8 Ways to Lower Your Triglycerides (and Cholesterol) With Lifestyle Changes
As with high cholesterol, elevated levels of triglycerides can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease. But making some lifestyle tweaks can help you lower your triglycerides naturally. Here’s how.
Triglycerides, which are found in your blood, are the most common type of fat in your body. They come from the foods you eat, especially fatty foods such as oils and butter, and from extra calories: When you eat, your body converts any calories it doesn’t use right away into triglycerides and stores them in fat cells. The problem? If you regularly eat more calories than you use, especially from high-carbohydrate foods, you can develop high triglycerides, or hypertriglyceridemia. Other factors that can contribute to hypertriglyceridemia include smoking, excessive use of alcohol, and having poorly controlled diabetes, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Along with cholesterol, high triglyceride levels are linked to heart disease and other health issues related to cardiovascular disease. The U.S. Library of Medicine notes that triglyceride levels higher than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) may increase your risk for metabolic syndrome, which can include excessive abdominal fat, high blood pressure, and elevated blood sugar. And according to Mayo Clinic, elevated triglycerides may contribute to hardening of the artery walls, increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease.
Clearly, elevated triglycerides is an important health issue, and managing your levels is a key component of preventing heart disease. According to one study, the first important step for treating high triglycerides should be lifestyle changes — and then, if necessary, medication. Read on for simple ways to keep your triglyceride levels in check.
1. Avoid excess sugar.
Simple sugars, from table sugar and sweets, have little nutritional value, increase your triglyceride levels, and add empty calories to your diet. Even people who don’t have hypertriglyceridemia experience a spike in triglycerides when they eat or drink too many simple sugars, such as alcohol and added sugar, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). You can lower your triglycerides by limiting candy, sweetened drinks, cookies, and pastries. As an added bonus, avoiding high-fat items will also help lower your cholesterol naturally.
2. Resist refined foods.
Carbohydrates come from plant foods and make up the main source of energy in most people’s diets. The carbohydrates you get from processed foods, such as white bread, rice, and pasta, have been treated to remove their outer grain. These “white foods” get converted to sugar more easily, according to the AHA. By choosing whole-grain foods over processed foods, you can help lower your triglyceride levels. Examples of whole-grain foods include whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, whole-grain bread, and whole-grain cereal. A good general tip: To help lower your triglycerides, avoid foods that have the word “bleached” in the first ingredient.
3. Add more fiber to your diet.
Fiber is the part of your food that isn’t digested, and it’s important because it helps you feel full. According to one study, dietary fiber can reduce the risk of high triglycerides in young to middle-aged adults who are overweight or obese. “In general, fiber-rich foods also have carbohydrate content that is more complex and can lead to more gradual absorption by the body, which can also help temper the triglyceride increase that occurs after meals,” says Michael Wesley Milks, MD, a cardiologist and assistant professor of clinical medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. Fiber is found in whole grains and nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.
4. Choose healthy fats over saturated fats.
Another way to lower triglycerides and cholesterol naturally is by eating healthy fats. Omega-3 fatty acids lower triglycerides and bad cholesterol by increasing fat metabolism, according to the Mayo Clinic. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish, such as salmon and herring, olive oil, and dietary supplements. For people with high triglycerides, the AHA recommends prescription-strength omega-3 fatty acid supplements at a dose of 4 grams per day, although it’s still best to get it from foods. Saturated fats, which come mainly from meat sources, should be limited to no more than 5 to 6 percent of your total daily calories, says the AHA, and your daily intake of cholesterol should be no more than 300 mg, according to the AHA.
5. Know the dangers of trans fats.
Trans fats are dangerous for your heart, because they raise low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The chief culprit you’ll see on product labels is partially hydrogenated oil. Trans fats are the result of adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to increase shelf life. This may make some baked and fried foods taste better, but trans fats are very unhealthy, particularly for people with high triglycerides. In fact, trans fats should make up less than 1 percent of your total calories, according to the World Health Organization. Check your food labels: If a food contains trans fats or hydrogenated oils, leave it on the shelf.
6. Cut back on alcohol.
While you may not need to abstain from alcohol altogether, moderation is key. “Avoidance of excessive alcohol consumption is part of a heart-healthy lifestyle,” says Dr. Milks. Alcohol is high in the type of carbohydrate your body converts to triglycerides. It may also affect your liver, which can interfere with your ability to metabolize fat, according to the AHA. Even moderate drinking — generally, one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men — can significantly elevate your triglyceride levels. “Beer or mixed drinks with a sugar-sweetened component can be particularly carbohydrate rich,” Milks adds. Ask your doctor what a safe limit of alcohol is for you to lower your triglycerides.
Regular exercise is important for everyone but especially for someone with high triglycerides. Exercise increases your body’s ability to metabolize sugar, which lowers the amount of sugar in your blood and decreases the amount of sugar your body converts to triglycerides. one study found that moderate aerobic exercise significantly helped lower triglycerides in people with heart disease. The AHA recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week.
8. Control your weight.
Being overweight decreases your ability to metabolize sugar and other carbohydrates, which leads to high triglycerides. To maintain a healthy weight and lower triglycerides, you need to take in healthy calories and eliminate excess calories, according to Milks. That means balancing your activity level and calorie intake until you are burning as many calories as you are taking in. A nutritious diet and healthy lifestyle are your best defenses against high triglyceride levels.
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