• If you have heart failure, one of the most important things you can do to avoid retaining extra fluid is reduce the amount of sodium (salt) in your diet.
  • The first step to reducing sodium in your diet is to remove the saltshaker from your table. You should not add any extra salt to your food.
  • Most processed foods contain a lot of sodium. Learning how to read and understand food labels is an important skill.

Sodium Restriction

Sodium causes extra fluid to build up in your body, making your heart work harder. This extra fluid can also accumulate in your legs and ankles, as well as in your lungs, making it difficult to breathe.

What is sodium? 

Sodium is a mineral found in salt. One teaspoon of salt equals approximately 2,300 mg of sodium. Two-thirds of the salt in the Canadian diet is hidden in food. 

What is a low sodium diet? 

It is best to limit the amount of sodium you eat to less than 2,000 mg day. This will help prevent the accumulation of extra fluid in your body.

Reading Nutrition Labels

Of all the salt in our diet, approximately 10% comes from sodium found naturally in foods, 10% comes from salt that is added by us at the table, and 80% comes from food processing. 

It is important to learn how to read the Nutrition Facts panel on food packaging, as these labels can help us determine the sodium content of foods. Food manufacturers may change ingredients over time, so you should make it a habit to regularly revisit nutritional labels. 

What should I pay attention to in food labels? 

Serving Size: Compare the suggested serving size on the package to the amount that you actually eat – this can sometimes be very different. The label lists the amount of sodium in one serving, not the total amount of sodium in the entire package. 

Sodium: Look at the amount of sodium in mg per serving. Try to choose products with less than 200mg per serving or 10% or less of the Daily Value per serving. 

Ingredients: Ingredients are listed in decreasing order by amount. If an ingredient appears earlier in the list, that means there is more of it in the food. If salt or sodium appears in the ingredients list, make sure that it is near the end. Sometimes the salt can be ‘hidden’ – look out for these ingredients: sodium, monosodium glutamate (MSG), brine, sodium nitrite, sodium propionate, baking soda, and baking powder.

How can I reduce sodium in my diet?

  • Avoid using salt in your cooking and remove the saltshaker from your table.
  • Buy fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables and prepare your meals at home.
  • Avoid salted snack foods, such as chips, crackers, and nuts.
  • Choose foods labeled low sodium or no salt added.
  • Read food labels to see how much sodium is in each serving.
  • Avoid processed foods: 
  • Canned or packaged soups
  • Instant foods like oatmeal or puddings
  • Processed cheese slices or spreads
  • Processed, cured, or smoked meats like sausages, wieners, ham, bacon, or smoked fish
  • Canned vegetables, meats, and fish
  • Canned tomato and vegetable juices
  • Frozen dinners and entrees
  • When grocery shopping, try to do most of your shopping in the outer aisles where most of the fresh products are found. Avoid the inner aisles, where the more processed foods are shelved.
  • Plan your meals ahead of time.
  • Grill an extra chicken breast to use for a sandwich the next day.
  • Season foods with lemon juice, vinegar, fresh garlic, herbs, and spices. 
  • Don’t use spices that contain salt or sodium, like garlic salt or onion salt
  • Avoid using salt substitutes like No Salt® and Half Salt®.
  • Seasoning herb blends which are best to use include Mrs. Dash, President’s Choice no salt added seasoning blends, David’s Condiments™ salt free products, McCormick’s® salt-free products, and Club House® La Grill salt free seasonings.
  • Make salad dressing with fresh garlic, olive oil, and flavoured vinegar.
  • Search online for low sodium recipes.
  • Try a new low sodium cookbook.

Helpful resources include Canada’s Food Guide and