Foods and Drinks That Can Cause High Triglycerides

What to eat and avoid to lower triglyceride levels

Most of the time, high triglycerides are caused by a poor diet. Other factors can play a role, however, such as genetics or even the medication you're taking. 

Triglycerides can contribute to several health issues and concerns. High levels of triglycerides can play a role in heart disease, stroke, and the complications of diabetes.

Fortunately, exercise and good nutrition can help lower your triglycerides. That includes avoiding foods such as sugary drinks and snacks, foods high in saturated fat, and refined grains like white bread and pasta. You should also limit your intake of alcohol, manage diabetes, and quit smoking.

This article gives an overview of triglycerides and their effects on health. It also offers examples of foods that are good and bad for triglyceride levels.

What Are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of lipid, otherwise known as a fat. These fats move through the blood and are either used as energy or stored. If they are stored, hormones can trigger their release if they are needed for energy later.

Cholesterol is also a lipid, but it has a different function. Cholesterol is a waxy substance that your body uses to build cells.

What Foods and Drinks Cause High Triglycerides?

Sugary food and drinks, saturated fats, refined grains, alcohol, and high-calorie foods can all lead to high levels of triglycerides. If you have high triglycerides, avoiding these food categories can help bring your levels down.

Kinds of foods that can cause triglycerides.

Verywell / Tim Liedtke

Sugar

Simple sugars, like fructose, are a common source of elevated triglycerides. Eating too much sugar may lead to weight gain and insulin resistance.

Insulin resistance is when your body can't use the hormone insulin effectively to turn sugar into energy. It can cause blood sugars to increase and is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

Sugary drinks and foods that can lead to high levels of triglycerides include:

  • Fresh and canned fruit
  • Candy
  • Ice cream and sweetened yogurt
  • Sweetened drinks like juices
  • Cereal
  • Jams and jellies
  • Milkshakes and smoothies
  • Foods and drinks with corn syrup, honey, sucrose, glucose, fructose, and maltose listed as the first ingredient

Fruit can be a healthy food choice, as it contains vitamins, minerals, fiber, and water. However, if you have high triglycerides, you may want to limit your daily fruit intake. Ask your healthcare provider or dietitian if you have questions about which fruit choices are best.

Saturated and Trans Fats

Saturated fats can raise triglyceride levels. They can be found in fried foods, red meat, chicken skin, egg yolks, high-fat dairy, butter, lard, shortening, margarine, and fast food. Alternatives include:

  • Lean proteins such as skinless white chicken meat and fish
  • Low-fat dairy
  • Egg whites
  • Legumes
  • Olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil

Trans fats are hydrogenated fats that can be found in some packaged and fried foods. Trans fats have been banned, with exceptions, from the food supply in the U.S.

Refined Grains and Starchy Foods

Refined or processed grains are typically made from white flour, which can increase triglycerides. They also often have added sugars. If possible, try to limit:

  • Enriched or bleached white bread, wheat bread, or pasta
  • Sugary cereals
  • Instant rice
  • Bagels
  • Pizza
  • Pastries, pies, cookies, and cakes

Starchy foods can also raise triglycerides. Try to choose foods with 100% whole grains and opt for long-grain rice instead of instant rice. If possible, eat non-starchy vegetables such as spinach, instead of starchy ones like potatoes.

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption can raise triglyceride levels. Decreasing your alcohol intake can help lower these levels. If you or a loved one need additional help decreasing alcohol consumption, reach out to your doctor.

High-Calorie Foods

Be mindful of your intake of high-calorie foods if you are trying to lower your triglyceride levels. As some high-calorie foods are nutrient-rich, like nuts and avocados, consider checking in with your doctor for additional guidance.

What Causes Triglycerides to Go Up Quickly?

Triglycerides can go up quickly:

  • When you eat too much food
  • When you eat high-fat foods
  • When you eat foods high in simple carbohydrates

Triglycerides go up if there is extra energy that isn't immediately used. This extra energy is stored as body fat.

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:

  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Mackerel
  • Tuna
  • Walnuts
  • Flax seeds
  • Canola oil

Fish oil or omega-3 supplements may be a helpful addition to your diet. However, before taking supplements, you should speak with your healthcare provider. 

Also make sure to eat plenty of vegetables, which help lower triglycerides in part because they don't contain a lot of calories, sugars, or bad fats. Certain vegetables like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and spinach contain an antioxidant called alpha-lipoic acid that may lower triglycerides.

Also, choose foods made with soy, which is a healthy source of protein. Some research suggests that regular soy protein consumption can lower triglycerides.

Adding foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids to your diet may help lower triglyceride levels. If possible, aim to eat wild-caught fatty fish at least twice a week. You should also try to get three to five servings of veggies daily, particularly non-starchy ones.

Other Causes of High Triglycerides

High triglyceride levels may have other causes besides diet. For some people, high triglycerides are genetic. While dietary changes may help lower them a bit, you may also want to speak with your doctor about whether you also need to take medication.

Pregnancy can also cause a temporary increase in triglycerides. In women who are genetically predisposed, the increase can sometimes be severe and life-threatening.

Some medications can also raise your triglyceride levels. These include:

  • Birth control pills containing estrogen
  • Hormone replacement therapy
  • Corticosteroids 
  • Soltamox (tamoxifen)

Summary

High triglyceride levels can lead to health concerns. Foods and beverages high in triglycerides include sugary foods and drinks, alcohol, starchy foods, foods with saturated fats, high-calorie foods, and refined grains.

Diet and exercise can help lower triglyceride levels. Foods that may help decrease triglyceride levels include fatty fish, green veggies, flax seeds, canola oil, and soy-based products.

Consider speaking with your doctor if you would like additional help lowering your triglyceride levels, or if you are thinking about taking an omega-3 or fish oil supplement.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can you lower triglycerides with supplements?

    Your healthcare provider may suggest taking omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. Another option may be a prescription form of niacin, a B vitamin, which can help lower triglycerides and raise HDL levels. Always check with your healthcare provider before using a supplement.

  • How long does it take to lower triglycerides naturally?

    It varies, but it may take a few months with diet and exercise changes. Research has found that a weight loss of 5% to 10% can lower triglycerides by 20%.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Woolley
Elizabeth Woolley is a patient advocate and writer who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.