education, tailored to meet your specific needs, which will help you feel confident as you become more active in your planning.

Eating a heart-healthy diet may help you feel better and give you more energy. Staying away from foods that make your HF worse is just as important. Too much sodium (salt) in your diet causes your body to hold on to fluid. The more sodium you take in, the more fluid your body holds on to; similar to a sponge being over-saturated with water. When your body holds on to extra fluid, this leads to swelling, or edema, that can worsen your HF and make it more difficult for your heart to do its job. A diet low in sodium will help keep your heart working at its best. You may be asked to limit the amount of fluids you drink; if so, try rinsing your mouth with water, or suck on sugarless, hard candy, ice chips, or frozen fruit, to quench your thirst. Be sure to weigh yourself daily to monitor fluid weight gain!

A healthy diet doesn’t mean giving up flavor and variety. A heart-healthy diet, such as the DASH diet, is rich in vegetables and fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods, lean meats and poultry, fish, and fat-free/low-fat dairy products. The DASH diet may help to lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels. You may already be on a special diet for other health problems, such as coronary artery disease, diabetes, or obesity. You will need to keep following that diet in addition to a low-sodium diet. Be sure to eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need, read food labels, and watch sodium (2 Gm daily).

If you are hospitalized for HF, a nutritionist may visit you for any learning needs. Many HF outpatient clinics have a nutritionist who can help you learn how to make good food choices. Changing your diet can be a challenge; but it is definitely worth all of your effort! A nutritionist may be helpful; but most importantly, you must take action and be informed!

Picture of DASH food

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Heart Disease

Heart Disease

Heart disease is the number one killer of adults in the United States. In fact, one in every three deaths is from heart disease and stroke, equal to 2,200 deaths per day. Taking care of your heart is essential for a long life. You ...

can treat your ticker right by eating healthy, staying active and managing your stress.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.