Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood. Certain health conditions, medications, lifestyle habits, and genetics are all possible causes of high blood triglycerides.
High levels of triglycerides can be a risk factor for various health conditions. Food choice is one of many factors that can affect triglyceride levels. Doctors may advise a person to change their diet to lower their triglyceride levels. A diet high in saturated fats, added sugars, excessive alcohol, and refined carbohydrates can increase a person’s triglyceride levels.
This article explores what triglycerides are, healthy triglyceride levels, foods that can lower triglycerides, and types of diets to lower triglycerides. It also describes a 7-day meal plan to lower triglycerides and explores other ways to lower them.
Triglycerides are a lipid, or type of fat, in the body. The body stores most of its fat as triglycerides, making it the most common type of fat. A doctor can measure triglyceride levels with a blood test.
Triglycerides migrate through the blood in round particles called lipoproteins. People can consume triglycerides directly through fatty foods like oil and butter. When people consume more calories than they need from other foods like carbohydrates, the excess energy is converted into triglycerides and stored.
Triglycerides are one of the body’s most important sources of energy. But high levels of triglycerides in the blood can increase a person’s risk for:
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are two typical levels of fasting blood triglycerides. The first is less than 75 milligrams per deciliter (mg / dL) for children under 10 years of age. The second is lower than 90 mg / dL for children over 10 years and adults.
A doctor can diagnose a person with high triglycerides (also known as hypertriglyceridemia) if their fasting blood triglyceride levels are constant at 150 mg / dL or higher.
Some people can be genetically predisposed to high triglyceride levels. Doctors call this familial hypertriglyceridemia. Blood triglycerides are often higher in men than women and tend to increase with age.
According to a 2011 data sheet from the American Heart Association (AHA), people should focus on consuming the following foods to control their triglyceride levels:
- oily fish, such as sardines and salmon
- all vegetables, especially leafy vegetables, green beans and butternut squash
- all fruits, especially citrus fruits and berries
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy products such as cheese, yogurt, and milk
- high fiber whole grains like quinoa, barley, and brown rice
- Beans, nuts, and seeds that contain fiber and unsaturated, healthy fats
The AHA also advises people:
- Limit alcohol consumption
- limit added sugar to no more than 10% of your total daily calories
- keep the carbohydrates at 50-60% or less of your total daily calories
- limit dietary fat to 25-35% of their total daily calories
- Choose unsaturated fats from vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds over saturated and trans fats found in animal products and processed foods
A person can make changes to their diet to lower their triglyceride levels. These changes can include:
Low carbohydrate diet
People whose daily caloric intake consistently exceeds 60% carbohydrates are at higher risk of high triglycerides, especially if those carbohydrates come mainly from refined grains. When a person is consuming more calories from carbohydrates than they need, their body stores the excess carbohydrates as fat.
A person looking to reduce triglycerides should avoid refined carbohydrates like baked goods and try to consume more unrefined high fiber carbohydrates like vegetables, beans, and whole grains. Try replacing high-sugar products with fruits like berries, which can help reduce sugar cravings.
High fiber diet
When a person increases their fiber intake, they can slow down the absorption of fat and sugar in the small intestine. This lowers the triglyceride level in the blood. Research suggests that adults who are overweight or obese can lower their triglyceride levels and improve their overall health by increasing their fiber intake.
A person can consume more fiber by eating foods like whole grains, nuts, seeds, vegetables, legumes, grains, and fruits.
Oily fish contain a heart healthy type of fat called omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids that the body cannot produce itself and must therefore be ingested through food.
According to the AHA, a person should eat two servings of fatty fish a week to reduce their risk of heart disease and stroke. Research suggests that eating salmon twice a week may help lower triglycerides in the blood. Salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel are examples of oily fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Research has shown that a vegetarian diet can help lower total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. But reviews of studies published in 2015, 2017, and 2020 found that there was no association between a vegetarian diet and a decrease in triglycerides.
While some studies suggest possible health benefits of a vegetarian diet, it does not mean that every vegetarian diet is healthy. A well-planned, nutritious diet – whether vegetarian or otherwise – plays a role in maintaining a healthy body.
Here is an example of a nutritional plan to reduce triglycerides. It is important to note that this is just one example of what someone might be eating as everyone’s nutritional and calorie needs are different.
- Breakfast: Old-fashioned oats made with low-fat or plant-based milk, topped with berries and seeds.
- Having lunch: Vegetable and lentil soup with whole grain crackers.
- Dinner: Tofu butternut squash curry with cauliflower rice.
- Snack: A banana and almonds.
- Breakfast: Salmon, wholemeal rye bread and a poached egg.
- Having lunch: Whole grain sardines with a garden side salad and an oil-based dressing.
- Dinner: Stir fried chicken and vegetables with brown rice.
- Snack: A boiled egg and fresh fruit.
- Breakfast: Buckwheat pancakes with low-fat yogurt and berries.
- Having lunch: A spinach, avocado and tomato salad with black beans and quinoa.
- Dinner: Vegetable and bean chilli with a side of kale.
- Snack: Celery sticks and almond butter.
- Breakfast: Whole grain muesli with low-fat or plant-based milk and fresh fruit.
- Having lunch: Barley wrap with tuna, lettuce and tomatoes.
- Dinner: Grilled salmon or mackerel with steamed vegetables and brown rice.
- Snack: Walnuts.
- Breakfast: Poached eggs on wholemeal toast.
- Having lunch: A tuna or chicken sandwich with whole wheat bread, hummus and garden salad.
- Dinner: Grilled steak with steamed vegetables and mashed sweet potatoes.
- Snack: Fruit salad and low fat Greek yogurt.
- Breakfast: Whole grain toast with avocado and a hard-boiled egg or smoked salmon.
- Having lunch: Chickpeas and quinoa over green salad.
- Dinner: Barley, vegetable and chicken soup with whole grain crackers.
- Snack: A homemade smoothie made from low-fat Greek yogurt and berries.
- Breakfast: Oat flakes with low-fat or plant-based milk, topped with fresh fruit.
- Having lunch: Sardine salad served on a wholemeal roll, with garden salad.
- Dinner: Whole wheat pasta with tomato sauce and drained red kidney beans and garden salad.
- Snack: Strawberries.
In addition to changing diet, a person can also do the following:
Research from 2014 suggests that regular aerobic exercise can increase the amount of good cholesterol, or HDL, in a person’s blood. This can help lower triglyceride levels.
The US Department of Health’s physical activity guidelines recommend that a person exercise at least 150 minutes a week or 30 minutes of aerobics five times a week. Aerobic exercise can include activities such as jogging, cycling, or swimming.
A 2019 study showed that people with heart disease who exercised 45 minutes five times a week had significant decreases in triglyceride levels.
Various dietary supplements can help lower triglycerides. A person should discuss taking supplements with their doctor to avoid drug interactions. Since diet supplements and vitamins are not regulated by the FDA, people should be careful trying a new one.
The following supplements can affect triglyceride levels:
- Curcumin. A 2017 review found that curcumin supplements can lead to significant decreases in triglyceride and bad cholesterol, or LDL.
- Fish oil. These supplements are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which studies have shown to reduce triglycerides and other heart disease risk factors.
- Fenugreek. Research from 2014 suggests that fenugreek seeds may help reduce triglycerides in the blood.
- Guggul. An animal study suggests that this herbal supplement might be as effective as prescription drugs at lowering triglyceride levels.
- Garlic extract. Various animal studies have shown that garlic extract can help lower triglyceride levels due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Triglycerides are a type of lipid, or fat, in the blood.
A low-carb, high-fiber diet that includes oily fish can help lower triglycerides. Other ways to lower triglycerides include limiting added sugar intake, limiting alcohol content, limiting carbohydrates to 50-60% or less of total daily calories, and limiting saturated and trans fat intake. Regular exercise and certain supplements can also help control triglyceride levels.