Decreasing Your Triglycerides Through Dietary Changes
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Decreasing Your Triglycerides Through Dietary Changes

Elizabeth Smoots, MD

Your doctor may have recommended that 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 choose to attempt to lower your triglycerides without resorting to medications be sure you talk with your doctor so the two of you can work together.

Here's Why It Is Important to Decrease Your Triglyceride Levels:

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

Here's How To Do It:

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:

Eat a diet low in saturated fat—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.

Eat more unsaturated fats—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 (mackerel, trout, albacore tuna, salmon, etc.) are especially good choices because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are good for your heart, and may help prevent other chronic conditions as well. 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 dinning 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

Cut down on simple carbohydrates (sugar)—While it is important to reduce saturated fat, do not overly restrict total fat (25-35% of total calories from fat is about right). 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.

Lose excess weight—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 your calorie expenditure.

Limit alcohol intake—Even small amounts of alcohol can raise triglyceride levels considerably. If you do not want to give up alcohol entirely, talk to your doctor about what an appropriate amount of alcohol is for you.

Stop smoking—Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. If you smoke, quit. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs.

Exercise regularly—The American Heart Association recommends being physically active for 30 minutes on most days of the week. If you are not physically active already, start out with 10 minutes of moderate activity like walking, swimming, or yoga, and gradually increase your activity.

RESOURCES:

American Dietetic Association
http://www.eatright.org

United States Department of Agriculture
Food and Nutrition
http://www.usda.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canada's Food Guide
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/food-guide-aliment/index_e.html

Dietitians of Canada
http://www.dietitians.ca/

References:

American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.americanheart.org.



Last reviewed May 2008 by Dianne Scheinberg MS, RD, LDN

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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