You probably know that a high triglyceride level is not something you want to have. But what exactly are triglycerides, and what makes them so bad? More importantly, how can you keep them from getting too high — or bring them down?
Triglycerides are sort of like cholesterol: Both are types of fat found in your blood. But while cholesterol is used to make cells and certain hormones, the job of triglycerides is to store unused calories to give your body energy between meals.
Triglycerides get stored after you eat. If you take in any calories that aren’t needed for energy right away, they’re converted into triglycerides and transferred to your fat cells for later use.
Eating more calories than you need on the reg can lead to high triglycerides over time, which can up your risk for heart disease. Triglycerides are usually measured along with cholesterol, and numbers over 150 mg/dL are usually considered high.
Have you recently found out that your triglycerides are too high? (Or do you want to take steps to keep them from getting that way?)
The good news is that there are lots of lifestyle changes you can make that can help bring your numbers back where they need to be. Here are 14 science-backed ideas to try:
1. Eat less to lose weight
High triglycerides come from regularly eating more calories than your body burns, so eating less overall is one of the best ways to start reining them in.
How much less, exactly? You may want to cut back by 500 to 1,000 calories a day, depending on how many calories you’re consuming. That’s enough to help you lose weight, which is key.
Dropping 5 to 10 percent of your body weight is enough to reduce your triglycerides significantly. But definitely get the OK from your doctor before making any major changes to your diet.
2. Limit your added sugar
You know that too much of the sweet stuff is bad news, and that’s definitely the case here. When you’re eating sugary foods, it’s easy to end up chowing down on more calories than your body needs.
The excess will be turned into triglycerides, which can lead to serious trouble:One 15-year study found that people who got 25 percent of their calories from sugar were twice as likely to die from heart disease as those who ate significantly less.
The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons and men consume no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day.
3. Eat the right carbs
Make it a point to add healthier sources of carbs — high-fiber complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, veggies, beans, and legumes — while you’re cutting back on sugar.
Fiber can keep extra fat and sugar from being absorbed in your small intestine, which can reduce the number of triglycerides in your blood. It can also help fill you up, so you’re less likely to overeat or snack mindlessly and take in more calories than you need.
4. Consider cutting back on carbs
You don’t have to go full keto. But some research suggests that lower carb diets are tied to healthier triglyceride levels.
How low should you go? In a 2006 study, people who consumed about a quarter of their calories from carbs lowered their triglycerides more than those who got more than half their calories from carbs.
5. Break a sweat
If you’re not exercising regularly, now’s a good time to start. Exercise is a proven triglyceride dropper, especially when you incorporate it into a weight loss plan.
Aerobic activities like walking, jogging, swimming, and bicycling all get the job done, but you might want to consider adding some high-intensity intervals.
Research has shown that shorter, more intense workouts are more effective at lowering triglycerides than longer, moderate-intensity periods of exercise.
6. Choose healthy fats
We’re talking olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. You might already know that these unsaturated fats are a smart choice for your heart — and one of the reasons is that they can help lower your triglycerides.
Polyunsaturated fats, which are found in foods like canola oil, walnuts, flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, soybeans, and tofu, are a good choice, especially when you eat them in place of less-healthy saturated fats.
7. And limit unhealthy ones
Namely, trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils, which sometimes show up in baked goods, snack foods, fried foods, refrigerated dough (like canned biscuits or cinnamon rolls), nondairy creamers, and margarines.
Eating these harmful fats can send your triglycerides up in just a few short weeks, not to mention raise your LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower your HDL (good) cholesterol.
8. Eat more fatty fish
Make it a point to put fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, herring, or mackerel on the menu twice a week. They’re high in essential omega-3 fatty acids, which can play a key role in lowering triglycerides.
9. Watch it with the booze
Just as with food, if you take in more calories from alcohol than your body can use, whatever’s left over will get stored as triglycerides.
Research suggests that moderate alcohol consumption doesn’t increase triglyceride levels, but excessive drinking (more than two drinks per day for women or three for men) does.
10. Eat more soy
Soy foods contain isoflavones, plant compounds that seem to have a positive effect on cholesterol and triglycerides.
You’ll likely reap the biggest benefits by trading animal-based foods for soy foods and sticking with options that are minimally processed. Choose tofu, tempeh, or miso over soy burgers or deli slices.
11. Snack on nuts
Try a handful of almonds or walnuts in place of snack foods like chips or cookies. Regular nut intake can lower your triglycerides by around 2.2 mg/dL, according to a review of 61 studies.
If you’re looking to drop a few pounds, remember that nuts are high in calories. The typical serving size is 1 ounce, which is about 23 almonds.
12. Look at your prescription meds
A bunch of different drugs can potentially raise triglyceride levels, including oral estrogen, corticosteroids, and antipsychotic drugs.
If your numbers recently measured high, be sure to review any prescription drugs you might be taking with your doctor. If one of your meds is the culprit, you can talk figure out a plan for protecting your heart health.
13. Consider the bigger picture
Certain health issues can affect your triglyceride level. Type 2 diabetes, for instance, is a risk factor for high triglycerides. So are thyroid issues and kidney diseases like uremia.
If you’re concerned about your triglycerides, it makes sense to see your doctor for a head-to-toe checkup to see if any underlying causes could potentially be at play.
14. Try a supplement
Studies show that natural supplements, including fish oil, fenugreek, and curcumin, may have a beneficial effect on triglyceride levels.
Some research also suggests that garlic extract and guggul could lower triglycerides, though most studies have focused on animals.
Just be sure to pick a safe, high quality supplement and get the green light from your doctor before trying it.
You know what changes you need to make, and you’ve put together a game plan to make it happen. So, how long will it actually take to see a change in your triglyceride levels?
As you might have guessed, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. And the change might come more slowly than you’d like. In general, lowering your triglycerides naturally (as in, without prescription meds) can take 3 to 6 months.
The amount of time it takes to get your triglycerides back into the healthy range depends on how high they were to begin with, the kinds of changes you’re implementing, and your individual heart health risk factors.
Don’t get discouraged if your numbers aren’t where you want them to be the first time you get them retested. You may just need to keep up the good work a little longer.