Triglycerides are a kind of dietary fat which can often be found in the body’s bloodstream, however high blood triglyceride levels are highly associated with obesity. We consume triglycerides when we eat (particularly from sources of meat, dairy produce, and oil), and we also produce our own source of triglycerides which are made from within our own livers.
These useful fats are nothing to be afraid of in moderation; we actually use triglycerides as a major source of energy. The problem lies in when we consume too much, resulting in much of our triglycerides being stored as fat and elevating our overall risk of heart disease and its associated complications.
Having too many triglycerides is not uncommon either. Approximately 25% of US adults have hypertriglyceridemia (elevated blood triglyceride levels) (Source), normally as a result of ongoing issues with obesity, diabetes, and excessive alcohol use. Fortunately, bringing blood triglyceride levels back to healthy levels is not impossible, or even too difficult for most. Below, we’ll discuss 10 simple tactics you can use to lower your triglyceride levels and reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attack, or stroke.
As we already know, high blood triglyceride levels are highly associated with obesity, so one key aim to shoot for is to simply lose weight. As we’ve mentioned before in our weight loss article, low-carb diets represent some of the most effective weight loss approaches, as well as one that has been repeatedly proven to lower blood triglycerides.
Several studies have been carried out to examine the relative effects of a low-carb diet or a low-fat on weight loss, and all have so far turned out similar results; not only are low-carb diets demonstrably more effective at reducing obesity, but they also cause a much more significant reduction in blood triglyceride levels (Source, Source). One other study looked at a range of diet approaches and their relative impacts on bodyweight and blood triglyceride levels, with the low-carb approach achieving the most impressive results on every count (Source).
The mechanics behind why this happens is simple. When we consume more calories than we can use in energy, the excess is turned in to triglycerides and stored in fat cells. This process seems to happen more readily with carbohydrate calories than other sources of calories, causing both weight gain and elevated blood triglyceride levels at the same time.
Recognizing carbohydrates is relatively easy. Carbohydrate-rich foods such as white bread, pasta, and potato, as well as highly processed food, are ones to avoid, with most easily substituted with tasty vegetable-based alternatives (Source).
Though tasty, sugar is perhaps one of the biggest threats to the waistline out there. Sugars are a huge part of many global diets these days, with fizzy drinks and sweets often packing in levels of sugar that are far in excess of what’s considered to be healthy. High-sugar diets are associated with obesity and heart disease, as (like carbohydrates) they are more readily converted to blood triglycerides than most other sources of calories.
One study carried out with children in 2014 found that consuming “added sugar” regularly was strongly associated with high triglyceride levels, even at relatively young ages. The same effect was not seen with dietary fat or high-salt content (Source). Studies conducted with adults tend to uncover the same findings, posing ever-greater threats to cardiovascular health as subjects grow older.
A key tactic you can use to avoid excess sugar is to focus on beverages above all else. Fizzy drinks often manage to pack in obscene levels of sugar, which can significantly increase your calorie intake and triglyceride levels. One interesting study conducted in Mexico found that simply substituting fizzy drinks for water led to significant reductions in the blood triglyceride levels of obese women over 9 months (Source).
High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol is a kind of “good” cholesterol, a friendly cleaner that cruises the body’s bloodstream removing “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. If we enjoy high levels of HDL cholesterol, we can expect to see our triglyceride levels reduce. So how can we raise our HDL cholesterol levels.
The most straightforward way of raising “good” cholesterol levels is through aerobic exercise, which includes jogging, walking, riding a bicycle and swimming. Numerous studies have found that following an aerobic exercise regime raises the body’s supply of HDL cholesterol and reduces triglycerides, a finding that applies to both young (Source) and older people (Source). It seems that high-intensity exercise is the most effective way of reducing triglyceride levels (Source), so readers looking to see the most dramatic effects should consider short, regular exercise sessions (such as an intense 10-20 minute workout 5 times a week).
Another way to increase HDL cholesterol is to quit smoking (if this applies to you). Tobacco smoke artificially lowers HDL levels, meaning that quitting can make an immediate difference.
Although the relationship between alcohol and high triglycerides is slightly less clear than some of the other factors listed here, we still have evidence that heavy drinking is something to avoid.
One interesting Japanese study examined the blood triglyceride levels of non-drinkers, occasional heavy drinkers, and regular heavy drinkers. They found that heavy drinkers were far more likely to have high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL cholesterol than non-drinkers, with occasional heavy drinkers apparently showing the most worrying results (Source).
Strangely enough, we often see the opposite results for people that consume alcohol in moderation, with most moderate drinkers actually slightly improving their overall cardiovascular health when compared to non-drinkers (Source; Source; Source).
It seems that only heavy drinkers need to be worried and should aim to change behaviour; if you consume less than 5 drinks, 2-3 times a week as a man (4 as a woman), then you should be fine.
One key way we can control our triglyceride levels is through our body’s supply of insulin. The natural role of insulin is to move glucose from our bloodstream into our cells, to be used for energy. In this way, triglyceride levels are reduced, as excess levels are being transported to perform their intended role. Problems happen when the body develops a resistance to insulin due to overeating or obesity, making it difficult for insulin to do its job (you may recognise this as the same issue that leads to type 2 diabetes).
Controlling this is often as simple as following all the advice listed above, although there is one more surprising factor that can help you to reduce the chance of building up a resistance to insulin. Several studies have found that maintaining a regular eating schedule can ensure “appropriate” sensitivity to insulin (Source; Source), making reducing triglyceride levels as simple as eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the same times each day.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential to our overall health, as they are known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems. One key way in which these useful fats protect the heart is through their ability to reduce blood triglyceride levels and increase “good” cholesterol levels.
Finding a source of omega-3 fatty acids is fairly straightforward. You can find them in supplement form, or you could try consuming them naturally by eating oily fish (like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, and others). Fish are generally regarded as healthy in any case, with one study finding that consumption of salmon twice a week significantly decreases blood triglyceride levels (Source).
We know that we can see positive results on our waistline by avoiding carbohydrates, so it makes sense to consume relatively more protein in our diet. Although most people think of meat and eggs when they think of protein, other plant-based sources of protein have actually been found to be more beneficial when it comes to the question of reducing blood triglyceride levels.
Soy protein includes foods like tofu, soybeans, and soy milk, and (although much maligned in some circles) it has been found to actively reduce triglyceride levels in more than a few pieces of research (Source). One interesting study took the step of comparing its triglyceride-reducing performance with that of animal protein, finding that soy protein actually enjoyed reductions of more than 12% more than animal protein in just 6 weeks (Source).
Similar results have been seen with nuts such as walnuts, pecans, cashews, brazil nuts, almonds, and pistachios (not including common but less healthy nuts like peanuts). A large meta-analysis of numerous studies found that these “tree nuts” reduce triglyceride and “bad” cholesterol levels when taken in appropriate amounts (Source). As most of these nuts are relatively high in calories, the trick appears to be to consume fairly small servings around 5-7 times per week for the best results.
The dieting world has done a stellar job of demonising fats in general, when in reality we should be avoiding certain types and actively seeking out others. In terms of your blood triglyceride levels, aim to consume greater amounts of unsaturated fats whilst avoiding unhealthy trans or saturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats (such as those found in olive oil and nuts) and polyunsaturated fats (such as those found in fish and vegetable oil), should be regarded as useful ways to control triglyceride levels, especially when used to substitute for more unhealthy fats. Sometimes, they appear to offer benefits in their own right; one study conducted with elderly women made the interesting finding that extra virgin olive oil appears to reduce blood triglyceride levels, when 4 tablespoons were consumed per day (Source).
For the most part however, the real benefit of consuming unsaturated fats is that they can effectively replace much more harmful trans fats, which are known to raise triglyceride and “bad” cholesterol levels (Source).
Trans fat are the kinds of fats we commonly encounter in fried foods and most factory-processed foods, and are made from partially hydrogenated oils. Along with sugar and refined carbs, trans fats put pressure on the heart by increasing triglyceride levels and “bad” cholesterol levels. Cut them out wherever possible.
Many of the dietary recommendations made in this article are achievable, but many readers may feel that it is an uphill battle to cover all bases at once. Although it seems simple enough to eat 2 servings of fish per week or swap sunflower oil for olive oil, individual tasks may be forgotten when we’re taking on 10 new things at once!
Here’s where supplements can really make a difference. A range of products exist to help customers find a source of healthy nutrients, that they may otherwise struggle to find. Don’t enjoy eating fish? Then consider taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement or fish oil product in pill form, and get the same benefits in an easily manageable way. Soy protein supplements can also do some real good, and those facing serious problems managing their diet may consider looking at the possibility of trying a niacin supplement (although we highly recommend speaking with your doctor about this first, as niacin supplements most be dose controlled and will likely cause side effects).
One aspect of dietary health that does not receive as much coverage as fat, cholesterol, and protein is fibre (which is often sourced from whole grains, vegetables, cereals, fruits and nuts). Despite this, fibre has significant impacts on our digestive system that make it particularly important when discussing the issue of triglycerides.
When we consume relatively more dietary fibre, far fewer volumes of unhealthy substances like sugar and trans fats are absorbed in the small intestine. This has a knock-on impact on our blood sugar and triglyceride levels, effectively reducing both.
Although this may seem like a convoluted process, the impact is potentially huge. One study examined blood triglyceride levels when subjects were following a high-fibre and low-fibre diet, finding a difference of around 45% (Source). Consider consuming relatively more grains, fruits, and vegetables alongside your regular diet, or try a supplement like psyllium to achieve the same results.
Disclaimer: Our reviews and investigations are based on extensive research from the information publicly available to us and consumers at the time of first publishing the post. Information is based on our personal opinion and whilst we endeavour to ensure information is up-to-date, manufacturers do from time to time change their products and future research may disagree with our findings. If you feel any of the information is inaccurate, please contact us and we will review the information provided.