Triglycerides and Heart Health
What should I know about triglycerides and heart disease?
Triglycerides are a type of fat that scientists have linked to heart disease. You need some triglycerides for your body to gain energy and function as it should. But having too many can be dangerous for your health.
Hypertriglyceridemia raises your risk of cardiovascular disease. If your triglycerides are above 200 mg/dL, you’re 25% more likely to die from cardiovascular disease than someone with a normal level.
Scientists continue to research the exact link between hypertriglyceridemia and cardiovascular health. But we know that the more triglycerides you have in your blood, the more likely you are to develop atherosclerosis. This is the gradual buildup of plaque in your arteries.
Atherosclerosis can lead to:
- Carotid artery disease: Plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to your brain.
- Coronary artery disease: Plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to your heart.
- Peripheral artery disease: Plaque buildup in the arteries that supply blood to your legs and arms.
Is high triglycerides considered heart disease?
High triglycerides isn’t heart disease, but it’s a risk factor for heart disease. That means you’re more likely to develop heart disease compared with people who have normal triglyceride levels.
High cholesterol is another risk factor that relates to the lipids (fats) in your blood. Some people have both high triglycerides and high cholesterol, and this combination puts you at an even higher risk.
Do triglycerides clog arteries?
Triglycerides themselves aren’t part of the sticky plaque that clogs your arteries. But scientists know that a high triglyceride level raises your risk of atherosclerosis. So, what’s the connection?
After you eat, your metabolism breaks down the nutrients from your food so your body can use them. This is an essential process that gives you energy and helps your body function. But the breakdown of triglycerides leaves some byproducts. Scientists call them “remnant particles.” They include leftover bits of cholesterol and fatty acids. These particles had been packaged together with the triglycerides in lipoproteins.
Picture a child opening a birthday gift. They excitedly unwrap the paper and take out the new toy. But shreds of paper remain.
Remnant particles are like the small shreds of paper that get left behind. Your body has no use for them, but they stick around. They can trigger inflammation of your arteries that leads to plaque buildup.
So, even though triglycerides don’t stick to your artery walls, they help create the conditions for other particles to gravitate there. And that’s what can cause atherosclerosis to develop.
What level of triglycerides causes a heart attack?
A triglyceride level over 200 mg/dL raises your risk for a heart attack or stroke. You should try to keep your triglycerides below 150 mg/dL.
Ideally, keep your triglycerides below 100 mg/dL to reduce your risk of heart disease.
How can I lower my triglycerides quickly?
Dietary and lifestyle changes may help you lower your triglycerides within a few months. The first step, though, involves finding out why your triglycerides are high. Hypertriglyceridemia has many causes. These include:
- Dietary factors.
- Lifestyle factors.
- Medical conditions.
- Some medications.
If you just learned your triglycerides are high, the first thing you should do is talk with your healthcare provider. Your provider will ask you some questions and review your medical history to see what might be causing the spike in your triglyceride level.
Your provider will then help you come up with a plan for getting your triglycerides back to a healthy level. This plan may involve medication to lower your triglycerides, especially if your numbers are very high. Or, you may need treatment for an underlying condition.
Your provider will also help you with dietary and lifestyle changes. It’s always best to follow the individual plan your provider gives you. But here are some general guidelines that research shows can help you lower your triglycerides.
Dietary changes to help lower your triglycerides
There are four main dietary culprits that raise your triglycerides:
- Simple (refined) carbohydrates.
So, avoiding these culprits can help you lower your triglycerides and keep them at a healthy level. The chart below lists some changes you can make right away.
|Soda, pop and other sugary drinks.||Drinks labeled “diet” or “sugar-free.” Stevia is a healthier sweetener added to some drinks.|
|Hard candies, chocolates, candy bars, fruit roll-ups and fruit juice.||Fresh fruit with no sugar added. Consider mixing fruit with plain, nonfat Greek yogurt. Sprinkle ground flaxseed on top.|
|White bread.||Whole grain or whole wheat bread.|
|White rice.||Brown rice.|
|Jelly and preserves.||Spreads with no sugar added, or a low-fat nut butter.|
|Saltine crackers.||Whole wheat crackers.|
|Beer, wine and cocktails.||Fruit-infused water or herbal tea.|
|Butter, coconut oil and palm oil.||Extra virgin olive oil.|
It’s also important to choose healthy foods within the five food groups. The chart below gives you some tips for doing that.
|Food group||Tips to lower your triglycerides|
· Choose fresh fruits.
· Choose frozen fruit with no added sugar or canned fruit in its own juice. Strain the juice before eating.
· Limit dried fruit to ¼ cup per day. Dried fruits contain a more concentrated source of sugar than fresh fruits.
· Don’t add sugar or sweeteners to your fruit.
· Limit portions of starchy vegetables to ½ cup. These include mashed potatoes, yams, corn and peas.
· Limit baked potatoes (with skin) to about 3 ounces. This would fit in the palm of your hand.
· Use barley, bulgur, couscous, millet or wheat berries as a side dish.
· Choose hot and cold cereals with at least 5 grams of dietary fiber per serving.
· Choose cereals with no more than 8 grams of sugar per serving.
· Try whole-wheat pasta or brown rice.
· Choose breads, crackers and cereals that list any of these as the first ingredient: whole grain oats, barley, corn, rice or wheat.
· Limit refined grains. These are products made with bleached, enriched or refined flour.
· Choose fish that contains healthy omega-3 fatty acids. These include salmon, mackerel and herring.
· Choose lean meats and avoid fatty meats.
· Remove skin from meat before cooking.
· Choose light yogurt (made with artificial sweeteners) instead of regular yogurt.
· Choose low-fat or nonfat milk and cheese.
Finally, get into the habit of reading labels when you grocery shop. Many foods contain hidden sources of sugar. Limit or avoid foods that list any of the following words (all simple sugars) in the first few ingredients:
- Corn syrup.
- High-fructose corn syrup.
Product labels or packaging will also tell you if an item is fat-free. It’s important to reduce your fat intake. But be aware that desserts labeled “fat-free” usually contain more sugar than full-fat versions and just as many calories. Limit these desserts or find healthier options like fresh fruit or sugar-free popsicles.
Lifestyle changes to help lower your triglycerides
Lifestyle changes are also important for lowering your triglycerides. Some lifestyle changes relate to when and how you eat. Others relate to your daily routine. Consider these tips:
- Avoid late-night snacking.
- Don’t skip meals.
- Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.
- Exercise regularly. Find exercises you enjoy doing.
- Get in more steps during your daily routine. Park farther away from the door, or take five-minute walk breaks throughout the day.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Triglycerides are important for your body, but too many can raise your risk of heart disease. If you have high triglycerides, talk with your provider about your other risk factors for heart disease. Also ask what you can do to lower your risk.
Often, dietary and lifestyle changes can make a big difference. The key is consistency. Start with small changes, and stick with them every day. Add more changes as you go along. And tell your family and friends about your goals so they can help support you each step of the way.
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