Did you know that about 25.9% of Americans have elevated triglycerides? These people are treated with statins due to triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL(*). Knowing how to lower triglycerides is vital considering that high numbers negatively impact your health.
This article explains triglycerides in detail — what they are, the different levels you should know, their implications, and lifestyle strategies that effectively lower triglycerides.
Triglycerides are a type of fat that’s made up of three fatty acids bound by a glycerol molecule. They’re a major component of very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which is considered a bad form of cholesterol. While triglycerides provide energy to the body, high values are associated with many health problems(*).
Note that triglycerides can fluctuate from day to day. They tend to be highest up to 4 hours following a meal(*). This is because they’re delivered from your digestive system to your bloodstream to be stored in your fat cells.
How are triglycerides formed? They’re created due to the excess calories coming from high-carbohydrate foods. Examples are rice, pasta, bread, and sugary desserts. Alcohol is another culprit. Excessive amounts can quickly increase your calorie and sugar intake, raising your triglyceride levels(*).
Abnormal triglyceride levels are usually discovered as part of a cholesterol test. Your healthcare provider will order a lipid panel, which includes triglycerides, during a checkup. Here are the guidelines for triglycerides(*):
- Normal: Less than 150 mg/dL
- Borderline high: 150-199 mg/dL
- High: 200-499 mg/dL
- Very high: 500 mg/dL and above
It’s important to note that a reading above 150 mg/dL already puts you at risk for cardiovascular disease along with other problems(*). More on this below.
Knowing your triglyceride numbers and lowering triglycerides (if they’re high) matter to prevent or control the following conditions:
- Hardening of the arteries and thickening of the artery walls: The higher your triglyceride levels, the more susceptible you are to heart disease. Clogged arteries can lead to a heart attack and stroke.
- Prediabetes and diabetes: These are strongly associated with poor blood glucose control. Additionally, high triglycerides may be a sign of metabolic syndrome — a cluster of factors including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and excess body weight.
- Acute pancreatitis: Although rare, hypertriglyceridemia — triglyceride levels of over 1,000 mg/dL — increase a person’s risk and severity of pancreatitis(*).
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): High triglycerides indicate the possibility of NAFLD, a condition in which triglycerides accumulate in liver cells(*). A diet high in carbs and fructose and a lack of physical activity contribute to this disease(*). NAFLD is also associated with other health problems, such as diabetes and kidney disease(*).
High blood triglyceride levels usually don’t cause symptoms, unless you already have a health condition related to high triglycerides that is poorly managed. For instance, a person with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes will experience frequent hunger, fatigue, frequent infections, and slow-healing wounds.
If you are suspecting high triglycerides but you feel generally well, it’s best to have your lipid panel checked for confirmation. This is especially true if you are consuming a diet that’s high in carbs and sugar.
Lifestyle strategies that lower your triglycerides also work to reduce your risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Below is a list that includes cutting out certain foods from your diet, foods that lower triglycerides fast, fasting, and supplementation.
1. Lose weight
Losing weight can be your first step to lowering high triglycerides. This is because when you consume excess calories from food, your body turns these calories into triglycerides, which are then stored in your fat cells.
There are many natural ways to cut calories to achieve weight loss. One is by starting a keto diet, which increases your satiety by focusing on fat and protein, preventing the urge to overeat.
2. Cut out sugar and too many refined carbs
Common sources of added sugar and refined carbs include white bread, rice cakes, white flour, soda, breakfast cereals, and pasta. Basically, anything that comes from a package should be avoided to protect your health.
Food and beverage labels include added sugars in the nutrition facts section and ingredients list. We have a detailed guide showing how to read nutrition labels.
3. Eat omega-3 fatty acids
Research shows that omega-3 fatty acids reduce the formation of triglycerides, thereby lowering their levels in your body(*). Fish oil (sourced from fatty fish) and krill oil (sourced from Antarctic krill) provide omega-3s. If you prefer not to supplement with these, you may include the following foods in your diet:
- Chia seeds and flax seeds
- Red meat (beef, lamb)
4. Limit your alcohol intake
Heavy drinking is associated with many health issues, including high triglyceride levels. Too much alcohol leads to cholesterol problems by adding extra calories, carbs, and sugar to your diet.
When you’re trying to curb your drinking, it helps to avoid triggers that cause alcohol relapses. This includes people, situations, certain foods, and places that increase the urge to drink.
5. Consider a keto diet
It may seem counterintuitive, but consuming high amounts of healthy fats while cutting carbs can lower triglycerides. The keto diet is 70-80% fat, 20-30% protein, and 5% or fewer carbohydrates.
A 12-week weight loss intervention showed that males aged 30-69 years who did keto for 12 weeks experienced a decrease in their triglyceride levels by 38.6%. During those 12 weeks, the subjects ate beef, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, and low-carb vegetables(*).
6. Do intermittent fasting
Here’s how to reduce triglycerides if you’re still not ready to make drastic changes in your diet — intermittent fasting (IF).
Additionally, fasting can be combined with a keto diet to supercharge your health. In fact, the synergy of keto with intermittent fasting leads to increased ketosis, caused by the breakdown of triglycerides(*).
Intermittent fasting methods include a 12-hour fast, a 16-hour fast, a 24-hour fast, and one meal a day (OMAD).
7. Make exercise part of your routine
Any form of physical activity is great for your heart health. The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio each week(*). Examples of cardiovascular exercises include brisk walking, running, cycling, and swimming.
Furthermore, include moderate to high-intensity resistance training at least twice per week(*). Resistance workouts include pushups, planks, and lifting weights.
8. Consume fiber
Fiber from low-carb veggies and fruits, such as broccoli and avocados, lowers triglycerides by delaying the absorption of sugar and energy from foods. This leads to healthier blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
9. Supplement with Niacin (Vitamin B3)
Vitamin B3 or niacin works by helping your body break down triglycerides faster. It can lower triglycerides by 25% while increasing HDL cholesterol, your good cholesterol, by more than 30%(*).
The recommended dose for adults is up to 500 milligrams daily orally. However, do not take niacin without first discussing it with your healthcare provider(*).
10. See a doctor
In addition to the lifestyle changes suggested earlier, consider speaking with your doctor. This is especially true for those who have very high triglycerides and with existing medical conditions. Your doctor may prescribe statins, fibrates, and supplements like niacin and fish oil.
Read below for questions and answers on lowering triglycerides:
What’s the difference between triglycerides and cholesterol?
Triglycerides and cholesterol are the same in that they’re both lipids and both of them can be detected in a blood test called a lipid panel. Here’s the difference: While triglycerides are formed from excess calories (from too many carbs) and stored as fat for energy, cholesterol is needed by the body to make hormones and support cell function.
Is it possible to lower triglycerides naturally?
Yes. This can be achieved by cutting carbs, sugar, and alcohol. Focus on foods that lower triglycerides fast, such as beef, poultry, fatty fish, and non-starchy vegetables.
How long does it take for triglycerides to go down?
This will depend on a few factors. Your lifestyle choices — for example, what you eat and limit and physical activity — can bring triglycerides back to normal within days to weeks.
If you’ve had high triglycerides for a long time now, understand that consistency and support from a healthcare provider are necessary to bring them down more quickly.
Having triglyceride levels above 150 mg/dL increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other conditions. Knowing your readings and how to lower triglyceride levels are keys to better health.
Start by making a few changes today. One simple change is reducing your calorie intake from carbohydrates. Replace high-carb, starchy foods with meat, seafood, and cruciferous vegetables as these will quickly lower triglycerides.
Remember to exercise, limit your alcohol intake, and incorporate fasting into your week.
The best part is that these steps don’t just lower triglycerides, but they also boost your overall health.