You may have been advised to you lower your triglyceride levels. While medication and aerobic exercise are effective in triglyceride lowering, there are also several dietary approaches you can try. If you want to lower your triglycerides without medications, be sure you talk with your doctor so that you can work together.
Triglycerides are the form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. In addition to consuming triglycerides in food, our bodies can make triglycerides from carbohydrate. Excess calories (those not used right away by the body's tissues) are converted to triglycerides and transported to fat cells to be stored. These stored triglycerides can be broken down when the body needs energy.
Recent research has linked a high triglyceride level (called hypertriglyceridemia) to an increased risk of heart disease. High and normal triglyceride levels are defined as follows:
- Less than 150 milligrams/deciliter (mg/dl [1.7 mmol/L] = normal
- 150-199 mg/dl (1.7-2.2 mmol/L) = borderline high
- 200-499 mg/dl (2.3-5.6 mmol/L) = high
- 500 mg/dl and above (5.7 mmol/L) = very high
If your triglyceride level is above 150 mg/dl (1.7 mmol/L), the following steps can help you lower your level to the healthful range:
All heart-healthy diets are low in saturated fat. Saturated fat is found in full-fat dairy products (whole milk, cream, butter, cheese, ice cream), meats, lard, fried foods, coconut palm, and palm kernel oils. Replace these foods with healthier fats and whole grain carbohydrates.
These healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats are found in canola oil, olive oil, nuts, avocados, olives, and fatty fish. Fatty fish, such as mackerel, trout, albacore tuna, and salmon, are especially good choices because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are good for your heart and may also help prevent other chronic conditions. Research has shown that eaten regularly, they can reduce your triglyceride level.
Some ideas for replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fat include the following:
- Choose fish over beef when dining out.
- At the barbecue, go for grilled tuna steak instead of a hamburger or hot dog.
- Put lox (smoked salmon) on your bagel instead of butter.
- Cook with olive oil instead of butter.
- Put slices of avocado in your sandwich instead of cheese.
- Snack on nuts and dried fruit instead of potato chips.
While it is important to reduce saturated fat, do not overly restrict total fat (aim for less than 25–35% of total calories from fat). Excess carbohydrate can actually raise your triglycerides, while lowering HDL cholesterol, which is the "good" kind of cholesterol. This is why the recommendation is to replace saturated fat with healthier unsaturated fat. Also, limit sugary foods such as candy, soda, and sweets. Choose whole grain carbohydrates, such as whole wheat bread and brown rice.
Often losing as little as a 5-10 pounds can help lower your triglyceride level. To lose weight, cut down on excess calories from all sources, not just fat. Combine this decreased intake with a regular exercise program to increase the amount of calories you burn.
Alcohol may contribute to high triglyceride levels. Consider drinking alcohol in moderation. Moderate alcohol consumption is one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
The American Heart Association recommends being physically active for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. If you are not physically active already, you can start with 10 minutes of moderate activity like walking, swimming, or yoga, and gradually increase your activity. Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program.