Originally published in the National Post by Carol Dombrow, RD, Postmedia News | February 9, 2016

February is Heart Month.  The Heart and Stroke’s 2016 Report on the Health of Canadians focuses on The Burden of Heart Failure.

Customers shop for groceries at Pusateri's in Toronto, Ontario, Oct. 24, 2011. Tyler Anderson/National Post

Customers shop for groceries at Pusateri’s in Toronto, Ontario, Oct. 24, 2011.
Tyler Anderson/National Post

Heart Failure means the heart muscle is damaged or weakened; unable to pump blood efficiently.  The result is that the body is not getting the blood, oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Heart Failure has many causes or underlying risk factors.  Most common is damage to the heart muscle caused by a heart attack and the second most common is high blood pressure.

If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of Canadians living with heart failure then this information is important for you.

The good news is that lifestyle changes can help many patients with heart failure.

Eating a healthy diet.

Reducing sodium (salt) intake

Managing the amount of fluids you are consuming.

Becoming physically active.

Quitting smoking.

Eat Healthy

Eating a healthy diet is good for everyone.  It will also help greatly in controlling your sodium (salt) intake. For someone with heart failure, too much sodium (salt) can cause fluid build-up in the body making your heart work harder.

The good thing about healthy eating is that is does not have to be complicated or time consuming.  Consider consulting a registered dietitian if you think you need help.

Cook Whole Foods

Think about the kinds of foods you like to eat.  Visit the library or a website that features healthy recipes such as this one on the Heart & Stroke’s website. Select 5 recipes that appeal to you.  Try to make one a week for the next month or so.  Add the ones you end up liking to your weekly meal plan.

Understand Nutrition Labelling

Veronica Henri/SunMediaArchive

Learn to understand the nutrition information on packaged foods. There are many different sodium claims on packaged foods.

Foods that are lower in sodium may carry one of these claims:

  • Salt-free – 5 mg sodium or less per serving
  • Low sodium – less than 140 mg of sodium per serving
  • Reduced or lower in sodium – 25% less sodium than a similar food
  • Lightly salted – 50% less sodium added
  • No added sodium or salt – salt is not added

You want to aim for foods that in most cases have less than 15% Daily Value for Sodium listed on the Nutrition Facts table; less is always better.  If a food has 15% of the Daily Value for Sodium, it would have 360 mg of sodium.

Please note that one teaspoon of salt is equal to 2400 mg of sodium.

You should be aiming to eat less than 2,000 mg of sodium per day from all foods. If you have been also diagnosed with high blood pressure (hypertension), reduce your sodium intake to 1,500 mg or less a day.

Fill Half Your Plate with Vegetables and Fruit

Filling ‘Half Your Plate’ with vegetables and fruit helps you to eat healthfully without having to worry about the salt or sodium level.  Keep plain frozen vegetables on-hand so you always can fill ‘Half Your Plate’ even when you are unable to go shopping.

Add Flavour

Use herbs and spices to flavour your foods, not salt.

Limit Eating in Restaurants

Restaurant food can be much higher in sodium than the food you prepare at home.  If you are going to restaurant, select carefully and ask to see the nutrition information for the menu items before ordering.

Fotolia - Increase water intake

Fotolia – Increase water intake

FotoliaOne of the first things you can do to improve your mood is also one of the simplest: Make sure you’re drinking enough water, and if you notice a drop in mental energy, reach for the H2O to start. Below are some other tips for staying upbeat.

Control Fluid Intake

If you have heart failure, it is important to keep track of the amount of fluids you are consuming.  You need to limit your intake to 1.5 to 2 litres (6 to 8 glasses) per day of fluids.  This includes everything you drink (coffee, tea, milk, water, juice ) as well as soups.  Half of your fluids should be water.

Get Moving

Regular exercise has many benefits.  Consult your health care provider to find out what activities are best for you.

Don’t Smoke

If you smoke, quit.  Ask your health care provider for help with quitting smoking.

If you have questions about what you are hearing in the news but are not sure what it means to you, please e-mail me at dombrow@rogers.com and follow me on Twitter at @CarolD_RD.


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