Sure, “You are what you eat,” may be a trite saying, and one that many people are probably sick of hearing about. But, the kicker is that it is true, and in more ways than we might realize. Processed foods that are loaded with salt, sugar and fat not only make us feel bad and gain weight, but they can also raise our triglyceride levels, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes in the same way that high cholesterol can.
What are Triglycerides?
Your body stores triglycerides, which are fats, in the blood. You get triglycerides from fatty foods, alcohol and sugar, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It is normal for your body to store some triglycerides. When you need energy between meals, the triglycerides are what give you that energy. The problem comes when you eat more calories than you burn. In that case, your triglyceride levels will get too high.
Triglycerides and Cholesterol
You may hear triglycerides compared to cholesterol, and that is because they are related. You may know that bad cholesterol (LDL) can eventually clog your arteries, cutting off blood flow to your brain and heart, which can cause heart attacks and strokes. And, you may realize that good cholesterol (HDL) carries cholesterol away from the arteries. How triglycerides relate to this is that they make the HDL smaller and easier for your urine to carry it away, says Dr. Oscar Marroquin, cardiologist, in a Post-Gazette.com article.
So, now that you understand how triglycerides work, you may be able to reduce or keep them at a safe level, without having to go on medication, by following a low-sugar, low-fat and limited alcohol diet, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Simply cutting back on your calories is one step in reducing triglycerides, because excess calories are stored as fat and are converted to triglycerides, according to the Mayo Clinic. Next, cut down or avoid sugars and refined foods. Sugar and foods made from white flour, such as highly refined breads, cereals, pasta and rice, can increase triglycerides. Switch to whole-grain versions of these foods instead.
Make Good Choices
Limiting your cholesterol intake will help, too. Do this by cutting back on red meat, egg yolks and whole milk. Salmon makes a good substitute for red meat, according to the Mayo Clinic. Salmon, along with tuna, tilapia and mackerel, which contain omega-3 fats, can actually lower triglyceride levels. Choose good fats when cooking, such as are found in olive, peanut and canola oils. You want to avoid saturated fats that are in lard, butter, coconut and palm oils.
What not to Eat
Stop eating foods that contain trans fat if you are serious about lowering your triglyceride level. Trans fats are in fried foods and boxes of cookies, crackers and snack cakes that you can buy at the grocery store. Some of these boxed products say that they are “trans-fat-free,” even though they contain some trans fats. The United States allows food manufacturers to label food as having no trans fat as long as they have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat. Even though this is a small amount, it can add up. If you see that the food has partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient, don’t buy it. Alcohol is a huge culprit in raising triglyceride levels, too. It is high in calories and sugar. Women should limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Candy is another food to avoid. You should avoid sugary cola drinks, as well.
Normal triglyceride levels are under 150 mg/dl. Borderline high is 151-200 mg/dl. High is 201-499 mg/dl. Very high is 500 mg/dl or more. People who have high levels may require medication, and people with very high levels generally will require medication, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You can get your triglyceride levels checked from a blood test called a Lipid Profile from your health care provider. People over 20 should have this checked every five years, according to the Cleveland Clinic.