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Triglycerides: Why do they matter?

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN

Published: February 13, 2020

Reviewed: January 24, 2022

Triglycerides: Why do they matter?
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Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides can increase your risk for heart disease. Luckily, the same recommendations that are advised for a number of other conditions — such as losing weight, being physically active and limiting refined carbohydrates— may also help lower triglycerides.

When too many calories are eaten, the body stores them as triglycerides for use at a later time but when triglyceride levels become too high, they may increase risk for heart disease. A normal triglyceride level is considered to be below 150 mg/dL whereas a level above 200 mg/dL is high. For many, a healthy level can be achieved through the following lifestyle changes.

A Focus on Fats

Fat gets a lot of attention in heart healthy eating plans but that doesn’t mean you need to completely eliminate it. Instead, focus on replacing sources of saturated fat (like butter) with unsaturated fats, such as olive and vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, avocados and fatty fish.

In addition to a variety of other beneficial nutrients, many types of seafood provide omega-3 essential fatty acids which can help reduce triglyceride levels. Including a variety of seafood that are lower in mercury two times per week (about 8 ounces total) is recommended for adults.Twitter Logo Seafood higher in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, herring, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel, rainbow trout, and sardines. Note: Individuals who are pregnant or nursing and young children should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, which contain high levels of mercury. For more information, see Advice about Eating Fish from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If you have high or very high triglycerides, your doctor may also recommend a prescription dose of supplemental omega-3 fatty acids. This should only be done under the advice and supervision of a doctor.

Be Carbohydrate Savvy

While extra calories from any source can be stored as triglycerides, excess calories from added sugars and alcohol may have a greater effect on raising triglycerides.

When choosing carbohydrate-rich foods, focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. Limit refined grains and sources of added sugars, such as desserts, baked goods and sugar-sweetened beverages. And, limit or avoid alcohol.

Mediterranean-style eating plans are similarly associated with improved heart health. This includes eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seafood while limiting saturated fat, added sugars, sodium and alcohol. It also includes a moderate amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in oils such as canola and olive oils.

Consult a Professional

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

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