Triglycerides are a form of fat that can be found in the bloodstream. All the calories that we ingest and don’t need are converted by the liver into triglycerides which are then stored in our fat cells.
High levels of triglycerides can lead to clogged arteries and for this reason they increase the risk of cardiovascular disease such as coronary artery disease and stroke, therefore it is important to keep their level under control. Other risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) include:
- Family history of CVD
- Being overweight
- Lack of exercise
- High Blood Pressure
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Normal levels of serum triglycerides
Triglycerides are measured with a blood test and are generally part of the lipid panel, also known as lipid profile, which includes testing for HDL and LDL cholesterol levels as well. To perform the test, you’ll have to be fasting for at least 10-12 hours but drinking water is allowed. Alcohol should also be avoided in the 24 hours preceding the test.
- 40-100 mg/dL or (0.45-1.13 mmol/L) is considered the optimal level of fasting triglycerides
- < 150 mg/dL (< 1.7 mmol/L): normal triglyceride range
- 150-199 mg/dL (1.8-2.2 mmol/L): borderline high triglyceride range
- 200-499 mg/dL (2.3-5.6 mmol/L): high triglyceride range
- >500 mg/dL (>5.7 mmol/L): very high triglyceride range
Your lipid profile is not only influenced by your diet and lifestyle, but also by your genetics. Some medications such as estrogens or some health conditions may also lead to increased serum triglycerides.
Diet for high triglycerides
To quickly lower your high triglyceride levels with diet you should implement the following dietary changes:
- Eliminate refined sugars and added sugars. These sugars should be limited to a maximum of 5-10% of your total daily calories. The less, the better.
- Reduce refined carbohydrates. Choose whole grains over refined grains. Carbs should represent around 50% of your daily calories.
- Reduce saturated fat. Choose healthy polyunsaturated and unsaturated fats over saturated and trans fats. Fats should represent 25-35% of your total daily calories.
- Choose plant-based over animal-based product. Plant based foods are naturally low in fats or sugars and high in fibers.
- Increase daily fiber intake. Fibers increase the feeling of satiation making you eat less; moreover fiber-rich products are generally low in sugars and fats.
- Eliminate alcohol. Alcohol consumption, with or without a meal, increases serum levels of triglycerides.
Foods that help lower triglycerides
A few weeks of healthy diet choices can already show results and improvement in your triglycerides levels. A healthy diet to lower high triglycerides should include the following foods.
Omega-3 fatty acids in food
Omega-3 fatty acids are “good fats”. Omega-3 rich foods can help lower your triglycerides levels.
- Eat at least 2-3 portions of fatty fish per week. Fish rich in omega-3s include salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, herring and trout.
- Eat a daily portion of seeds and nuts. Walnuts, chia seeds and flaxseed are naturally high in good fats such as omega-3.
- Include legumes and dark leafy green vegetables in your daily meals. Although they don’t contain much fat, these products favor the healthy ones such as the omega-3s. Arugula, romaine and spinach are some of the best dark leafy greens, while beans, soybeans, edamame (green soybeans) and mung bean are among the many legumes that you can include in your diet to also increase protein intake and fibers.
- Use healthy plant oils for cooking. Flaxseed oil, soybean oil or canola oil should be favored and used instead of other saturated fat or trans-fat sources.
There are also a wide range of fortified foods containing omega-3s such as some brands of eggs and yogurts.
Plant based proteins
Plant based proteins should be consumed instead of animal proteins. Beef and pork in particular have lots of saturated fats, while chicken breast may still be ok. Dried beans, peas and all soy products are high in proteins and should replace meat in your diet.
Besides legumes, fruits, and vegetables, try to consume more whole grain products swapping them out with your usual refined grains like white flour or white bread: brown rice, quinoa and whole grains are better alternatives.
Foods to avoid when having high triglycerides
After seeing the foods to favor in your diet, here are the food to try and avoid when your triglycerides are high.
Foods and drinks with simple sugars or added sugars
Sodas, ice-creams, desserts, baked products, sweet and flavored yogurts, breakfast cereals, candies are some of the many everyday products that should be avoided. Check product labels for added fructose, corn syrup, cane syrup, honey, sucrose, dextrose, glucose, lactose, maltose or malt sugar, molasses, which are all sugars.
Cheese and red meat are high in saturated fats. Baked product made with butter are also high in saturated fats. Whole milk should be limited. Coconut oil, palm oil and coconut butter although low in cholesterol are high in saturated fats.
High-fructose fruits and juices
We always associate fruits with something healthy. Unfortunately, too much of anything, even water, may be harmful. Fruits that are high in fructose, which is a simple sugar, increase serum triglycerides. Both juices and fruits like mangoes and grapes are high in fructose and should be avoided or consumed in very low quantities.
Lifestyle changes to lower elevated triglycerides
Lifestyle changes can also help lower high triglyceride levels and together with dietary changes they can quickly improve your lipid profile.
- Lose weight. If you are overweight, you should not only make some changes in what you eat as seen in the previous paragraphs, but also in how many calories you ingest during your day. Eating healthy foods does not mean you can’t get fat, it’s the overall daily calorie intake that determines weight gain and weight loss. Losing 5-10% of your body weight will lead to a significant reduction in serum triglycerides as well as an overall improvement in your lipid profile.
- Avoid alcohol. Alcohol consumption, especially in high quantities and/or on a daily basis can dramatically increase your triglyceride levels.
- Increase physical activity. Exercising or even just a 30-minutes daily walk is beneficial to your overall health and will help in losing weight and decreasing triglyceride levels.
- Triglycerides Test
US National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus
- Triglycerides: Frequently Asked Questions
American Heart Association (AHA)
- Mosby’s Diagnostic & Laboratory Test Reference, 14th edition
K Pagana – Elsevier, 2018