If you have discovered that you have high triglycerides, it’s important to learn how to lower them. While high cholesterol has been a traditional indicator of cardiovascular risk, it is now known that triglycerides are a much more significant indicator.
Triglycerides are a type of fat, or lipid, that are found in your blood. It is normal and healthy to have a certain level of triglycerides in your blood. Yet when triglyceride levels become too high, your body begins to store them as fat.
When you eat, the body converts any unused calories (including those from sugar, protein, fat and alcohol) from the meal into triglycerides. The triglycerides become stored in fat cells as a source of stored energy.
Your body prefers to store all macronutrients as fat. The body has limited storage for protein and carbohydrates, but endless storage for fat. Again, if our bodies don’t use all the protein, carbohydrate or fat in our meal then these macronutrients get stored in fat cells as, well, fat.
There are many other measures of heart health that can be used in conjunction with triglycerides to evaluate cardiovascular risk.
A triglyceride level greater than 150 mg/dL is considered elevated.
The lower your triglycerides, the lower your risk of heart disease.
- 1. Lose weight
- Anything eaten in excess gets converted to triglycerides and stored in the fat cells in the body. Energy balance means energy in equals energy out. To lose weight, energy expended must be greater than energy consumed. This causes the body to start to burn its stored triglycerides. Therefore, losing weight is key to reducing blood triglyceride levels.The evidence: Research has shown that even just losing 5% of body weight can significantly reduce triglyceride levels (1).
- 2. Reduce sugar intake
- Sugar is a source of empty calories meaning it provides a lot of calories but no nutrients. Added sugar is found in most processed foods and is a main staple of the Standard American Diet. When you consume more calories than you expend, as is often done with consumption of sugary drinks and desserts, the body will store the extra sugar and it will be converted to triglycerides.The evidence: A study of children aged 7-12 years old looked at the effect of added sugar on cardiovascular risk. It found that increased intake of sugar was associated with elevated triglycerides and blood pressure (2).
- 3. Try intermittent fasting
- One of the known cardiovascular benefits of Intermittent Fasting (IF) is improved lipid profiles. The actual basis of IF is to let our insulin levels drop so that we can burn the fat stored in our fat cells. The Intermittent Fasting method doesn’t specify which foods to eat but rather when to eat them. You can create a form of IF that works for you. Try simply limiting the hours of day when you eat, especially avoiding the night time hours. Based on what we know, this fasting state in between meals allows our bodies to improve insulin sensitivity, lower insulin levels and ultimately burn off stored fat.The evidence: A review of studies reported that alternate day fasting has been shown to significantly decrease triglyceride and cholesterol levels (3).
- Watch my video on why intermittent fasting is heart healthy.
- 4. Eat a Paleo diet
- There have been a handful of studies over the past few years that have looked at the differences between an ancestral (hunter-gatherer) diet and the modern-day diet on lipid profiles and other cardiovascular risk factors. Contrary to popular thought, the Paleo diet has often bested many traditional diets in improving cardiovascular risk. The Paleo pyramid is rich in organic vegetables, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, healthy fats, nuts, seeds and fruit in season. It has a high nutrient density (increased amounts of nutrients and reduced calories). Additionally, many of the foods found on the diet are rich in fiber and other nutrients proven to reduce triglycerides and regulate blood lipids.The evidence: A randomized, controlled pilot study put participants with metabolic syndrome on either a Paleo diet or a control diet for two weeks. The paleo diet resulted in significantly greater reductions in triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure than did the reference diet (4).
- 5. Increase fiber
- Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits and nuts and seeds. Again, the Paleo diet is one that is high in fiber. Adding more fiber to your diet can reduce your blood triglyceride levels. Soluble fiber is a viscous fiber that contains pectins and gums. It is the best type of fiber for lowering triglycerides as it can reduce and slow down the absorption of fats and sugars. Be aware that even eating healthy foods in excess can raise triglycerides. The best thing you can do is watch portion sizes, limit your refined carbohydrate intake, eat a healthy diet and incorporate increased amounts of fiber into each meal.The evidence: Adding more fiber in your diet is associated with improved lipid profiles, including reduced plasma triglyceride concentrations (5).
- 6. Exercise regularly
- High levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) are known to reduce triglycerides. Aerobic exercise is can increase HDL cholesterol, making it a great tool to decrease triglycerides naturally. Long-term aerobic exercise is best. Walking, hiking, jogging, or biking are all great strategies.The evidence: A study showed that when men were assigned to jog for two hours a week for four months, HDL levels significantly increased and triglycerides significantly decreased (6).
- 7. Eat more fatty fish
- Fatty fish is one of the best foods you can eat for your heart. This is because oily fish contains essential omega 3 fatty acids, a type of fat that must be obtained in the diet. Oily fish types include salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel. We recommend eating fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids at least 3 times per week as it heart-healthy!The evidence: Omega 3 fatty acids are a type of fat that can reduce plasma triglyceride levels. Research has shown that at a pharmaceutical dose of 3.4 g per day, these fatty acids can reduce plasma triglycerides by roughly 25-50% over the course of a month (7).
- 8. Limit alcohol intake
- Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, which after fat, makes it the second most calorically dense food there is. In fact, alcohol is twice as fattening as carbohydrates and protein (which are both 4 calories per gram). Alcohol also takes priority in the body and is handled as a toxin, putting digestion of other foods on hold and stimulating the storage of calories from other foods. In excess, calories from alcohol are converted to triglycerides and stored in fat cells. Limiting alcohol intake can lower blood triglycerides.The evidence: Research has revealed that an increased alcohol intake is linked to elevated plasma triglycerides. In patients with hypertriglyceridemia, it is recommended that they decrease or remove alcohol from their diet (8).
- 9. Eat more avocados
- Avocados are a cardioprotective food rich in healthy fats. They are a nutrient superfood and they contain the right nutrients to lower lipids and protect against heart disease. Avocados are a good source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, potassium, vitamin K, B vitamins, vitamin C and phytochemicals. Eating avocados regularly can lower triglycerides and cholesterol levels. They are also one of the best foods to boost HDL cholesterol, which is a scavenger molecule that helps to regulate blood lipids naturally.The evidence: A review of the research examined the effects of avocados that were added or substituted for other dietary fats and found that avocado consumption was associated with significant reductions in total cholesterol, LDL levels and triglyceride levels (9).
- 10. Try a supplement
- Fish oil
- Fish oil contains essential omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to reduce triglyceride levels. You cannot get enough omega 3 fatty acids from food to significantly reduce triglycerides, so you must supplement. Ideally, take 1,000 mg per day of EPA and DHA.
- Niacin or vitamin B3 reduces triglycerides, lowers cholesterol and boosts HDL. It works because it affects the production of fats in the liver. Niacin is larger doses can cause flushing, which is harmless but can be uncomfortable. If you’re concerned with flushing, try starting out with a lower dose and working up. Start with 250 mg and work up to 500 mg per day.
- Psyllium husk
- Increasing soluble fiber is a must for lowering triglycerides. Psyllium is a natural source of both soluble and insoluble fiber, which can aid in reducing triglycerides. It can also bind cholesterol in the gut and cause it to be excreted. Take 1 tablespoon per day with at least 12 ounces of water away from meals and other supplements to prevent interference with fat soluble nutrient intake.