How to eat to lower triglycerides
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, with 1 out of every 4 deaths due to heart disease.1 Most people are aware that elevated cholesterol, high amounts of LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol) and low amounts of HDL cholesterol (the ‘good’ cholesterol) are important risk factors for heart disease. Yet many people aren’t aware that triglyceride levels also are a risk factor for heart disease and stroke risk.2
What are triglycerides?
Different from cholesterol, triglycerides are the most common type of fat in our body, transporting excess calories through our bloodstream to be stored in our body’s fat cells. Blood tests measure the amount of triglycerides in our bloodstream. 2017 guidelines from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) define triglyceride measurements:
<150 mg/dL = optimum
150 to 199 mg/dL = borderline high
200 to 499 mg/dL = high
> 500 mg/dL = very high3
According to a 2011 American Heart Association (AHA) report, 31% of the United States population has a triglyceride level higher than 150 md/dL.4 Research suggests that high triglyceride, low HDL, and high LDL levels act synergistically to increase risk of heart disease, making paying attention to triglyceride levels important for good health.3
How can I lower triglycerides with food choices?
The good news is that it’s possible to lower triglyceride levels by 20-50% with food choices alone.4 Use these 7 strategies to reduce triglycerides and decrease your risk of heart disease:
- Use less added sugar in foods and beverages. The foods that contain the most added sugar include sweetened beverages, fruit drinks, cookies, sweet breakfast cereals, sweetened yogurt, sweetened milk (chocolate milk and sweetened milk alternatives such as sweetened almond, soy, or coconut milk), ice cream, grain products like sweet rolls, and candy.2 The AHA recommends limiting added sugars to fewer than 100 calories or 6 teaspoons daily for women and 150 calories or 9 teaspoons daily for men. Consuming more added sugar is associated with triglyceride levels that are 10-15% higher.4
- In addition to consuming less added sugar, pay special attention to fructose, a type of sugar that is known to cause higher triglyceride levels. Fructose is most often found in high amounts in sweetened beverages, candy, and commercially prepared cookies, cakes, pies and muffins.4 Fructose is not listed on the nutrition facts label, but by reducing the total amount of added sugar in foods you’ll also reduce fructose. Agave nectar and honey are common sources of fructose, and also are considered sources of added sugar. Fructose is naturally found in all types of fresh, frozen or canned fruit, but at very low levels that do not raise triglycerides.2
- A Mediterranean-style eating plan that includes plenty of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains; lean sources of protein like chicken and seafood, and uses olive oil instead of other types of fats and oils has been shown to lower triglyceride levels by 10-15%.4 Aim to include at least five servings of vegetables and fruit in your food choices every day for more fiber and less added sugar.3
- Choose healthier types of fat that are high in monounsaturated fatty acids like olive oil, canola oil, or safflower oil instead of fats that are high in saturated fatty acids like butter. Eat smaller portions of foods that contain saturated fat: cheese, fatty beef, pork, lamb, poultry skin, commercially baked foods, and fried foods.5,6 Eliminate trans fatty acids, a type of fat that is found in fried foods like donuts and French fries, commercially baked foods like cookies, cakes, biscuits, frozen pizza and sweet rolls.7
- Choose higher fiber, whole grain foods such as brown rice, whole oats, whole grain wheat, quinoa and amaranth instead of more processed white flour-based foods.4
- Losing 5-10% of your body weight if you are overweight or obese has been shown to lower triglyceride levels by 20%, with higher triglyceride reductions associated with more weight loss.2
- Omega-3 fatty acids that are present in seafood, or supplements that are made from seafood if recommended by your physician, can lower triglycerides by 25-30%. Non-seafood based omega-3 fatty acids found in canola oil, chia seeds, flaxseed, soybeans, and walnuts do not lower triglycerides because they are chemically different from the omega-3 fatty acids in seafood and are not efficiently metabolized in our body.4
Losing weight, replacing processed foods typically high in sugar and fat with higher fiber foods, eliminating trans fatty acids, restricting fructose and saturated fatty acids, implementing a Mediterranean-style diet, and consuming marine-derived omega-3 PUFA are well-researched strategies that will lower triglyceride levels.4
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts. https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm Accessed 3-20-18. Last Updated 11-28-17.
- American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Triglycerides: Frequently Asked Questions. http://professional.heart.org/idc/groups/ahamah-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_425988.pdf Published 4-15-11. Accessed 3-20-18.
- Endocr Pract. 2017 Apr;23(Suppl 2):1-87. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology Guidelines for Management of Dyslipidemia and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Jellinger PS, Handelsman Y, Rosenblit PD, Bloomgarden ZT, Fonseca VA, Garber AJ, Grunberger G, Guerin CK, Bell DSH, Mechanick JI, Pessah-Pollack R, Wyne K, Smith D, Brinton EA, Fazio S, Davidson M.
- Circulation. 2011 May 24;123(20):2292-333. doi: 10.1161/CIR.0b013e3182160726. Epub 2011 Apr 18. Triglycerides and cardiovascular disease: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Miller M, Stone NJ, Ballantyne C, Bittner V, Criqui MH, Ginsberg HN, Goldberg AC, Howard WJ, Jacobson MS, Kris-Etherton PM, Lennie TA, Levi M, Mazzone T, Pennathur S; American Heart Association Clinical Lipidology, Thrombosis, and Prevention Committee of the Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism; Council on Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology; Council on Cardiovascular Nursing; Council on the Kidney in Cardiovascular Disease.
- American Heart Association. Monounsaturated fat. https://healthyforgood.heart.org/eat-smart/articles/monounsaturated-fats Last updated 3-24-17, assessed 3-21-18.
- American Heart Association. Saturated fat. https://healthyforgood.heart.org/eat-smart/articles/saturated-fats Last updated 3-24-17, assessed 3-21-18.
- American Heart Association. Trans fat. https://healthyforgood.heart.org/eat-smart/articles/trans-fat Last updated 3-24-17, assessed 3-21-18.