Hey, just wanted to let you know that your triglycerides are probably a bit high. Three out of every ten people in the United States have above normal triglyceride levels.
This sounds like the beginning of a drug commercial, but don’t worry — this problem has a simple and natural solution.
However, before we find the solution, we must properly identify the problem.
The Problem With High Triglyceride Levels
In the shadow of our cholesterol numbers are our — often overlooked — triglyceride levels. Your doctor may tell you that “your triglycerides are a little high,” but what does this really mean? Does it really matter?
First, let’s clear up what having “high triglycerides” actually means. According to the American Heart Association, here is how our triglyceride levels are categorized:
Less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)
|Less than 150 mg/dL|
|Borderline-high||150 to 199 mg/dL|
|High||200 to 499 mg/dL|
|Very high||500 mg/dL or higher|
You won’t experience any symptoms if you have borderline-high or high triglycerides, which is why many doctors will just shrug it off. However, it is important to know that triglyceride levels that are even just “a little high” are associated with:
Studies suggest that high triglyceride levels impair cholesterol levels, increasing the amount of atherogenic (plaque forming) cholesterol particles in the blood.
Obesity and high triglyceride levels are intimately linked. One study found that approximately 80% of people who are obese or overweight had triglyceride levels ≥150 mg/dL.
The prevalence of triglyceride levels ≥150 mg/dL is nearly twice as high in people who have metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a condition that is commonly diagnosed when the person has high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels.
Excess Visceral Fat (fat around the organs)
Excess body fat is associated with elevated triglyceride levels, but visceral fat is a greater contributor than subcutaneous fat (fat that is found under the skin rather than near vital organs).
Type 2 Diabetes
Around 35% of people with type 2 diabetes have high fasting triglyceride levels. This suggests that blood sugar and triglyceride levels are intimately linked (more on that later).
When the levels of thyroid hormone are low, cholesterol and triglycerides stay in the blood for a longer period of time, which increases the likelihood of heart disease and fatty plaque build-up in the arteries.
Triglyceride levels of >200 mg/dL are present in about half of those with chronic kidney disease, which is commonly caused by diabetes and high blood pressure.
All of this seems worrisome at first — especially if you have high triglycerides — but there is some good news. Actually, it’s great news.
Knowing what conditions high triglyceride levels are associated with provides us with important clues. Clues that give us a clearer picture of what causes high triglyceride levels and how to optimize them. First, let’s figure out what they are.
What Are Triglycerides?
Triglycerides are the most potent fuel source that is stored in your body. They are so energy-dense that stored that these molecules can keep the body running for about a month.
Where exactly are triglycerides stored in your body? Well, you already know. You just call it “fat” instead of “stored triglycerides.”
Yes, that’s right — triglycerides are those things that are being stored in your fat cells. While we are fasting, restricting carbohydrates, or limiting calories, these triglycerides are liberated from our fat cells to provide us with energy. This process is what helps us lose fat and reduce our triglyceride levels. However, one big problem arises if we live in westernized societies — there is an overabundance of processed food at all times.
Why Do You Have High Triglycerides?
If you are reading this right now, you probably live in an area where many different varieties of food are always available. In this abundant food environment, it is easy for our emotional and instinctual desires to override all logical sense, so most of us end up eating more calories and sugar than we actually need.
In response to the massive influx in calories, the cells become stuffed with so much energy that they reject the signal to take in more energy that they receive from insulin (an energy storage hormone that is stimulated the most by carbohydrate consumption). This is otherwise known as insulin resistance, and it causes a cascade of hormonal changes that increase blood sugar and triglyceride levels. On top of that, sugar consumption (especially the consumption of fructose) stimulates the creation of fat in the liver.
What all of this means is that eating excess calories increases your triglyceride levels and eating too much sugar increases your triglyceride levels even more, especially if that sugar is mostly composed of fructose.
Hold on. What about the fat?
After all, we are talking about triglycerides — a type of fat. How could I talk about calories and sugar and neglect to mention fat as a contributor to high triglyceride levels as well? Well, there is a good reason for that.
Carbs Raise Triglycerides The Most
It would only make sense for dietary fat to increase triglycerides more than carbs, but the science shows us that just the opposite is true.
In one study, people with high triglycerides and normal triglycerides were put on a 15% fat, whole-food diet after eating a high-fat diet (35%). After only one meal of the low-fat diet, their triglyceride levels were elevated for higher and longer than during the high-fat diet.
By the end of the diet the low-fat group’s fasting triglyceride concentrations increased by 60% and the production of atherogenic LDL cholesterol increased as well. This occurred in people with normal and high triglycerides in response to a whole-food based low-fat diet. (Imagine what would happen if the diet contained more simple sugars!)
So, What Is The Best Triglyceride Lowering Diet?
Let’s start by comparing two ends of the dietary spectrum — Low-carb versus low-fat.
A recent meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials found significantly greater reductions in triglyceride levels on the low-carb diet. This meta-analysis of the literature confirms what we discovered above.
Eat more carbohydrates and less fat, and you’ll increase your triglyceride levels. Eat fewer carbs and more fat, and the opposite will occur. In fact, researchers found that for every 5% decrease in total fat, triglyceride level was predicted to increase by 6% and HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) to decrease by 2.2%. More specifically, for every 1% isoenergetic replacement with saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat, there was a reduction in triglycerides by 1.9 mg/dL, 1.7 mg/dL, and 2.3 mg/dL, respectively.
These findings suggest that replacing all carbohydrates with fat will get your triglycerides to optimal levels the quickest. However, when we look closer at the research, a different pattern emerges.
Which is Better? The Low-Carb Diet vs. The Mediterranean Diet
In a randomized controlled trial, the effects of a Mediterranean-style weight-loss diet were compared with a low-carbohydrate diet. After six months, triglyceride levels were reduced the most in the low-carb diet group. However, after 12 months, the Mediterranean-style diet showed similar reductions in triglycerides as the low carbohydrate diet.
These results show us that there may be a limit to how much restricting your carbohydrates can reduce triglycerides. So, instead of counting your carbs, it may be best to follow the eating principle that both the low-carbohydrate and Mediterranean diets follow: eliminate the crap and eat more whole foods.
The Most Important Crap to Eliminate to Optimize Your Triglycerides
Avoid these triglyceride train wrecks, to ensure optimal triglyceride levels:
Based on the data from many studies on alcohol consumption and triglycerides, it is estimated that the ingestion of 1 oz of alcohol per day corresponds to a 5% to 10% higher triglyceride concentration than found in nondrinkers. If you have high triglycerides or if you want to have flawless triglyceride levels, it is best to abstain from alcohol completely.
2. Trans Fats
Trans fatty acids are found in all partially and fully hydrogenated oils. They consistently cause significant increases in triglycerides and atherogenic LDL cholesterol levels, which increases cardiovascular disease risk dramatically. Stick to natural fats from nuts, olives, avocado, fish, meat, and dairy.
3. Added Sugar
Studies have found that each additional daily serving of sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with a 2.25 mg/dL increase in triglyceride levels, as well as increases in insulin resistance, LDL cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure and a decrease in HDL cholesterol. It is best to avoid sugar completely and most of your carbohydrates from vegetables, legumes, and nuts for best results.
Related: Healthy Alternative Sugars and More
The Takeaway — The Best Triglyceride Lowering Diet
By cutting out all processed foods and eating a whole food diet, you will naturally cut down on the carbs, calories, and sugars. This way of eating will lower your triglycerides and improve your health dramatically.
To get you started, follow these guidelines:
- Every meal should consist primarily of local, beyond organic, or bio-dynamic vegetables.
- “Garnish” each meal with high-quality fish, meat, eggs, or dairy.
- Order from U.S. Wellness Meats,White Oak Pastures, Polyface Farms , Vital Choice, and Udder Milk to get the healthiest animal products for you, the environment, and the animals.
- Have a handful of nuts, seeds, and/or berries with each meal.
- Don’t eat any sugar-sweetened beverages, added sugars, processed meat, refined grains, refined oils, hydregonated fats, and other highly processed foods.
- Limit your alcohol intake.
- Follow the suggestions for lowering triglycerides and cholesterol in this article.
However, even if you implement the triglyceride lowering diet flawlessly, you can only verify if it worked by getting a blood test.
How To Know If Your Triglyceride Levels Are Optimal
All you have to do is set up an appointment with your doctor to get a standard blood lipid panel test done. Ask your doctor to print the results for you, and track your progress at after appointment.
Where do you fall in these categories?
|Optimal||Less than 100 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)|
|Less than 150 mg/dL|
|Borderline-high||150 to 199 mg/dL|
|High||200 to 499 mg/dL|
|Very high||500 mg/dL or higher|
Aim for optimal triglyceride levels, but don’t forget about cholesterol and blood sugar levels as well.
To see if you have healthier cholesterol levels, check your total-to-HDL cholesterol ratio. A ratio between 3 and 4 indicates that you have healthy cholesterol levels. Your fasting blood sugar levels should be below 100 mg/dl for optimal health.
It is also important to take note of your posture before you get your blood drawn. For example, different positions, like sitting, standing, and laying down, can cause triglycerides to vary significantly. Because of this, the American Heart Association recommends that you sit for at least 5 minutes in the same position each time you get your blood drawn to minimize variability in triglyceride measurements.
After you implement our suggestions, please comment with your results to inspire others to take their health into their own hands.
- 13 Scientifically-Proven Ways to Optimize Your Triglyceride and Cholesterol Levels Naturally
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