Triglycerides: Why do they matter?

Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
Triglycerides and a Mediterranean-style diet

Triglycerides matter. Why? Most importantly, high levels of fat in the blood in the form of triglycerides can increase your risk for heart disease. Luckily, the same dietary recommendations that are advised for a number of other conditions — such as losing weight and lowering blood cholesterol — can also help lower triglycerides. When excess calories are eaten, triglycerides are formed and stored for the body to use at a later time. However, some people have triglyceride levels that increase their risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a normal triglyceride level is below 150 mg/dL and a level above 200 mg/dL is high. For many, a healthy level can be achieved through lifestyle changes such as following a heart-healthy diet, losing weight and increasing physical activity.

A Heart-Healthy Eating Plan

Your healthy eating plan should be moderate in carbohydrate foods such as whole-grain breads, cereals and pasta. Include fewer foods with added sugars such as desserts, baked goods and sugar-sweetened beverages. Try substituting with calorie-free beverages and choosing smaller portions of candy and desserts.

Additional recommendations from the AHA include following a Mediterranean-style diet by eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seafood while limiting saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and alcohol. This eating pattern includes a moderate amount of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in oils such as canola and olive oils.

According to the Dietary Guidelines, Americans need to eat more seafood to help prevent heart disease. Seafood has a range of nutrients and is high in omega-3 fatty acids. It is easy to get enough omega-3 fatty acids by eating fish regularly. Just 2 servings of seafood per week (about 8 ounces total) will provide the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Tweet this Seafood high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, Atlantic herring, Atlantic mackerel, farmed rainbow trout, white tuna and halibut. Note: Pregnant and nursing women and young children should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, which contain high levels of mercury. Albacore tuna has more mercury than canned light tuna, and should be limited to no more than 6 ounces per week.

Omega-3 Supplements

High doses of supplemental omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower triglycerides in patients with high triglycerides (greater than 200 mg/dL). However, this should only be done under the advice and supervision of a doctor.

If your triglyceride level is above 150 mg/dL, discuss lifestyle changes and the potential advantage of taking supplements with your doctor and registered dietitian nutritionist. An RDN can help develop a healthy eating plan that meets your personal health needs and lifestyle.

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