Should You Worry About Triglycerides? What The Science Says + Foods To Lower The Levels

Medically reviewed by Heather M. Duquette-Wolf, RD, CSSD Heather M. Duquette-Wolf Heather M. Duquette-WolfRD, CSSD facebook_icon
Written by , BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Ravi Teja Tadimalla BSc, Professional Certificate in Food, Nutrition and Health Experience: 8 years
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Triglycerides are the fat you find stored in your hips and belly. When your body digests and breaks down fats from food, the end products are triglycerides. In between meals, when you need more energy, your body taps into these triglycerides for energy.

Triglycerides are important. But they could be dangerous too. How can you know if you have high triglyceride levels? How can you make corrections and prevent disease? We have the answers. Swipe up!

The Tricky Science Behind Triglycerides

As you eat, your body converts the calories you don’t use right away into triglycerides. These are stored in the fat cells and used whenever needed.

But, if you are consuming more calories than you burn, you may have high triglycerides – a condition that can be dangerous (1). High triglyceride levels rarely show symptoms. They can elevate the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and acute pancreatitis1.

Triglycerides serve as energy stores. Without them, you will have to keep constantly eating to sustain your energy levels. Triglycerides are also necessary for other bodily functions. They are hydrophobic2 and cannot integrate into the cell membranes. As they don’t dissolve in water, they bind to lipoproteins and aid their transportation throughout the body. This is important as lipoproteins help carry essential dietary fats (2).

Triglycerides help carry critical dietary fats across the body. They are important – but only at normal levels. Excess of triglycerides (more than 199 mg/dl) can wreak havoc on your health (3).

High triglyceride levels are caused due to physical inactivity and high consumption of refined carbs and saturated fats. Other causes can include obesity, genetic influences, smoking or alcohol consumption, and a few medications (like protease inhibitors) (4).

If you found yourself nodding to any of these causes, it is time you took some action – because high triglycerides can be dangerous.

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What Do High Triglycerides Do To You?

There is a huge amount of research supporting the fact that high triglyceride levels are dangerous. Hypertriglyceridemia can increase the risk of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease. This is serious as one-third of adults in the US have high triglyceride levels (5).

High triglyceride levels may lead to the accumulation of fatty acids in the pancreas, eventually causing inflammation and ischemia.

High triglyceride levels are one of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Also called syndrome X, it drastically increases the risk of heart attack or stroke. The risk of developing diabetes is also higher (6).

High triglyceride levels can also lead to fatty liver disease. This can happen due to the accumulation of fat in the liver. If not corrected, this can lead to permanent liver damage and cirrhosis3. Elevated triglyceride levels were found to be the markers of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (7).

How can you prevent all of this? Is there a way?

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How To Know If You Have High Triglyceride Levels?

Unfortunately, you cannot know if you have high triglycerides unless one of the serious diseases shows up. But worry not – this does not mean you cannot prevent hypertriglyceridemia. Please get your triglyceride levels checked if you:

  • smoke
  • don’t exercise
  • are overweight or obese
  • had a heart attack or have heart disease
  • have diabetes or prediabetes
  • have thyroid disease
  • had/have kidney disease

These factors can increase the risk of high triglycerides. Get yourself diagnosed. The diagnosis involves a blood test (called a lipid panel) that checks the levels of your cholesterol and triglycerides. The results will tell you your serum triglyceride levels.

Normal – Less than 150 mg/dL
Borderline high – 150 to 199 mg/dL
High – 200 to 499 mg/dL
Very high – 500 mg/dL or above

If your levels are more than normal, it is time to take action. The first step is to take a look at your diet.

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What Foods Should You Avoid Or Limit To Lower Your Triglyceride Levels?

1. Alcohol

Studies show that high alcohol intake can elevate plasma triglyceride levels. It can also contribute to cardiovascular disease, alcoholic fatty liver disease, and pancreatitis (8). Though light alcohol consumption may be associated with decreased triglycerides, patients with hypertriglyceridemia must stop consuming alcohol.

In addition to raising blood triglyceride levels, alcohol can also lead to the accumulation of triglycerides in the liver, leading to steatosis4 hepatitis – a serious form of liver disease (9).

2. Coconut

Coconut, and especially the oil, contains a high content of saturated fats (92%). This is one reason it has been listed as one of those fats to be consumed in lesser amounts.

Studies show that coconut oil increases the levels of total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein, which can have adverse effects on heart health (10). Replacing coconut oil with other healthy oils with unsaturated fats (like olive oil) would mean a lower risk of heart disease.

In a rabbit study, ingestion with 14% coconut oil and 0.5% cholesterol showed an increase in serum triglyceride levels. This can be attributed to the increased secretion of VLDL (very low-density lipoprotein)5 by the liver (11).

3. Sugary Drinks

Sugar and fructose, often used as sweeteners, can elevate triglycerides. This is because excess sugar and calories are stored in the body in fat cells as triglycerides (12).

In a study on children, intake of sugar-sweetened beverages had elevated triglyceride levels. The sugar in the drinks had also reduced levels of HDL cholesterol over 12 months (13).

According to the American Heart Association, if your triglyceride levels are even slightly outside the normal range, you must limit your daily calories from added sugar to 100 – not more (14).

It is even better to avoid calories from added sugars totally. Added sugars include sugars and syrups added to foods/beverages during processing. Make it a habit of reading nutritional labels.

Following are some foods you can eliminate from your diet – regular soft drinks, fruit juice, sweetened yogurts and milk, and ice cream.

The American Heart Association strongly recommends consuming no more than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages in a week, based on a 2000-calorie per day diet.

In a rat study, chronic intake of fructose-rich soft drinks elevated triglyceride levels in both the serum and the liver (15). This had resulted in severe metabolic dysfunctions.

We recommend you to reduce your honey intake too. Though honey has great benefits, studies show that it increases triglyceride levels in ways similar to sucrose or high-fructose corn syrup (16).

4. Baked Foods

Avoid crackers, margarine, donuts, biscuits, microwave popcorn, fried fast foods, pizza, desserts like cakes, cookies, and pies, jellies, candy, ready-to-eat cereals, sweet rolls, and cinnamon toast. These foods contain trans fats, the deadliest of fats, which are known to raise triglyceride levels (17), (18).

Baked foods also contain saturated fats that raise the levels of triglycerides in your blood. This can lead to the accumulation of plaque in the blood vessels, leading to cardiovascular disease (19).

5. Processed Meats

Studies show that regular intake of processed meats, even a 100 g serving a day, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by two times (20). Most processed meats, especially red meat, contain preservatives that increase the risk of heart disease.

6. Starchy Foods

These include veggies like corn, peas, and potatoes, and pasta and cereals. Our body makes triglycerides from starches too, and avoiding such foods can help (21). Avoid other starch foods like flour and bread as these may also elevate triglyceride levels (22).

These are the foods you must avoid if you want to lower your triglyceride levels. This is the first step. The second step involves including those foods that can help you in your diet.

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What Foods Should You Include In Your Diet For Healthy Triglyceride Levels?

1. Fiber-Rich Foods

These include fruits, vegetables (exclude the ones with starch), and nuts and seeds. Whole grains and legumes are also great sources of fiber, but they can contain starch too – so, limit their intake.

In a study, participants on a high-fiber diet saw their triglyceride levels fall below baseline (23).

2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Image: Shutterstock

Salmon, mackerel, walnuts, and flax seeds are some of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids. According to an American study, a high dose of EPA and DHA (the two main constituents of omega-3 fatty acids) can significantly lower triglyceride levels (24).

In another study, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, the kind in fish oil, were found to be effective in reducing plasma triglycerides (25).

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats. Even monounsaturated fats can help lower triglyceride levels (26). These include olives (olive oil), pumpkin and sesame seeds, and avocados.

3. Soy Protein

Soy is rich in isoflavones, plant compounds found to reduce triglyceride levels (27). You can find soy protein in soybeans, soy milk, tofu, and edamame.

Including these foods in your diet can not only lower your triglyceride levels but also boost your overall health.

In addition to these changes in your food habits, you may also incorporate the following lifestyle changes:

  • Exercise regularly. Lose some weight and maintain healthy body weight. Studies show that this can lower your triglycerides (28).
  • Avoid trans fats totally. Trans fats can elevate triglyceride levels (29).
  • Make sure you establish a regular meal pattern. In fact, irregular meal patterns can decrease insulin sensitivity and elevate LDL cholesterol and triglyceride levels (30).

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If you are an average American, chances are your triglyceride levels are on the higher end. If that is the case, you must take immediate action. Get yourself tested. Eat clean and exercise regularly.

Do you know any other way to lower triglycerides that we have missed mentioning? Do let us know by leaving a comment in the box below.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are triglycerides different from cholesterol?

Triglycerides and cholesterol are the different types of lipids that circulate in your blood. While triglycerides store the unused calories and offer you energy, cholesterol helps build cells and hormones.


  1. Inflammation of the pancreas, causing shooting pain in the abdomen
  2. Something that cannot mix with water
  3. A serious degenerative disease when healthy liver cells are damaged and replaced by scar tissue
  4. Abnormal retention of lipids in a cell
  5. It is the cholesterol produced in the liver and released into the body tissues to supply them with triglycerides. High VLDL levels are associated with plaque deposits on artery walls


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Heather M. Duquette-Wolf is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a certified specialist in sports dietetics with 13 years of experience. She has been the owner of HMD Nutrition in Scottsdale, Arizona since 1999. She started out in medical nutrition therapy and expanded her area of expertise to intestinal disorders, inflammatory disease and exercise nutrition.

Read full bio of Heather M. Duquette-Wolf
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