Foods and Beverages That Raise Triglyceride Levels

Elevated triglycerides can be a contributing factor to heart disease and stroke. People with diabetes can often struggle to manage triglycerides and because diabetes is such a complicated and intricate disease, and there are many ways diabetes can contribute to high triglycerides.

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According to the American Heart Association, lifestyle changes can make a major dent in elevated triglycerides – with diet and exercise being key components. Some of the key components include getting your diabetes under good control, exercising, weight loss, limiting alcohol intake and smoking cessation. In addition, you can try to lower your triglyceride levels by avoiding foods that raise them significantly. 

Some people have a genetic predisposition to high triglyceride levels. If this problem runs in your family, dietary changes will still help but may not be as effective. Talk to your doctor about medications that may help - including statins.

What Are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of lipid in which most fat exists in food and the body. They circulate in the blood plasma, and in association with cholesterol, form plasma lipids.

Triglycerides are obtained from food eat or are released from your liver and are used to meet short-term energy needs. When too much food is consumed or significant high-fat foods or foods that contain high levels of simple carbohydrates, the excess is converted to triglycerides and is stored as body fat. When needed, hormones regulate the release of triglycerides so that they can be used for energy. 

Foods That Can Elevate Triglycerides

Sugar: Simple sugars, such as fructose, are a common source of elevated triglycerides. It is easy to eat too much fructose as it seems to bypass bodily satiety signals. This can lead to weight gain and the development of insulin resistance (which can cause blood sugars to increase and is a contributing risk factor for type 2 diabetes).

Fructose occurs naturally in fruit and is added to many foods as a sweetener in the form of high-fructose corn syrup. This doesn't mean that you can never eat fruit—fruit can be a healthy food choice as it contains vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water. However, if you have high triglycerides you should probably limit your fruit to no more than two servings per day.

Ask your doctor or dietitian if you have questions about which fruit choices are best. Other added sugars that should be consumed less frequently include corn syrup, honey, sucrose, glucose, fructose, honey, and maltose listed as one of the first ingredients.

In addition, limit consumption of foods such as candy, ice cream, flavored sweetened yogurts, sweetened juices and other drinks, cereals, honey, molasses, jams, jellies, milkshakes and smoothies, and canned fruit. (While fresh fruit does have naturally occurring fructose, the fiber in fruit slows down its digestion.)

Saturated fats: Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. They are found in fried foods, red meat, chicken skin, egg yolks, high-fat dairy, butter, lard, shortening, margarine, and fast food. Healthier alternatives are lean proteins, such as skinless white chicken meat, fish, low-fat dairy, egg whites, and legumes. Good oil choices are olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil.

Another bad type of fat, trans fats, are hydrogenated fats, which are prevalent in some packaged foods. Notably, trans fats have been banned (with exceptions) from the food supply in the U.S. Avoid both saturated and trans fats in your diet.

Refined grains or starchy foods: Refined or processed grains can have added sugars and typically made from white flour which can increase triglycerides. Try to avoid enriched or bleached white bread, wheat bread, or pasta. Also avoid sugary cereals, instant rice, bagels, pizza, pastries, pies, cookies, and cakes. Starchy foods include high-starch vegetables, such as potatoes. Instead, choose foods with 100% whole grains, long-grain rice instead of instant rice, and non-starchy vegetables.

Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption causes the liver to increase triglyceride production.

High-calorie foods: Excess calories increase triglyceride levels. Pay attention to the calories you consume and try to avoid eating more calories than you can burn through physical activity. You can keep track of your calorie intake with online tools.

Foods That Can Lower Triglycerides

Some studies suggest that essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglyceride levels. This type of fat is found in fatty fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, and tuna. If possible, aim to eat wild caught fatty fish at least twice a week.

Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in walnuts, flax seeds, canola oil, and foods made with soy. Fish oil or omega-3 supplements are also available and may be an excellent addition to your care regimen. Before supplementing though, you should consult with your doctor. 

In addition, a balanced diet, rich in fibrous founds, such as vegetables can help lower triglyceride levels. Aim to get three-to-five servings of vegetables daily (one serving is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw).

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Article Sources
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  1. American Heart Association. HDL (good), LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides. Updated April 2017.

  2. Jacobsen A, Savji N, Blumenthal RS, et al. Hypertriglyceridemia management according to the 2018 AHA/ACC Guideline. January 11, 2019.

  3. Chiavaroli L, de Souza RJ, Ha V, et al. Effect of fructose on established lipid targets: A systematic review and meta-analysis of controlled feeding trials. J Am Heart Assoc. 2015;4(9):e001700. doi:10.1161/JAHA.114.001700

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Triglycerides & heart health. Updated January 16, 2019.

  5. Shearer GC, Savinova OV, Harris WS. Fish oil—how does it reduce plasma triglyceridesBiochim Biophys Acta. 2012;1821(5):843–851. doi:10.1016/j.bbalip.2011.10.011

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