Manage Triglyceride Levels to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

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Most people are aware of the increased risk of heart disease that is caused by high levels of LDL cholesterol, often called “bad” cholesterol. The American Heart Association has released new recommendations encouraging adults to also manage high levels of another harmful form of blood fat – triglycerides. The advisory is published in the AHA journal Circulation and is based on evidence from over 500 sources from the past 30 years.

Cutting Sugar and Trans Fats are Important Dietary Measures to Reduce Triglycerides

Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exists in food as well as in the body. Excess triglycerides in the blood, more than 150 mg/dL, is medically known as hypertriglyceridemia. The new AHA statement emphasizes the “increasingly crucial role” that triglycerides play in the development of cardiovascular disease and stresses the importance of diet and exercise as a way to bring levels back to normal.

About one-third of American adults have elevated triglycerides. While there are medications that can help lower the different types of cholesterol, simple lifestyle changes can reduce triglycerides by 20 to 50%. “The subject of medication and triglycerides is still lacking crucial clinical trial evidence,” write the authors.

Read: High Triglycerides Better Marker for Stroke than Cholesterol

The recommendations include restricting added dietary sugar to 5 to 10% of total calories consumed, or about 100 calories daily for women and 150 calories per day for men. Fructose, in particular, was singled out as a type of sugar becoming increasing more common in processed foods and soft drinks. Fructose in excess of 50 to 100 grams per day is associated with raised triglyceride levels. A typical can of soda contains more than 20 grams.

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Reducing the amount of saturated fat and trans fat in the diet can also help to reduce both triglyceride levels and LDL cholesterol levels. The majority of saturated fats come from animal foods, such as beef, poultry with skin, and regular milk. Commercial baked goods and fried foods also contain saturated fat. Trans fats are created in an industrial process that adds hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils to make them more solid. Foods that contain trans fats can be identified by the ingredient “partially hydrogenated oils” on the nutrition label.

Read: Are Vegetarians Protected from Heart Disease, Diabetes?

Although moderate amounts of alcohol may be beneficial in reducing the risk of heart disease in some, those with high triglycerides, especially higher than 500 mg/dL, are advised to completely abstain.

Increasing dietary fiber by replacing refined grains with whole grains and including plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables can help lower triglyceride levels. Including fish is the diet, particularly those that are high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, can also help lower blood fats.

For persons who are overweight or obese, a weight loss of just 5 to 10% is associated with a 20% reduction in triglycerides. Following a low-calorie diet in combination with regular aerobic exercise can help bring triglyceride levels closer to optimal.

“Triglycerides are an important barometer of metabolic health,’’ says Neil J. Stone, MD, a professor in the Fienberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University. “When the clinician sees an elevated triglyceride level, there needs to be an important conversation about risk factors and the need to eat less, eat smarter, and to move more on a daily basis to improve triglycerides and the metabolic profile.”

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