What Types of Foods and Beverages Cause High Triglycerides?

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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, there are many ways diabetes can contribute to high triglycerides. 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, 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.

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 you 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. 

What Types of Foods Can Cause High 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 or diabetes you should probably limit your fruit to no more than two servings per day. Ask your doctor or dietitian if you have any questions about which fruit choices are best. Other added sugars that should be consumed less frequently include: corn syrup, honey, sucrose, glucose, fructose, honey or maltose listed as one of the first ingredients. In addition, limit your consumption of foods such as candy, ice cream, flavored sweetened yogurts, sweetened juices and other drinks, cereals, honey, molasses, jams, jellies, and canned fruit. (While fresh fruit does have naturally occurring fructose, the fiber in fruit slows down its digestion.)
  • Saturated and trans fats: Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in fried foods, red meat, chicken skin, egg yolks, high-fat dairy, butter, lard, shortening, margarine, and fast food. Trans fats are hydrogenated fats and are found in many packaged foods, such as chips, cookies, cakes, donuts, microwave popcorn, and pastries. Trans fats are also present in margarine, shortening, fried foods, and fast foods. Avoid foods that have partially hydrogenated oil (look at the label) and instead, choose 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.
  • 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.

Are There Certain Types of 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 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-fiver servings of vegetables daily (one serving is 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw). 

Sources

Angelopoulos, TJ; Lowndes J; Melanson, KJ, Nguyen, V; Huffman, A; Rippe, JM. "The Effect of High-Fructose Corn Syrup Consumption on Triglycerides and Uric Acid." J Nutr April 20 2009 139(6):1242S-1245S

Dietary Guidelines for Reducing Triglycerides. Palo Alto Medical Foundation. http://www.pamf.org/southasian/video/tri.html

How Foods Affect Triglycerides. Cleveland Clinic. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/prevention/risk-factors/cholesterol/triglycerides

Qi, Qibin; Liang, Liming; Doria, Alessandro; Hu, Frank B; and Qi, Lu. "Genetic Predisposition to Dyslipidemia and Type 2 Diabetes Risk in Two Prospective Cohorts." Diabetes Feb 7 2012 61(3):745-752

Tackling Triglycerides: 8 Ways to Solve a Big Fat Problem. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/tackling-triglycerides

Triglycerides. American Heart Association. ​http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Triglycerides_UCM_306029_Article.jsp#.T167BfUZ-dk​

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