Adjusting your diet: Salt

Reducing your salt intake can be important for people with heart failure. Your body does need salt to function; however, it only requires very little, and most foods contain salt naturally.


Heart failure causes your body to hold on to extra salt and water, which causes fluid to build up in your body. This extra fluid causes swelling in your ankles, feet or stomach and weight gain. It can also cause congestion of your lungs and make you short of breath. Your heart has to work harder as a result of the extra fluid increasing the volume of blood your heart has to pump around your body.

Salt also makes you thirsty. Therefore, if you eat a lot of salty foods you may want to drink more.


  • Try to eat more fruit and vegetables (fresh wherever possible), meat substitutes (such as soya protein), unprocessed foods, low fat dairy products, polyunsaturated fats (such as olive oil), cereals and fish.
  • Try adding herbs, spices or fruit juices (lemon/lime) to your meal to add more flavour.
  • Remove the salt pot (shaker) from the table so that you are not tempted to add salt to your meal.
  • Avoid processed foods which are high in salt, such as ready-made meals, canned vegetables, cheese, processed meats (cold cuts, sausages, hams), packaged cereals, bread, processed tomatoes (ketchup, tomato juice, etc) and condiments (soy and Worcestershire sauces).
  • Always check food labels, salt can be found where you may not expect it, for example in carbonated “soda” drinks or ice screams.
  • Always check food labels for salt content.
  • Be careful what you eat when dining out.

You may find that even if you don’t have the symptoms of fluid build-up or are taking a diuretic, reducing your salt intake will make you feel better. It will also help your treatment work better. A low-salt diet has been shown to play an important part preventing heart disease so you may find that family members and friends, who share your mealtimes/shopping, can also benefit from cutting down on their salt intake.


Return to Adjusting your diet



ESC Guidelines for Heart Failure

What patients need to know

This guide for patients from the European Society of Cardiology aims to provide an overview of the latest evidence-based recommendations for the diagnosis and treatment of heart failure.

In particular, it should help patients to understand the:

  • main types of heart failure
  • medicines used to treat heart failure
  • devices that may be appropriate
  • importance of rehabilitation
  • management by a multidisciplinary team
  • importance of self-care in managing your own condition

Learn more


A series of 9 simple, captivating animations explaining heart failure and its treatment.

These narrated animations explain how a healthy heart works, what happens to it in heart failure and how various treatments work to improve your health.


In this section you can watch, listen or read interviews with other people with heart failure and their caregivers.


and share your own views and experiences with other patients, families and caregivers. is a European Society of Cardiology website

The website was developed under the direction of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). The ESC is a world leader in the discovery and dissemination of best practices in cardiovascular medicine. Our members and decision-makers are healthcare professionals who volunteer their time and expertise to represent professionals in the field of cardiology in Europe and beyond.

Back to top