Medically Reviewed by Vincenta Faulkner, RD, CNSC, CCTD
Diets don’t need to be a chore. If anything, there’s something motivating about taking a creative approach to your meal plans for a goal we’re excited to meet. We take control of our lives, see what kind of effect we can have on our health through the choices we make, and in the end, feel great about our health.
If you have high blood pressure or high LDL cholesterol levels, it may be time to make some lifestyle changes. One of those changes is diet. Diets can be challenging to navigate, but the more equipped we are with information about our desired result and the food we intend to eat, the easier the process becomes.
Here’s how to make the most of a diet aiming to lower your triglycerides.
What Are Triglycerides?
For people trying to keep their triglyceride levels down, a deeper understanding of what triglycerides are can be helpful.
In short, triglycerides store energy as fat in your body. But let's start here, Calories are a measurement of energy in foods we consume. When we consume more energy (or calories) than we can burn, we store the energy for later. Energy gets stored first in the muscles and in the liver as glycogen, and secondly in the fat cells as triglycerides. We always fill up and deplete glycogen first, that is why it's considered our short term storage. So the excess calories you consume in one sitting, and the degree you are in deficit make a difference in your long term storage, or fat reserve of triglycerides. This is where “eat less and exercise more” really makes a difference. Smaller portions, less simple carbohydrates/ sugar, and more physical activity help lower triglycerides and body fat.
What Are the Health Risks of Having High Triglycerides?
High triglyceride levels are associated with a wide range of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. They tend to be predictors for heart attacks, strokes, higher obesity rates, diabetes, and more. The general consensus in the medical community is that build-ups of high triglycerides in the blood may result in a hardening of our arteries or a hardening in our artery walls. With risks like these, the clear conclusion is that a diet that results in high triglycerides is worth avoiding as best you can, and you can do it pretty easily by making a few changes to your diet.
What Are Some Foods That Tend To Raise Triglyceride Levels?
Triglycerides come from the food we eat. That being the case, watching the foods we eat can help curb our triglyceride levels. Sugar and refined carbohydrates are quick energy, what's needed gets used and what's not needed quickly gets stored. In the body, the excess sugar gets first stored as glycogen. But glycogen has limited storage, so that sugar gets turned into triglycerides or fat. Once again, triglycerides are fats, and fatty foods are energy dense or high in calories. An excess of energy from these foods also get stored in the body as triglycerides. But where to begin? Let’s go over some foods that have been shown to contribute to a higher level of triglycerides in our blood.
The more sugar we consume, the higher our triglyceride levels. One study looked at children and their triglyceride levels compared to their sugar intake. The results were pretty clear cut: higher sugar intake predicted higher triglyceride levels. The study looked at the effects of added sugars on younger children, whose higher metabolisms would definitively show how significantly added sugars affect even the fastest of metabolisms. The results were harrowing, with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases found in children who consumed more added sugars.
It seems pretty clear, as your common sense might already tell you, that added sugars are just plain bad, even with a fast metabolism. For the most part, cutting sugar out of our diet is pretty clear cut. We’ll want to decrease the amount of sugar we consume in our day to day — sweeteners in our coffee like sugar or honey, and sweets like cookies, donuts, ice cream, cakes, or chocolate. Try to cut out soda or highly sugared beverages like juice or sweet tea and replace with a lightly flavored water.
Moderation is key - if you can remove added sugars from foods and beverages you consume on the daily. A special treat feels even more special - like that sweet tea from your favorite restaurant or picking up a little dessert after an extra long day.
Other Simple Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates outside of just sugar may be a predictor for high triglyceride levels as well. Carbohydrates break down into sugar, while not as quickly utilized, they quickly fill up short term storage, and in excess get turned into fat. Overconsumption of carbs may result in higher triglyceride levels. The effects of carbohydrate diets on our triglyceride levels were explored in one study. The researchers tracked the number of carbohydrates ingested, the energy conversion in the body, and the level of blood fat that resulted.
Consistent with what we know, the researchers found that based on the blood lipid measurements, women demonstrated a positive association between a heavy carb diet and raised triglyceride levels.
Carbs are described either as simple or complex. While all carbohydrates turn into sugar, some breakdown faster resulting in excess energy being readily available (or readily stored). Those are called simple carbs, think white rice, white bread, and pasta and they are worth reducing.
Whole grain alternatives tend to be healthier because they have fiber and are considered complex carbs, meaning they are digested more slowly by the body, giving that energy a chance to be continuously used versus just metabolized all at once, resulting in immediate excess. So there’s still room for bread, but choosing the right kind makes a difference.
Like carbohydrates, not all fats are equal in their nutritional effects. In this case, there appears to be a difference in how saturated and unsaturated fats affect our blood lipid levels, two distinct groups of fats in our food.
One study explored the effects of these low and high-fat diets, determining that lower intakes of saturated fats and higher intakes of polyunsaturated fats resulted in healthier blood lipid levels. For your saturated fats, keep an eye on your cheddar, sausage, and butter intake. If it’s fat that comes from an animal, the shorthand is that you want to consume less of that kind of fat (with the exception of fish).
Alternatively, “healthier” fats or unsaturated fats come from vegetables. Monounsaturated and Omega-3 unsaturated fats are best — they are found in avocados, nuts, olive oil, and fatty fish. Polyunsaturated fats are also considered healthy, and are found in vegetable oils, like canola or corn.
So What Foods Can Help Lower Triglycerides?
Working in more fiber, the right type of fats, and sticking to smaller portions at meals lower triglycerides.
The connection between a high-fiber diet and triglycerides was explored when researchers examined the effects of high-fiber on metabolic syndrome, a condition that includes elevated triglyceride levels as a symptom. The study sought to provide an understanding of how high-fiber foods can affect triglyceride levels.
The results specifically determined that higher fiber intakes are inversely related to the triglyceride levels in the participants — in other words, the more fiber people ate, the lower their triglyceride levels would be, indicating that fiber does indeed have a positive effect on our triglyceride levels.
Higher fiber foods include broccoli, Brussel sprouts, garbanzo beans, oats, and more — aim for vegetables and complex carbs as a regular part of your meal to get your share of healthy fiber.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are among the unsaturated fats we mentioned earlier that can help reduce our triglyceride levels.
Omega-3s are essential fats, meaning that our body cannot produce them on their own. For that reason, incorporating them into our diet is “essential.” The research indicates that omega 3s positively affect our heart health, even lowering our triglyceride levels, specifically when consumed regularly.
For foods rich in omega-3s, think fatty fish like salmon, anchovy, and tuna, or walnuts and flax seeds. Omega- 3 are easy to incorporate in your diet as a supplemental pill form if nuts and fish are not an option.
Let’s Build a Meal Plan for a 7-Day Diet
Now that we have a better idea of what to include and exclude, let’s put together an example diet so you can see what a low-triglyceride diet might look like.
Day 1: Apple, walnuts, and raisins in oatmeal
Day 2: Avocado on whole-grain toast with pickled red onions and a fried egg in olive oil
Day 3: Strawberry, banana low-fat plain Greek yogurt parfait
Day 4: Pineapple, mango, spinach, almond milk smoothie with a scoop vanilla protein powder
Day 5: Overnight oats made with oats, chia seeds and almond milk topped with fresh raspberries, almond slivers, and cacao nibs
Day 6: Poached egg over sauteed kale and whole-grain English muffin
Day 7: Veggie omelet with sauteed broccoli, spinach and mushrooms
Day 1: Chickpea hummus with carrots, jicama, celery and whole-grain pita bread
Day 2: Split-pea dahl with whole-grain roti
Day 3: Garden salad with grilled shrimp and green goddess dressing
Day 4: Pesto chicken pasta salad on a bed of spinach, and a side of berries
Day 5: Cucumber mint berry salad with wheat berries and mesclun greens topped with vinaigrette
Day 6: Tuna sandwich with lettuce and tomato on whole wheat
Day 7: Lettuce cups with seasoned ground turkey
Day 1: Baked falafel with seasoned quinoa and a side salad
Day 2: Pan-seared salmon with lemon asparagus
Day 3: Tofu-veggie stir-fry with a side of brown rice
Day 4: Turkey meatballs (made with chopped kale and whole wheat breadcrumbs) and tomato sauce over steamed broccoli or whole wheat pasta
Day 5: Baked chicken with sweet vinegar coleslaw and sweet potato hash
Day 6: Baked mackerel with steamed artichoke
Day 7: Tuna poke bowl with avocado over mesclun greens
Aiming for Lower Triglyceride Levels Doesn’t Need To Be Difficult
If there’s one thing you take away from your experience reading this article, we hope it’s that a healthy diet doesn’t feel restrictive. It’s about knowing what to eat more of and what to try and avoid when you can.
When it comes to diet, cutting out the pizza, fries, and pastries can be an adjustment, but starting with your weekdays focusing on healthier alternatives will get you in a habit. Daily habits leave room for weekend and vacation meal spontaneity. The health consequences are less severe when the splurge is less often.
Our goal at Zizi is to help prevent heart attacks with long-term, preventative strategies, like making easy, small changes to diet. We empower people with the tools and resources to keep on top of their cholesterol, such as at-home cholesterol tests and exercise courses you can work into your weekly routine. Health doesn’t have to be hard — explore how easy it can be to be proactive about your heart health with Zizi here.
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