Heart Health: Eating Guidelines to Lower Triglycerides
Triglycerides are a type of fat. They enter your blood:
- When the extra calories (carbohydrates or fats) that you eat are converted to triglycerides.
- When triglycerides are released from the fat already stored in your body.
High levels of triglycerides in your blood can increase the chance that you will have heart disease. Triglycerides do not build up in the arteries like the bad cholesterol (LDL) does. Instead, high levels can make LDL cholesterol convert into a more harmful form that damages the arteries and speeds the building of blockage. High triglycerides can also get in the way of forming good cholesterol (HDL). If triglycerides are very high, a dangerous condition called pancreatitis can develop.
Optimal triglycerides are: 100 mg/dl or less
Normal triglycerides should be: 150mg/dl or less
High levels may be caused by:
- Being overweight
- Eating too many high carbohydrate foods and beverages (includes sugary drinks and sugary, starchy foods)
- Eating too much fat
- Drinking alcohol on a daily basis
- Having diabetes or kidney disease
- Some medicines
To Lower Triglyceride Levels:
1. Lose some weight by eating fewer calories and exercising. The fat stored in your body serves as a source of triglycerides. The less body fat you have, the less will be released into the blood. Triglycerides will be reduced by even a small weight loss (10 - 15 pounds).
2. Limit foods high in sugar. Some of the sugar you eat becomes triglycerides in your body. Regular soda, sweetened drinks (Kool-Aid®, lemonade, coffee drinks, Hi-C®, some sports drinks, some flavored waters), and fruit juice (even if unsweetened) are often a major source of sugar. Typically, 12 ounces of any of these beverages will provide at least 10 teaspoons of sugar. Limit your use of drinks containing sugar to less than 8 ounces per day.
Small amounts (1-2 Tablespoons) of table sugar, syrup, or jelly will most likely not affect triglycerides, unless they are used more than once or twice per day. If you eat desserts like cake or cookies, limit them to one serving per day in order to reduce sugar and excess calories in your diet.
Fruits contain natural sugars, but even these sugars can raise your triglyceride levels. Whole fruit is a better choice that juice because it is high in fiber, will fill you up more, and will raise your triglycerides less. Include at least 2, but not more than 4 servings of fruit per day.
Examples of a serving of fruit – Each serving contains about 15 grams of carbohydrate.
- 1 small piece of fresh fruit (apple, orange, peach, pear, etc)
- ½ banana
- 15 grapes
- 1 cup cantaloupe or honeydew melon
- 1 ¼ cup strawberries or watermelon
- ½ cup canned fruit, unsweetened or in its own juice
- 1/4 cup dried fruit
- 4 ounces (1/2 cup) of fruit juice
3. Limit the amount of starchy foods in your diet. Starchy foods like bread, potatoes, pasta, cereal, rice, and noodles are broken down into sugars by your body. These sugars can become triglycerides if eaten in large amounts. Aim for 2-4 servings per meal (2-3 if you are trying to lose weight and 3-4 if you are aiming to keep your weight the same).
Examples of a serving of starchy foods - Each serving contains about 15 grams of carbohydrate.
1 slice (1 ounce) of bread, white, whole wheat or rye
1/3 cup of cooked rice, white or brown
½ of a hamburger, hot dog bun, English muffin, or bagel
½ cup of cooked pasta or noodles, white or whole wheat
1/3 cup baked beans
½ cup of white potato, sweet potato, peas, parsnips, or corn
1 ounce dry cereal
3/4 c unsweetened cornflakes or 1/2 c sweetened cornflakes
1/2 cup shredded wheat
1/4 c granola
½ cup cooked oatmeal
3 cups popped popcorn
10-12 tortilla chips
6 soda crackers
Make Your Plate Look Like This
Make sure half your plate is filled with vegetables, one quarter with a low saturated fat protein and only one quarter with starchy foods. Most vegetables are low in carbohydrates and calories, and high in fiber. Besides being a very good source of vitamins, minerals, and other healthy nutrients, vegetables can fill up your stomach and your plate!
How many servings of carbohydrates do I need each day?
The table below lists total carbohydrate recommendations per meal for different calorie levels, based on the healthy goal of 50% of the calories as carbohydrate. To lose weight, women should aim for about 1500-1800 calories per day and men should aim for about 1800-2000 calories per day. To keep weight the same, women should aim for about 1800-2000 calories per day and men should aim for about 2200-2500 calories per day.
When reading food labels, check the Total Carbohdyrate content, not the Sugar content. The Total Carbohydrate number includes both sugar and starches and gives you the best idea of how much the food could raise your triglyceride level.
Total Carbohydrate per Meal *
Number of Servings of Fruit or Starchy Foods per Meal
*If snacks are included, the amount of carbohydrate at meals should be decreased to save some carbohydrates for the snacks.
4. Include healthy fat in your diet. Healthy (unsaturated) fats make foods taste better and help control your hunger. If you limit your fat intake too much you will be hungry for more carbohydrate foods, which could increase blood triglycerides. Choose some olive or canola oils, olives, nuts or avocados daily, but keep servings small to control calories.
- To eat less saturated fat (the unhealthy fat), limit the amount of fatty meats, high-fat dairy products (cheese, ice cream, butter), and high-fat desserts that you eat.
- Some reduced-fat or fat-free products (especially salad dressings, mayonnaise, peanut butter) may have more sugar, salt and calories than the regular product. Read labels carefully.
5. Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Some people eat only 1 or 2 large meals a day. Large meals, in most cases, increase triglycerides more than smaller meals. Eat at least 3 medium to small-sized meals a day.
6. Use alcohol in small amounts or not at all. Alcohol provides extra calories that make weight loss harder. It encourages the body to make more triglycerides. Besides raising triglycerides, it also increases blood pressure.
7. Exercise! Exercise helps the muscles use triglycerides for energy. So the more you exercise, the more your triglyceride levels will drop. Exercise can boost your levels of HDL (good) cholesterol! Exercise can reduce triglycerides even without weight loss. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.
8. Include protein foods in your meals. Meals that contain some protein, along with carbohydrates and a little fat, are often more satisfying. These meals can provide longer-lasting energy than meals that contain little or no protein.
Compare these two breakfast examples:
Meal #2 (Best Choice)
2 slices white toast with jelly
Coffee or juice
1 slice whole wheat toast with peanut butter
Apple Skim milk
These meals have the same number of calories, but Meal #1 is nearly all carbohydrates. It provides quick energy, but won’t keep you full for long. Meal #2 (the best choice) includes protein, more fiber and healthy fat. Your body will digest and use this meal more slowly, giving you energy for a longer time. When energy from food is released slowly into the blood stream, the body is less likely to produce excess triglycerides. Including protein and healthy fat in your meals and snacks helps control your hunger. This may help you eat smaller meals and avoid high calorie snacks.
Lower-fat protein foods:
Low-fat or fat-free yogurt
Low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese
Part skim milk cheese (string, Mozzarella)
Low-fat or fat-free cream cheese
Lean ham, pork tenderloin, round steak
Fish-baked or broiled cod, haddock, perch
Tuna packed in water
Imitation crab legs
Turkey or chicken
Soy milk or soy protein powder
Veggie burgers (made from soy)
Eggs (up to 4 yolks/week, unlimited egg whites)
Proteins that are higher in unsaturated fat and calories, but low in saturated fat:
Peanut butter Sunflower seeds
Nuts Soy nuts
Herring or sardines Salmon, tuna steak, swordfish
Hummus (garbanzo bean spread)
High blood triglycerides may increase your risk for heart disease. However, a change in eating and exercise habits often leads to quick improvement in triglyceride levels. If your triglyceride levels are high, start by cutting out the extra sugars in your diet. You can work toward slow weight loss (about 1 pound per week) through exercise and smaller servings of food at meals or snacks. Sometimes medicines that lower triglycerides are also needed. Eating and exercise changes will make these medicines work better.
If you have more questions please call UW Health at one of the phone numbers listed below.
UW Health East Clinic
5249 East Terrace Drive
Madison, WI 53718
UW Health West Clinic
451 Junction Road
Madison, WI 53717
Nutrition Clinic University Station
2880 University Avenue
Madison, WI 53705
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 01/04/2013
Copyright © 01/04/2013 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#361
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