What are triglycerides? How to reduce yours with diet and exercise

What is the difference between high triglycerides and high cholesterol?

Triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids in the blood. And you can have high triglycerides without having high cholesterol. Both are types of fats, but each of these lipids works differently and too much of either can lead to different health issues.

According to the Mayo Clinic:

  • Triglycerides store unused calories and provide energy to your body.
  • Cholesterol is used to build cells and some hormones.

Too much cholesterol especially low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or the so-called “bad” cholesterol, causes plaque to build up in blood vessels, which act as tiny calcified deposits that lodge in the walls of arteries and cause blockages which raise blood pressure and potentially cut off vital oxygen to the heart or brain, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

High triglycerides cause hardening of the arteries and increase your risk of stroke or heart attack by making it more difficult for blood to flow through the rigid vessel walls, which, together with high cholesterol, poses a double threat to health. High triglycerides can also lead to chronic inflammation of the pancreas or pancreatitis. But it’s possible to have high triglycerides without high cholesterol, so those are considered separate conditions.

What are normal healthy triglyceride levels?

How do you know if you have high triglycerides? Your doctor should do a blood test and look at what’s called a lipid panel, which tells them what fats are circulating in your blood.

  • Normal triglycerides: Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter of blood or mg/dL
  • High triglyceride limit:150–199mg/dL
  • Very high triglycerides: 500 mg/dL or more
  • High triglycerides: 200–499mg/dL

Why should you care about triglycerides

High triglycerides can lead to conditions like fat around the waist, and while no one wants belly fat, it’s more of a symptom than a health issue in and of itself. Storing fat in your midsection is often a sign that there are other health issues at work, and together they can make it harder to lose weight and increase your risk of chronic disease.

Stubborn abdominal fat can be a precursor to conditions such as metabolic syndrome, which is a group of conditions including high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol. It can be more difficult to lose weight as your insulin resistance increases and your body stores calories as fat instead of burning them.

High triglyceride levels can also be a sign of:

  • Prediabetes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Increased risk of heart disease
  • Hypothyroidism or thyroid hypohormones

How to Lower Triglycerides

  • Avoid refined carbohydrates. Added sugar and simple carbohydrates, in snacks, processed foods, white bread, pasta, or rice can raise triglycerides.
  • Lose extra weight. Doctors advise patients that if they are overweight, losing excess pounds can help reduce triglyceride levels. When you eat more than your body needs, the extra calories are converted into triglycerides and stored as fat.
  • Avoid saturated fats. Avoid animal fats in red meat, dairy products, and other forms of saturated fats that are also found in coconut and palm oils.
  • Choose omega-3 fatty acids. Plant sources of omega-3s include chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, edamame, kidney beans, and Brussels sprouts.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Due to its high sugar content, alcohol should be avoided for anyone with high triglycerides or trying to control it.

Best Foods to Eat to Lower Triglycerides

The good news: You can lower your triglyceride levels quickly through lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and eating fewer calories to lose weight. According to experts, a diet with no added sugar or simple carbs, and one that avoids all animal fats, is the best way to start.

In a randomized control study, green tea was found to lower blood lipids, including triglycerides, in the laboratory. “Green tea catechins can significantly reduce plasma triglyceride, total cholesterol, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels,” the study found. Besides drinking green tea, here are foods that lower your triglyceride levels, provided you also reduce your calories and stay physically active.

What to eat to lower your triglycerides

  • Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and arugula
  • Vegetables like zucchini, butternut squash, green beans, and eggplant
  • Cruciferous vegetables: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower
  • Fruits, especially citrus fruits, and berries that are lower in fructose
  • Low-fat or fat-free dairy alternatives such as almond or soy milk
  • Fiber-rich whole grains, such as quinoa, barley, and brown rice
  • seaweed oil, based on certain seaweed rich in omega-3

According to cardiologist Dr. Joel Kahn, watching your triglycerides is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Author of The vegetable solution, Kahn, a 40-year-old vegan, advocates avoiding animal products, exercising daily, and taking breaks to walk in place, move, or even consider investing in a standing treadmill desk.

Dr. Kahn’s advice on triglycerides:

  • “The importance of high triglycerides, or trigs as the docs call them, has been debated for decades, but they are increasingly known to promote heart disease when high (especially when HDL is low, resulting in a high trig/HDL cholesterol ratio above 3).
  • “You can reduce your trigs with green tea, more omega-3 foods like ground flaxseeds, and more whole plant flours that are low in added or absent sugars.
  • “Avoid all sugary drinks and sugary alcoholic beverages.
  • “Exercising and shooting for ideal weight and height completes the list of hard work it takes to keep trines low and healthy.”

Bottom Line: Know Your Triglycerides and Keep Them Low with Diet and Exercise

We pay attention to cholesterol and blood pressure, but triglycerides are an important health marker. High levels increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Use exercise and these foods to reduce yours. Here’s what to eat to keep your triglyceride levels healthy.

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