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Holidays and Heart Healthy Choices for Those with Heart Failure

As a cardiologist specializing in heart failure, I’ve become acutely aware of how holiday choices can impact your physical and emotional health. My goal is to help you enjoy a holiday season that is merry and bright. So let’s go over a few holiday tips that are great for everyone – but are especially important for heart failure patients.

Keep up with routines.

The holidays are a fun time to take a break from daily life routines, and while some are okay to change temporarily, disrupting other routines can affect your sleep, mood and well being. Be honest with loved ones about your dietary needs, so you have access to heart healthy foods. Prioritize your rest and sleep. Get in your exercise, but don’t overexert yourself. Set a regular routine – the regular routine will make it possible for you to enjoy all the moments that make the holidays magical.

Don’t forget your medications.

If you’re traveling, make sure you have enough of your medications to last the entire trip. You don’t want to miss dosages or skip days. This can lead to increased stress on the heart and land you in the hospital during a time when you’d planned to enjoy making special memories and spending time with loved ones.

Avoid salty food.

There are a lot of favorite foods around the holidays and a lot of those foods come with a lot of salt. Salt can quickly lead to fluid retention and shortness of breath. Avoid extremely salty foods and consider which foods have hidden salt, even if they don’t taste especially salty.

Watch your weight.

Make sure you have a scale to watch your weight. Weight is a great way to know if you are retaining fluid. If you jump five pounds in a day, that is not because you had extra turkey on your holiday plate. It’s more likely that you’re retaining fluid because you ate a lot of salt at that big holiday meal.

Make heart healthy choices.

During the holidays, there are some foods you need to eat with care.


Avoid a lot of salt. As said earlier, salt can be hidden in your foods, and salt is not your friend.


Diabetes is very common in patients with heart failure. Avoid the temptation to indulge in extra sweet sides and desserts. Sugar will drive your blood sugar dangerously high.

Cheat Bites

It’s okay to cheat and have a bite or two of something that is very sweet or savory, but don’t let those bites become two or three pieces of a food you know you should not eat.

Fried Foods

Stay away from fried foods. Over consumption of fried foods puts you at greater risk for heart attack and stroke.


Alcohol is a cardiotoxic medication, which means it causes direct damage to the heart. It’s best not to drink alcohol, but if you’re going to drink, do so in moderation.

Holiday Food

Most holiday foods saved for serving once a year aren’t good for you because they are rich in salt, sugar, oil or alcohol. Stick to your normal diet during the holidays, and above all else, avoid salty foods.

Nutritional Variety

Continue a well-rounded diet during the holidays. Be mindful of the main food groups and enjoy within reason from each one. Eat whole foods to include vegetables, fruits, grains, protein and dairy.

Couple enjoying a heart healthy holiday lunch

What if I over indulge?

Most people cheat a bit during the holidays, so if you get a stomachache, Pepto Bismol or Tums® are fine to take. If you have a question about medication safety, either the heart failure nurses or other clinicians in the Advanced Heart Failure Practice are available to answer your questions.

There is no dumb question. We would rather answer the easy questions than see you in the emergency room because  you were too embarrassed to ask for help.

What if I over-do it?

The holidays are tough. You’re a lot busier, and you may be getting some additional exercise from activities, such as running errands and putting up decorations. You can overexert yourself, putting undo stress on your body. It’s fine to enjoy activities, but don’t go too far. Listen to your body and know when to take a break to rest.

What about holiday stress and holiday blues?

As much as the holidays are happy times, they can also be stressful times.

Since all families are different, you may wind up spending more time with relatives who you prefer not to see. Pay attention to your stress levels. If someone is making your stress levels go up, you need to take time away from him or her.

The holidays are also a time to remember loved ones who may have passed away or those who you won’t see this year. This can lead to anxiety and depression. If you’re feeling sad or anxious, don’t soldier through it alone. Reach out to your doctor and talk to people you trust. Medication can help, and some people need medicines to get through the holidays. Don’t hide how you feel. Discuss your feelings with your doctor and accept support.

We hope you’ll consider these tips as you enjoy this season. Happy holidays from the advanced heart failure team! Cheers to heart health in 2021.