11 Sneaky Habits That Can Raise Your Triglycerides
It’s all too easy to just look at the big, obvious lifestyle changes that can lower your triglycerides—a type of blood fat that that can lead to heart disease when levels are high. Clearly, downing triple-decker burgers and slurping up all the soda pop isn’t good for you, but what about the little things that might be encouraging triglycerides to multiply? If you find your doctor telling you that your triglycerides are too high, think about tackling these more subtle habits, too.
Skimping on Fiber
“Eating a high-fiber diet can help prevent high LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) and triglycerides," says Brocha Soloff, R.D., a dietitian in New York City. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants' triglycerides jumped nearly 45% above baseline after just six days of eating a low-fiber diet. Meanwhile, levels plummeted below baseline with a high-fiber diet. The theory? Fiber helps block fat absorption in the small intestine, so it moves out your body instead of into your blood.
Pouring Some Sugar on…Everything
The best thing to do in this case is to look at the labels. While something may not appear to be a sugary drink or food, it may have hidden added sugars that can boost your triglycerides. “When reviewing diet histories, a common contributor can be sugar-sweetened beverages such as coffee drinks," says Hailey Crean, R.D., a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in Boston. “Beverages are a sneaky way to exceed added-sugar recommendations because they can provide a highly concentrated source of sugar without contributing the same satiety as a meal.”
All those extra calories have to go somewhere, and that usually means getting converted into fat.
Noshing on Fruit—All the Time
While fruit is great for increasing fiber levels, using it as your only source can have negative effects. We know—the balancing act is hard! In this case, it’s necessary due to the amount of fructose found in fruit. While this natural sugar is way better than the refined stuff found in sweets, it's still sugar and consuming too much of it leads to an increase in triglycerides. Alternate your fruit snacks with veggie ones, and you should be good to go.
P.S. Go easy on 100% juice for the same reason.
Eating at Odd Times
Insulin resistance can cause a spike in triglycerides, and a common way it develops is through irregular eating (think: super late dinner, then a super early breakfast). Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps move sugar into your body's cells, which then use it as fuel. Basically, when you have a buildup of insulin, your body can’t use it all and the excess sugar gets converted into triglycerides. When you maintain a regular eating schedule, less insulin can accumulate and the ineffective cycle doesn’t continue.
Overloading on Refined Flours
There are so many types of flour out there these days that it can be hard to figure out how each will work with your body. Refined flours are simply any flour that has been—well—refined, meaning that the germ and bran have been removed to give it a smoother texture. While completely fine in moderation, consuming too much refined flour raises blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to an increase in triglycerides, according to research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Switch to fiber-rich whole grains, including whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, and brown or wild rice.
Having One Too Many Drinks
Again, it’s all about moderation. A cocktail or two shouldn’t have any serious impact on your body but, when you increase your consumption repeatedly, alcohol can have harmful effects.
“Excess alcohol (more than two drinks for women and three drinks for men a day) can increase triglycerides, especially when coupled with a high-fat, high-calorie meal," says Kimberly Arnold, R.D.N., a nutritionist with a specialty in obesity and weight management in Ringoes, NJ. "The negative effects can be even greater for those who are obese or have diabetes.” A Swiss study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that alcohol in the bloodstream can slow down fat metabolism by more than 30%, speeding up triglyceride production.
Look at your habits and think about how each may be affecting your heart. “Treat other risks for heart disease like inactivity and smoking, since we know that the more risks someone has, the more they add up,” says Nikki Stamp, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon in Perth, Australia, and author of Can You Die of a Broken Heart?. Cigarette smoking, in particular, lowers HDL (the good cholesterol) and stimulates the production of a hormone that increases triglycerides.
Not Watching Those Saturated and Trans Fats
We know that saturated fats—commonly found in packaged and processed foods—pack on the pounds. But they can also increase the level of triglycerides in your blood in a big way, and it doesn't take long to get there. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that following a three-week diet high in trans fats resulted in much higher triglyceride levels than a diet high in unsaturated fat. Crean recommends swapping saturated fats out for mono and polyunsaturated fats, found in foods such as olive oil, avocado, and nuts.
Eating When You Aren't Hungry
While the urge to clear your plate is understandable, consuming more than you’re hungry for is not doing your body any favors. When you overeat, it causes your triglycerides to spike at unhealthy levels. Research published in the American Journal of Physiology found that a big, fatty meal increased triglycerides and triggered inflammation of blood vessels. Regularly loading up on those excess calories, has a compounding effect that can lead to serious problems. Instead, before you feel full, stop and digest for some time before seeing if you’re hungry again. If you are, keep eating. If not, there’s no need to throw the food away, just wrap it up for later.
Passing on Fish
We know, not everyone can do seafood. But if you can, go ahead and fill up. Evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil reduce triglycerides by limiting the production by the liver and speeding up the elimination of unhealthy fats from the blood. Soloff explains that regularly eating fish is a great way to keep your body feeling healthy and in check. Research has also shown that eating fish at least twice a week, especially oily fish, can help keep your heart in tip-top shape. Let’s get those omega-3s!
It’s no secret that getting up and moving is a good idea, but doing it is a whole other story. Try to sneak activity into your routine by parking a few blocks away from your office or getting off at the stop before yours and walking the rest of the way. Even small aerobic exercises can help lower your triglycerides. Start small, build up to more movement every day, and little by little you’ll see improvement.
- Insulin Resistance and Triglycerides Study: Archives of Medical Research. (2005). "Regulation of Plasma Triglycerides in Insulin Resistance and Diabetes." ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15925013
- Fish Stat: Michigan Medicine. (2018). "Cholesterol and Triglycerides: Eating Fish and Fish Oil." (uofmhealth.org/health-library/hw114960