Heart Failure and the Holidays 

The Holidays Can Be Hard to Navigate When You Have Heart Failure 

Did you know that hospital admissions for heart failure are higher in the winter months with a noticeable spike in late November and December?  It’s not surprising when you think about the large meals and decadent foods that typically accompany the holiday season.    

Food is a Part of Social Events

Have you been to many social events where food was not part of it? I haven’t. Social events are often planned around meals!

Parties and gatherings are especially difficult when you have heart failure. Appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, dips, and other party foods are typically high in sodium.  Meals are rich, and desserts are especially decadent. We all want to take a break from everyday life and join in the holiday fun.

Holiday Traditions are Not Always Good for Your Health

There is also a strong desire to uphold food traditions that may not be good for your health.  You may spend all year looking forward to grandma’s stuffing, your uncle’s gravy, and the favorite family casserole. And let’s face it, you may feel obligated to eat the foods made my others. No one wants Aunt Jane’s feelings to be hurt if you refuse her mac n cheese.

It can be easy to feel limited and frustrated by food restrictions, leading you to forgo healthy eating.

It’s Not Always Fun to Be Watching Your Diet

I get it!

This is hard!

Your focus shifts away from managing your disease as you look forward to visits with friends and family. You may also find yourself tired of worrying about what you eat.  

It is difficult to stay on track. The holidays create the perfect storm and often lead to an exacerbation of your heart failure. 

The good news is that you can manage your heart failure and still enjoy the holiday season. The key is to plan ahead and pay attention.  And, don’t be afraid to introduce new traditions that are good for you and those you love.

Follow these tips below to make the most of the holidays

Host a Meal at Your Home 

If you are hosting, you have control over the food served.

  • Prepare lower fat and low sodium dishes, adapting family favorites to be healthier for everyone. 
  • Focus on colorful vegetable side dishes prepared with seasonal spices. (See the blog for delicious options) 
  • Put butter, gravies, and salt shaker on the table for your guests.  Do not use them in cooking. 
  • Plan to include one or two decadent dishes, especially if they are part of your holiday traditions.   
  • Track your sodium and fluid intake carefully so you have room to enjoy a reasonable portion of your favorite things.

Check out these recipes that make great additions to a holiday meal! Almond Butter Dessert Dip and Maple Roasted Carrots — healthy and delicious.

Speak Up When Visiting Others 

  • Tell Your Hosts About Your Dietary Restrictions If you are traveling, let your hosts know about your dietary restrictions before you go. This is not being picky or impolite. This is your life. Your health is important and it’s likely your guests will be happy to accommodate you.  Remember that it is easy for them to leave out the salt during preparation and simply add it when they make their plate.   
  • Offer to buy or prepare several dishes This is the easiest way to ensure you will have something healthy to eat. A fresh veggie plate is a great option for dips instead of salty chips.  Your host will likely appreciate the offer to help.
  • Pick and choose where you will spend your sodium allotment.  If a high salt food such as ham is being served, avoid this, while allowing yourself small portions of other dishes. 

Plan Your Day Carefully 

Thanksgiving dinner may be decadent, but breakfast and lunch that day do not have to be.  Maybe you are attending a holiday brunch.  Plan your other meals to be especially heart healthy. 

Eat the healthiest, freshest, lowest sodium foods throughout the rest of the day.

This is one of the easiest ways to allow yourself some flexibility in a way that is safer for your heart failure. Write out a menu if this helps!

You will decrease your risk of exacerbation, and you will feel better–an added bonus!

Keep a Healthy Routine   

  • Don’t get caught in the fun and forget to take care of yourself.  
  • Take your medications on time.   
  • Try to get some fresh air and a little exercise each day.  
  • Weigh yourself daily to keep an eye out for fluid gains.  
  • Give yourself some quiet time to relax. 
  • Get a good night’s sleep 

Act Quickly  

Pay attention to your symptoms. You know your body best.  

If you notice

  • Swelling
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight change
  • A feeling that something just isn’t right

Put your health first.  Your friends and family will understand. Take action and seek medical help!


I hope you find these tips helpful, and I hope you are able to look forward to the holiday season. Most of all, I wish you good health and time to do the things that mean the most without letting heart failure get in your way!

Feel free to share tips with me. I’d love to know what works for you and your family. And don’t forget to sign up for my email list so you don’t miss out on future blog posts. It’s 100% free!


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