A diet high in carbohydrates, especially in refined carbohydrates (like sweeteners, white flours, and other highly refined carbohydrates) can raise triglyceride levels. Triglycerides are another type of fat in the blood. When you eat, your body converts any calories that it does not immediately need into triglycerides which are stored in fat cells. As such they can provide your body with energy when necessary.
What contributes to high triglyceride levels? High triglycerides can sometimes be a sign of poorly controlled diabetes. Other things that contribute to elevated triglyceride levels are obesity, an under-active thyroid, diabetes, kidney disease, and smoking. A low intake of omega-3 fatty acids may also raise triglycerides. Additionally, some medications may raise triglyceride levels.
Why is my triglyceride level important? We are not sure how exactly high triglycerides may contribute to the hardening of arteries or thickening of artery walls. What we do know is that this hardening and thickening of artery walls raises the risk for heart disease including both strokes and heart attacks. Dr Michael Miller (University of Maryland, Baltimore) states, “We’ve known that triglycerides are linked with LDL cholesterol in that high levels of both confer a greater risk than either one alone,”. “In fact, having a high triglyceride level, above 200 mg/dL, with elevated LDL cholesterol confers about a twofold risk of heart disease. The question is how you tease out triglycerides from other risk factors, because typically people who have high triglycerides often have insulin resistance, low HDL cholesterol, and high blood pressure.”
How do I lower my triglyceride level? Diet and exercise are the cornerstones of treatment for patients with elevated triglyceride levels, according to a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that a triglyceride level of <100 is optimal and improves heart health. Additionally, in May 2011 the AHA released guidelines on the treatment for high triglycerides. For patients with borderline triglyceride levels, those ranging from 150 to 199 mg/dL, experts recommend losing 5% of current body weight and limiting carbohydrates to 50% to 60% of daily caloric intake. A 5% to 10% weight reduction may result in a 20% decrease in triglycerides, an approximate 15% reduction in LDL cholesterol, and an 8% to 10% increase in HDL cholesterol. The AHA further recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10% of daily caloric intake and provides new guidance on fructose consumption, recommending that borderline patients consume less than 100 grams per day from all sources. Among individuals with borderline, high, and very high triglyceride levels, weight loss of up to 10% of body weight is recommended.
Even if people have not been diagnosed with triglycerides outside the normal range, if they eat too many simple sugars (refined grains, added sugars and alcohol) their triglycerides will increase.
A well-balanced diet high in fiber, with whole grains and containing plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, beans, nuts and seeds will help to lower triglyceride levels. Additional tips to lower triglycerides levels include:
- Lose weight. There is evidence that a 5-10 percent weight loss results in a 20 percent decrease in triglycerides – the amount of decrease in triglycerides are directly related to the amount of weight lost.
- Decrease your calorie intake – this will help with weight loss and also decrease triglycerides.
- Limit your alcohol intake to one drink daily for women and two drinks per day for men. Alcohol in high amounts increases triglyceride levels in some people. For people with very high triglycerides, abstinence from alcohol is recommended.
- Avoid sugary and refined carbohydrates. The type of carbohydrates that you eat makes a difference – and foods that contain high amounts of simple sugars, especially fructose raise triglyceride levels.
- Limit cholesterol intake from meat, dairy products, butter and margarine.
- Choose healthier fats like monounsaturated fats and foods high in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Saturated and Trans fats raise triglycerides – Eliminate trans-fats in your diet, and decrease saturated fat intake to no more than 7 percent of total daily calories. That means, for example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 140 of them should come from saturated fats. That’s about 16 grams of saturated fats a day.
- Physical activity plays an important role in lowering triglycerides. Work to increase your physical activity to a minimum of 150 minutes per week.
Everyone – whether or not they have high triglycerides – should focus on fiber-rich complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and whole grains, instead of simple sugars.