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The Salt Struggle is Real

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

By Christy Sillman

It’s that time of year—casseroles, soups, decadent dinners, parties out, and treats everywhere. As a heart patient it’s my most challenging month to keep my salt (sodium) intake under 2,000 mg a day (that’s the definition of a low-sodium diet). Lately my belly has been protruding, my rings have been squeezing, and my socks have become tighter. The salt struggle is real, folks—how do we get through the holiday season without fluid overloading ourselves??? Here’s what I do for staying low sodium during the holidays:

  1. Eat healthy outside of the parties: This is a key concept and involves planning. I have a work party tonight that will surely involve at least 1,000 mg of sodium. So today I’m eating as fresh, clean, and as low sodium as I can before the party. My coworker just walked in with a delicious smelling breakfast casserole and my cravings are saying “YES!!” but I’m going to say no and stick to my deliciously healthy acai bowl and cucumber water.
  2. Don’t go to a party hungry: My impulse control and ability to say “no” goes out the window when I’m hungry—even worse when it’s escalated to the point where I’ve become HANGRY (so hungry I get grouchy/angry). If I go to a party starving then I’m done for—I’ll overeat and rationalize my way into any salty food choice. Eating a healthy snack before you go will help control your cravings and help give the strength to say no.
  3. Portion control: Last week, at a party, I made a conscious choice to eat small portions of the salty foods and fill up on the fresh and less salty foods. I boxed the leftovers and gave them to my husband. That’s my game plan for tonight and all further holiday parties this season—have small bites of the sodium-filled foods and fill up on the low-sodium fresh foods (salads, vegetables without sauce) to avoid overeating.
  4. Drink enough fluids but not too much: I’m a chronic under drinker—I’ll frequently inadvertently dehydrate myself and, believe it or not, this contributes to the water retention. My poor body thinks “well, this may be the last bit of water we’ll see for a while, better hang on to it.” So I retain the little bit of fluid I put into my body. In the same token, we don’t want to fluid overload ourselves by drinking too much. There’s a sweet spot—the Goldilocks of water intake. Ask your ACHD cardiologist what your daily fluid intake should be. Water is best as other fluids can contain sodium as a preservative and caffeine that could irritate the heart. Water with lemon is even better as lemon has natural diuretic properties.
  5. Watch for fluid overload: Aside from the swelling, how do we know if we’re retaining fluids? Fat weight comes on slower than water weight. So weighing yourself daily is the way to monitor for fluid retention. Every morning, after you go to the bathroom, weigh yourself naked on a scale. Write down your weight or use an app to track your weight. The rule of thumb is “5 pound gain or loss in one week or 2 pounds in 2 days is too much.” Let your ACHD team know if your weight is swinging that much.
  6. Talk to your ACHD cardiologist: Last, but certainly not least, if you have been keeping your sodium low, your daily fluid intake in your goal zone, and still notice a large/quick weight gain—it’s time to call your cardiologist.

Do you have any other low-sodium tips to add? Are you struggling with your sodium intake this month?

I wish you all a joyous holiday season full of laughter, cheer, and optimal health through the New Year.


Add yours below.


The opinions expressed by ACHA bloggers and those providing comments on the ACHA Blog are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of the Adult Congenital Heart Association or any employee thereof. ACHA is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the ACHA bloggers.

The contents of this blog are presented for informational purposes only, and should not be substituted for professional advice. Always consult your physicians with your questions and concerns.

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