Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. The food that people eat, whether it is from animal or plant sources, can affect the levels of triglycerides in the blood.
There are many different types of fat, from the polyunsaturated fats in olive oil to the saturated fats in red meat. They all contribute to triglyceride levels in the body but do so in different ways.
When a person eats more calories than their body needs, it stores these extra calories in the form of triglyceride fats. When the body needs more energy at a later stage, it consumes these fats.
Triglycerides are important for health, but high levels increase the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States. Lowering triglyceride levels and reducing other risk factors can decrease a person’s likelihood of developing heart disease.
There are many ways to reduce triglyceride levels safely. The best method may depend on the cause of the high triglyceride levels.
Regularly consuming more calories than the body can burn off will result in an excessive number of triglycerides in the body.
One way to lower triglyceride levels in the blood is to consume fewer calories each day.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a 5–10 percent weight loss can decrease triglyceride levels by 20 percent.
There is a direct correlation between the extent of weight loss and the decrease in triglycerides.
The body needs fats to function correctly, but some fats are more healthful than others. Choosing healthful fats may help reduce triglyceride levels.
Solid fats come from meat, full-fat dairy products, and some tropical oils, such as coconut and palm oil. These foods contain trans fats and saturated fats.
Trans fats and saturated fats raise triglyceride levels, so people should try to replace them wherever possible.
Unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), can help lower triglyceride levels. Avocados and olive oil contain monounsaturated fats, also a healthful choice.
Omega-3 fats are present in cod liver oil, flaxseeds, and cold-water fish, such as salmon and sardines. People can add PUFAs to their diet by eating these foods.
Instead of a steak or hamburger, which are high in saturated fats, people can opt for a fillet of salmon or a tuna sandwich.
Animal products, such as lean meats, skinned poultry, fat-free or low-fat dairy, and seafood, are also good options.
Fats should represent between 25 and 35 percent of the diet, according to the AHA.
People should limit their total carbohydrate intake to less than 60 percent of their recommended daily calorie allowance. If a person eats more carbohydrates than they need, the body will store them as fat.
A rise in triglyceride levels seems to accompany diets with a carbohydrate intake above 60 percent.
There are many ways to avoid carbohydrates, such as wrapping lean burgers in lettuce instead of a high-carb bun.
Some carbohydrate foods, including certain cereals, can be beneficial in the diet. However, refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, offer little nutrition and add calories to the diet.
To get more healthful carbohydrates, choose whole grains, oatmeal, and vegetables, such as carrots.
For dessert, opt for fresh or frozen blueberries, blackberries, or raspberries instead of sugary baked goods. These fruits can reduce sugar cravings while also providing healthful carbohydrates.
Unrefined carbohydrates are not only a source of dietary fiber, but they provide more rapid and prolonged satiety than refined carbohydrates as they release their energy more slowly.
Sugars are a form of carbohydrate, and they are high in calories. Foods that contain a lot of simple sugars, especially refined fructose, can raise triglyceride levels.
Added sugar comes in many forms, including:
- white sugar
- brown sugar
- cane juice or cane syrup
- corn sweetener or corn syrup
- fruit juice concentrate
- syrups, such as maple, agave, and molasses
People should avoid added sugars to help reduce their triglyceride levels.
Opt for fruit-based deserts instead of ice-cream or sticky puddings.
When buying ready-to-eat products, remember that many contain—including some savory items, such as tomato ketchup—contain added sugar.
Therefore, check the label before buying a product and try to find one with low sugar content.
Every 4 grams (g) of sugar is equivalent to 1 teaspoon (tsp). The AHA recommend a daily maximum sugar intake of 25 g (about 6 tsp) for women and 36 g (9 tsp) for men.
Beverages often make a significant contribution to overall carbohydrate and sugar intake.
Fruit drinks, soft drinks, and other sugar-sweetened beverages are some of the primary sources of added sugars in the diet.
Alcohol also has a direct effect on triglyceride levels in some people. People looking to reduce their triglyceride levels may find it beneficial to avoid alcohol.
Taking steps to avoid beverages containing added sugars can significantly reduce overall calorie intake.
Instead of beverages that contain high levels of added sugars, people can opt for low-calorie beverages, such as water or tea.
On a warm day, instead of reaching for a soft drink, try adding a splash of 100 percent fruit juice to a glass of sparkling water.
Physical activity also plays a vital role in reducing triglyceride levels. Burning calories ensures that the body is using up more of its triglycerides.
Any exercise is beneficial, but the extent of its effects will depend on:
- the person’s initial triglyceride levels
- the amount of exercise
- the level of intensity of the exercise
Walking for 30 minutes each day is a great way to begin, as is engaging in low-stress activities, such as cycling or swimming.
The AHA recommend that adults do at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both each week.
Some drugs contribute to higher levels of triglycerides. According to a 2017 study, these include:
- oral estrogen
- retinoic acid derivatives
- beta-adrenergic blocking agents
- thiazide diuretics
- protease inhibitors
- bile acid sequestrants
- antipsychotic drugs
- cyclosporine and tacrolimus
- interferon alpha-2b
A person should not stop taking a drug without speaking to a healthcare professional first, as this can be dangerous. Anyone who has concerns about the side effects of a drug that they are using should also get professional medical advice.
The most common causes of high triglyceride levels relate to diet and metabolism. As well as excess body weight and a high-fat, high-carb diet, several health conditions can increase the risk.
Genetic factors may also make a person more likely to develop high triglyceride levels under certain circumstances.
If tests show that a person’s triglyceride levels are high or they have a family history of high triglyceride levels, a doctor might suggest further investigations or monitoring.
Taking this action can help them find out if there is an underlying health problem or enable them to advise a person how to keep their triglyceride levels low.
Triglyceride levels can also rise during pregnancy.
If other measures do not work, a doctor may prescribe medications, such as statins, to reduce triglyceride levels.
Some doctors prescribe fibrates, which are lipid-lowering drugs, for people who cannot tolerate statins.
However, more research is necessary to confirm this benefit and to establish whether these treatments are safe and the best way to use them.
If a person’s triglyceride levels are too high, they have a higher risk of certain diseases and disorders.
High triglyceride levels may have this effect because they can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Plaque is a combination of cholesterol, triglyceride fats, calcium, cellular waste, and fibrin, which is the material that the body uses for clotting.
Triglyceride and cholesterol levels are two of the most important factors to monitor for a healthy heart.
There is also a risk of damage to the pancreas if triglyceride levels get too high.
According to the AHA:
- At-risk levels range from 150–199 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl).
- High triglyceride levels range from 200–499 mg/dl.
- Very high levels begin at 500 mg/dl.
The AHA still consider triglyceride levels of up to 150 mg/dl to be within the normal range, but they recommend keeping levels below 100 mg/dl for optimum health.
It is possible for people to lower their triglyceride levels by watching what they eat and adopting a nutrient-rich diet.
Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds can increase nutrient intake while reducing calories.
A diet that is good for the heart and blood will also be low in sodium, refined grains, added sugars, and solid fats.
People should work directly with a doctor or dietician to make gradual changes to their diet and ensure that any medicines they are taking will not cause complications.