All this talk of ‘good cholesterol’ and ‘bad cholesterol’ can be confusing enough, but there’s a new player in the game called triglycerides. Evidence shows that high levels of triglycerides can be just as harmful to heart health as bad cholesterol, although it’s unclear how. They may contribute to the hardening of artery walls which can increase the risk for strokes or heart attacks.1
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are basically a different type of fat that is circulated in the bloodstream along with cholesterol. Simply put, triglycerides are fats that the body stores away when they are not being used. So if you are consuming way more calories than you burn, particularly simple carbohydrates, it is very likely that your triglyceride levels are high.2
Why Should You Care About Triglycerides?
Like all other types of fats, triglycerides do play an important role since they provide the energy your body needs to perform all its functions. However, high triglyceride levels can be dangerous and this is most likely an underlying sign of other health problems such as3:
- High blood pressure
- High blood sugar
- Liver disease
- Kidney disease
A number of health problems like obesity, consuming too much alcohol, uncontrolled diabetes, and a diet that’s high in calories are all contributing factors to high blood triglyceride levels.
Ways To Lower Triglycerides
Here are some do’s and don’ts you should keep in mind to try keeping your triglyceride levels under control.
1. Lose Body Weight
As mentioned earlier, eating more calories than you burn is one of the major causes of an increase in triglyceride levels. This is because the body stores those extra unused calories as triglyceride fats. Therefore, keeping your weight in check is a good way to keep those triglyceride levels down. It has been seen that even a modest amount of weight loss (5–10%) can greatly reduce your triglyceride levels by a significant amount. So in addition to keeping a watch on the number of calories you eat, make sure that you get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 5 days a week. This may include brisk walking, jogging, and swimming.4
It is also important to note that the goal is not to lose a massive amount of weight in one month and then let go of yourself completely in the next. Rather, try and think long term. Sticking to an active lifestyle and a good diet that helps you support a healthy weight all throughout your life is key in reducing your triglyceride levels and keeping other health problems at bay.
2. Time Your Meals
It is not just important to watch what you eat. When you eat plays a huge role as well. Eating your meals at odd hours during the day can lead to increased insulin resistance, and this is one of the factors that contributes to high triglyceride levels. Additionally, this can even give rise to various heart-disease causing factors like LDL (low-density lipoproteins) and total cholesterol.5 6
Each time you’re done eating a meal, the level of sugar in your blood rises. Fortunately, a signal is sent out from your pancreas that stimulates the release of insulin in your blood. This is a hormone that facilitates the transportation of the sugar or glucose to various cells in your body where it can be used for energy production.
Eating untimely meals increases your chances of unhealthy snacking because of how hungry it makes you feel. The more unhealthy foods you eat, the more insulin gets released in your blood to rush all those extra calories to the cells. After a point however, the insulin levels in your blood may shoot up, and your blood will become resistant to it. As a result, your body will be unable to make effective use of insulin, and this will only lead to a buildup of triglycerides in your fat cells since there is nothing to encourage the conversion of these into energy anymore.
Regardless of whether you eat three meals a day, or six – spacing your meals out well and timing them is extremely important if you want to keep your triglyceride levels in check. Spend a little time in planning when you should eat your meals, and try to stick to that approximate time as much as you can every day.
3. Consume More Unsaturated Fats
Increasing your intake of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can actually help reduce levels of triglycerides, especially if these are replacing the harmful saturated fats.7 Unsaturated fats are the good, healthy fats that come from foods like:
- Olive oil
- Tree nuts like almonds and macadamia
However, remember to consume these in moderation as well because they are still fats and are high in calories. You should also try and include a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids as well for these can really help control triglyceride levels.8 Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include:
- Oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna
- Soy products
4. Eat More Fiber
Fiber can help reduce the absorption of excess fat and sugar in the small intestine, and therefore, can automatically help bring down not just your triglyceride levels but can also help reduce bad cholesterol or LDL.9 Fiber can be obtained from complex carbohydrates like whole grain pasta and bread, brown rice, and oatmeal. You could also increase your intake of fiber by adding plenty of fruits of vegetables into your diet.10
5. Eat More Soy Protein
Consuming a healthy amount of soy protein has been shown to help in bringing down triglyceride levels in your body.11 Soy is high in isoflavones, a compound that offers numerous health benefits like reducing your overall LDL cholesterol levels.12 13 14 Foods like soybeans, edamame, tofu, and soy milk are good sources of soy protein.
However, remember to consume soy protein in moderation. Soy protein contains a high amount of phytoestrogens that mimic the functions of the female hormone estrogen in our bodies. Too many of these phytoestrogens can increase the risk of breast cancer in women, cause brain damage in both men and women, and result in developmental abnormalities in infants.15 If necessary, consult with your nutritionist or doctor to see how much soy protein they recommend for your diet.
6. Try Natural Supplements
Certain natural supplements have been shown to have positive effects on triglyceride levels. Some of these include:
However, it is important to remember that supplements should not be used as your only tool to fight high triglyceride levels. Supplements, in fact, work best when paired with a healthy diet and regular meals.
Also, note that supplements are after all pills and they don’t suit everyone the same way. Therefore, it is possible that ingesting these supplements can cause certain side effects. To avoid complications, it is always advisable to look for the ingredients in these supplements and include them in their natural form in your daily diet instead. If you must consume manufactured supplements, however, consult your doctor first to see if they are right for you.
7. Drink Too Much Alcohol
While some studies show that a moderate amount can be good for heart health, other contradictory studies show that even a small amount leads to a significant increase in triglyceride levels.19 Alcohol is high in sugars and calories. Too much alcohol intake is directly related to taking in too many calories which the body will immediately store as fat. This in turn, will adversely affect your blood glucose and triglyceride levels. Some people are especially sensitive and can show a dramatic increase in triglycerides just by consuming a small amount of any type of alcohol. To check your alcohol sensitivity, abstain from alcohol for a few weeks before testing your triglyceride levels for the second time.
It would be rather extreme to expect one to give up alcohol completely. It’s okay to indulge yourself provided you keep a close eye on how much and how often you drink.
8. Consume Saturated Fats And Trans Fats
Saturated and trans fats are the most unhealthy type of fats you can consume. These are super high in calories and raise your triglyceride levels dramatically, thus increasing your risk of heart disease. If that fact doesn’t put you off, this might. After eating a meal that’s especially high in trans fats and saturated fats, your blood may develop a milky tint to it which will disappear in a few hours once the fats are absorbed.20 This milky tint is nothing but grease. Eating saturated fats like butter, cream, and lard and trans-fats found in most processed foods, only increases the amount of grease flowing through your bloodstream.
Triglyceride levels are significantly higher among smokers as compared to non-smokers and of course, can lead to a host of issues related to the cardiovascular system.21 Not to mention, smoking comes with a plethora of other health problems that you’re much better off without.
10. Eat Too Many Refined Carbs
Simple carbohydrates or refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, semolina, and white rice are high in sugar with very low fiber content. The extra sugar will only serve to exacerbate your triglyceride levels because your body will find no other use for all those calories , other than converting these to more triglycerides to be stored in your fat cells.22 23
11. Eat Too Much Added Sugar
Added sugar can be harmful since, like carbs, it is converted to triglycerides and stored as fat in the body. Stay away from sweetened beverages like packaged fruit juices, sports drinks, and mixed sweetened teas or coffees, since these products can have plenty of hidden sugar. Watch out for sugar in processed foods as well. It may be disguised with names like fructose, glucose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, and sucrose.
Following these guidelines should help you keep your triglyceride levels in check. However, make sure you visit your doctor and get regular checkups and tests done to monitor any risks associated with triglycerides.
|↑1, ↑2, ↑3||Triglyceride level. MedlinePlus.|
|↑4, ↑10||What You Can Do To Lower Your Triglycerides. University Of Massachusetts Medical School.|
|↑5||Farshchi, H. R., M. A. Taylor, and I. A. Macdonald. “Regular meal frequency creates more appropriate insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles compared with irregular meal frequency in healthy lean women.” European journal of clinical nutrition 58, no. 7 (2004): 1071.|
|↑6||Farshchi, Hamid R., Moira A. Taylor, and Ian A. Macdonald. “Beneficial metabolic effects of regular meal frequency on dietary thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and fasting lipid profiles in healthy obese women.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 81, no. 1 (2005): 16-24.|
|↑7||Lopez-Alvarenga, Juan C., Sven OE Ebbesson, Lars OE Ebbesson, M. Elizabeth Tejero, V. Saroja Voruganti, and Anthony G. Comuzzie. “Polyunsaturated fatty acids effect on serum triglycerides concentration in the presence of metabolic syndrome components. The Alaska-Siberia Project.” Metabolism 59, no. 1 (2010): 86-92.|
|↑8, ↑16||Friedberg, Cylla E., Martien JFM Janssen, Robert J. Heine, and Diederick E. Grobbee. “Fish oil and glycemic control in diabetes: a meta-analysis.” Diabetes care 21, no. 4 (1998): 494-500.|
|↑9, ↑22||Anderson, James W. “Dietary fiber prevents carbohydrate-induced hypertriglyceridemia.” Current atherosclerosis reports 2, no. 6 (2000): 536-541.|
|↑11||Wang, Yanwen, Peter JH Jones, Lynne M. Ausman, and Alice H. Lichtenstein. “Soy protein reduces triglyceride levels and triglyceride fatty acid fractional synthesis rate in hypercholesterolemic subjects.” Atherosclerosis 173, no. 2 (2004): 269-275.|
|↑12||Taku, Kyoko, Keizo Umegaki, Yoko Sato, Yuko Taki, Kaori Endoh, and Shaw Watanabe. “Soy isoflavones lower serum total and LDL cholesterol in humans: a meta-analysis of 11 randomized controlled trials.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 85, no. 4 (2007): 1148-1156.|
|↑13||Wangen, Kerry E., Alison M. Duncan, Xia Xu, and Mindy S. Kurzer. “Soy isoflavones improve plasma lipids in normocholesterolemic and mildly hypercholesterolemic postmenopausal women.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 73, no. 2 (2001): 225-231.|
|↑14||Pipe, Elizabeth A., Colleen P. Gobert, Sarah E. Capes, Gerarda A. Darlington, Johanna W. Lampe, and Alison M. Duncan. “Soy protein reduces serum LDL cholesterol and the LDL cholesterol: HDL cholesterol and apolipoprotein B: apolipoprotein AI ratios in adults with type 2 diabetes.” The Journal of nutrition 139, no. 9 (2009): 1700-1706.|
|↑15||Patisaul, Heather B., and Wendy Jefferson. “The pros and cons of phytoestrogens.” Frontiers in neuroendocrinology 31, no. 4 (2010): 400-419.|
|↑17||Rafraf, Maryam, Mina Malekiyan, Mohammad Asghari-Jafarabadi, and Akbar Aliasgarzadeh. “Effect of fenugreek seeds on serum metabolic factors and adiponectin levels in type 2 diabetic patients.” Int. J. Vitamin Nutr. Res 84 (2014): 196-205.|
|↑18||Singh, Ram B., Mohammad A. Niaz, and Saraswati Ghosh. “Hypolipidemic and antioxidant effects of Commiphora mukul as an adjunct to dietary therapy in patients with hypercholesterolemia.” Cardiovascular drugs and therapy 8, no. 4 (1994): 659-664.|
|↑19||A promising new treatment for high triglycerides. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑20, ↑23||A promising new treatment for high triglycerides. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑21||Willett, Walter, Charles H. Hennekens, William Castelli, Bernard Rosner, Denis Evans, James Taylor, and Edward H. Kass. “Effects of cigarette smoking on fasting triglyceride, total cholesterol, and HDL-cholesterol in women.” American heart journal 105, no. 3 (1983): 417-421.|