Triglycerides: Why do they matter?

Reviewed by Sarah Klemm, RD, CD
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 dietary recommendations that are advised for a number of other conditions — such as losing weight, being physically active and limiting refined carbohydrates— can also help lower triglycerides.

When excess 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 often gets a lot of attention in heart healthy eating plans but that doesn’t mean you need to completely eliminate it. Focus on sources of unsaturated fats instead, such as olive and vegetable oil, nuts and seeds, avocadoes and fatty fish.

In addition to a variety of other beneficial nutrients, seafood is high in omega-3 essential fatty acids which can help reduce triglyceride levels. 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, herring, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel, rainbow trout, and sardines. Note: Pregnant and nursing women and young children should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, which contain high levels of mercury.

If you have a history of elevated triglycerides, your doctor may also recommend high doses 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 sugar 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, trans fat, added sugars and alcohol. It also includes a moderate amount of healthy 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 and the potential advantage of 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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