Today we’re going to talk about how to lower high triglycerides.
But first, a quick listener Q & A. Ken writes:
“Strolling through the farmers market last weekend, we came across a merchant selling blue-shelled eggs, who claimed that their eggs were lower cholesterol than typical tan or white-shelled eggs. Is there any evidence supporting their claim?”
Cholesterol in Eggs
The cholesterol content of eggs does vary somewhat, according to the breed of chicken, its age, and the type of feed and housing conditions. And there is a rumor that the lovely, pale blue-green eggs, produced by a South American breed of chicken called Araucana, are lower in cholesterol and higher in protein than other eggs.
This rumor actually dates back to the 1970s, when it was widespread enough to prompt poultry researchers at the University of Connecticut to run some studies comparing the nutritional content of Araucana eggs to the white and brown eggs most commonly found in U.S. markets. Drumroll, please…..
The Araucana eggs were in fact found to be modestly higher in cholesterol and actually lower in protein, on average, than the other eggs. This was due mostly to the fact that the Araucana eggs had bigger yolks and less egg white.
But, who cares? For one thing, while the differences were statistically significant, they weren’t big enough to have a meaningful impact on people’s cholesterol or protein intakes. But more importantly, for most people, the amount of dietary cholesterol consumed has very little effect on the amount of cholesterol in their blood.
Get Low Triglycerides
And that actually gives us a perfect segue into today’s main topic: how to lower high triglyceride levels.
First, let me clarify the difference between cholesterol and triglycerides. Both are types of fats that circulate in your blood, but they have different functions and health implications.
Your body uses cholesterol to build cells and make various hormones. It travels around in your bloodstream in small packages called lipoproteins. LDL and HDL, the two types of cholesterol that we talk about most often, stand for low-density lipoprotein and high-density lipoprotein.
Cholesterol is a nutrient found in animal-based foods, especially egg yolks, certain types of shellfish (like shrimp), and organ meats (like liver and kidney). But, as I mentioned earlier, dietary cholesterol intake has relatively little impact on blood cholesterol. Most of the cholesterol circulating in your blood is not from your diet but is manufactured by your liver.
You might also like my round-up of cholesterol and my best tips for healthy cholesterol.
Triglycerides, on the other hand, are a type of fat that your body uses for energy. If you take in more energy (or calories) than your body needs, the excess will be stored in your fat cells in the form of triglycerides. These triglycerides can be used for energy as needed.
Anything below 150 mg/dL is considered normal or healthy (although the American Heart Association recommends that we aim for triglyceride levels below 100). A triglyceride level between 150 and 200 is borderline and above 200 is considered high.
High triglycerides can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and other health problems. In fact, high triglycerides are more strongly associated with heart disease risk than high cholesterol levels. A standard blood test known as a lipid panel will measure cholesterol and triglyceride levels and if you’re over 50, your doctor will probably be ordering that test on a regular basis, just to keep an eye on things.
Both cholesterol and triglyceride levels can be affected by your diet and lifestyle—and lifestyle modification is always the first step, before pharmaceutical interventions.
Let’s start with the non-diet related factors:
If you are carrying extra body weight, losing just 5-10% of your body weight can help lower your triglyceride levels. Regular exercise, such as brisk walking or cycling, can also help. Aim for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
As for dietary adjustments, a diet that is high in saturated fats can increase both LDL cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels (and, conversely, reducing saturated fat can bring them down). Saturated fats are found in butter, cheese, processed meats, coconut, and palm oil.
Sweets (including sugar-sweetened beverages) and refined carbohydrates (things made with white flour) can also increase your triglyceride levels. If these are a big part of your diet, you might want to reel that in a bit.
Drinking too much alcohol can also increase triglyceride levels. If you’re consuming more than 7-10 standard units of alcohol a week, cutting back on that can help.
But I think it’s always more fun to concentrate on the things you want to eat more of than the things you need to reduce.
To that end, eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains can have beneficial effects on both LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels—mostly due to their fiber content.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish, walnuts, and flaxseed, also help lower triglycerides. Monounsaturated fats, which you’ll get from olive oil, avocado, and almonds, can also be beneficial.
And finally, fish oil supplements have been shown to lower triglycerides in some studies. However, the dosages used for lowering triglycerides are pretty high—often as much as 5,000 mg per day. Taking that much fish oil can potentially interfere with other medications or have a blood-thinning effect, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about whether that makes sense for your situation.
We always want to do what we can with diet and lifestyle before resorting to medications to control risk factors. But sometimes, you can be doing everything right and it’s still not quite enough. High cholesterol or triglyceride levels can be an inherited predisposition. They also tend to go up with age. Fortunately, when all else fails, there are prescription medications that help lower stubbornly high triglyceride levels. (These are different from the medications used to lower cholesterol.) And if this turns out to be necessary, this doesn’t mean you have failed, so please don’t beat yourself up!
But, for those who do need a little pharmacological support to control high triglycerides, it’s still worth following all the lifestyle advice. This will make the medication more effective and reduce the amount you need.
Can Triglycerides Be Too Low?
In case you’re wondering, it is possible for triglyceride levels to be too low—although it’s pretty uncommon. I covered this topic before click to know more, if you want to go more in depth. Diets that don’t contain enough fat, for example, can cause low triglycerides where levels dip dangerously low–one more reason to avoid extremely low-fat diets. There are also some medical problems that can cause abnormally low triglycerides, such as an inability to absorb fats or hyperthyroidism.