Just like high blood pressure and high cholesterol, high triglycerides increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing around 655,000 Americans every year. Fortunately, making certain lifestyle changes may help you lower your triglycerides as well as your risk of heart disease.
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. When you eat, your body makes triglycerides from excess calories that it doesn’t use for energy. Alcohol and sugar in the body are also converted into triglycerides and are stored throughout the body in fat cells. When you gain weight in your hips or abdomen, that excess fat is triglycerides.
Risk Factors for High Triglycerides
You may be at risk for high triglycerides if you drink excessively, have a family history of high cholesterol, have liver or kidney disease, smoke, or are overweight. Certain medications and menopause can also increase the risk of high triglycerides.
Triglycerides are measured in milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). A healthy triglyceride number is below 150 mg/dL. Between 250 and 499 mg/dL is considered moderately high, while anything above 500 mg/dL is considered severe.
Many of the same steps you can take to maintain a healthy weight and lower your cholesterol will also help lower your triglycerides.
5 ways to Lower Triglycerides
1. Exercise Regularly
Regular exercise is associated with a number of health benefits, including stronger bones, better sleep, reduced stress and anxiety, and increased energy. Exercising regularly may help protect cognitive function and prevent certain diseases, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and some types of cancer.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days. Any type of physical activity counts. While going for a jog or a bike ride is always a great option, you can also benefit from taking the stairs instead of the elevator, going for a walk on your lunch break, gardening, or putting on some music and dancing while you clean the house. Look for ways to incorporate more activity into the things you already do. For example, you could park farther away from the store, walk on a treadmill while watching TV, or do some squats and lunges while making dinner. The important thing is to simply move more.
2. Cut Back on Sugar and Refined Carbohydrates
Sugar and refined carbohydrates can increase triglycerides as well as lead to weight gain and increase your risk of heart disease. Refined carbs include foods made with white flour or fructose, such as white bread, pasta, and baked goods.
Instead, choose complex carbohydrates, which include whole grains and nonstarchy vegetables. To reduce your intake of refined carbs, try some of these substitutions:
- Choose brown rice instead of white rice
- Make spaghetti squash in place of spaghetti
- Snack on heart-healthy nuts instead of potato chips
- Drink sparkling water instead of soda
Cutting back on sugar can be enormously beneficial but is often challenging. Sugar is often added to foods that may seem healthy, such as yogurt and salad dressings. Avoid processed, packaged foods, which often contain added sugar. Instead, choose whole foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, legumes, and clean meats.
Get in the habit of reading ingredients labels, and avoid foods containing added sugar or fructose. Words that end in -ose—for example, sucrose, glucose, maltose, and dextrose—are also forms of sugar. Choose foods that are naturally sweetened with stevia, monk fruit, or sugar alcohols such as xylitol or erythritol.
3. Choose Healthy Fats
Not all fats are unhealthy. Your body needs some dietary fat because it’s used for energy and has other important functions in the body. Fat is a basic component of cell membranes, and it is essential for growth and development. Some fats, including omega-3 fatty acids, actually reduce the risk of heart disease. Olives, olive oil, nuts, fish, and avocados are all healthy sources of fat. You may also want to consider an omega-3 supplement.
Avoid trans fats and foods containing hydrogenated oils, which can increase your risk of heart disease.
4. Limit Alcohol Consumption
Drinking alcohol can increase both triglycerides and cholesterol levels. Drink only in moderation. If you already have severely high triglycerides, it’s best to avoid alcohol completely.
5. Maintain a Healthy Weight
If you’re overweight, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight will help lower your triglycerides as well as your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. All of the healthy habits listed here will help you manage your weight. It’s also important to find ways to manage excess stress, which can contribute to weight gain by triggering the release of cortisol.
If lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough to manage your triglycerides, talk to your doctor. Medications such as statins or fibrates may sometimes be used to lower triglycerides. If your doctor prescribes medication for your triglycerides, be sure to take all medication as directed.
Karen Eisenbraun is a Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant. She holds an English degree from Knox College and has written extensively about topics related to holistic health, clinical nutrition, and weight management.