Triglycerides: Their Role in Heart Health
What comes to your mind when you think of heart health? You would most probably think about weight management, healthy eating, and regular exercise. Yes, these are the three most important factors that help your heart remain fit. When it comes to eating well for a healthy heart, a nutrient that needs a closer look is fat — the type and quantity of fats (in the forms of ghee, butter, oil, cheese) that you eat have a direct and strong impact on your cardiac health.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat present in our bodies. However, when there are too many triglycerides in the blood (>200mg/dl*), they start to build up in your arterial walls, making them narrow. This fatty build-up makes it difficult for blood to flow smoothly and easily through the clogged arteries. This compromised blood flow puts your heart at risk of several diseases, including coronary heart disease and stroke.
Excess body weight, high intake of fats (particularly trans fats and saturated fats), and lack of regular physical activity increase one’s risk of high triglyceride levels.
Can excess triglycerides levels be lowered?
An overall healthy lifestyle goes a long way in improving one’s lipid profile and heart health. While the time taken to lower triglyceride levels varies for each individual, healthy eating and regular exercise can start lowering triglyceride levels in about six weeks. Studies have reported that weight loss, achieved through lifestyle modifications such as a calorie deficit diet and/ or exercise, led to a 4mg/dl decrease in triglycerides for every 1kg weight loss seen at the end of 12 months of intervention. As per a 2004 study, consuming soy protein for six weeks decreased the triglycerides level by 12.4%. Jogging for two hours each week for four months also lowers triglycerides.
Also read: Stroke: When You Need to Act F.A.S.T
Here are the basic principles you can follow to achieve and maintain healthy triglyceride levels:
How can you lower your triglyceride levels?
Maintain a healthy weight
If you are overweight or obese, lowering your weight to the ideal weight is the first and very effective move toward lowering triglyceride levels. This is because the excess calories in your body are converted into triglycerides. So, burning off the extra weight is a crucial step toward lowering triglyceride levels.
Make sure you indulge in physical activity on a regular basis. Go for a brisk walk, play a sport, or join a gym or dance class to get your heart pumping. At least 30 minutes of exercise for at least five days each week will make your heart healthier. A sedentary person is at 50 times greater risk of heart disease and stroke than someone who exercises five times a week. This is because exercise increases the level of good cholesterol (HDL) in the body, and this HDL lowers blood triglyceride levels.
Cut down on alcohol consumption
Excess alcohol raises triglyceride levels. Alcohol contains a lot of sugar and calories; these excess calories get stored as triglycerides. Moreover, people who consume alcohol tend to eat fatty foods while they drink; this also contributes to increased triglyceride levels. As per the Cleveland Clinic Health Library recommendations (2021), two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women is the maximum acceptable limit. One serving equals 44ml spirits, 89ml of wine, or 354ml of beer.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
Here are 10 eating habits you can incorporate to lower/ reduce and/ or maintain triglyceride levels:
1. Eat complex carbohydrates: Simple sugars (such as those present in processed sugary foods and beverages) substantially raise triglyceride levels because the extra calories that you get from these high-calorie foods is converted into triglycerides and stored in the body. So, prefer foods rich in complex carbohydrates (natural sugars present in fruits, beans, peas, etc.) and avoid packaged foods that contain glucose, maltose, corn syrup, molasses, and fructose (as mentioned on the ingredient list food labels).
2. Pick food items that are rich in omega-3 fatty acid because it is proven to lower triglyceride levels. Foods like fatty fish (herring, sardines, tuna, trout, mackerel, and salmon), flax seeds, soy foods, walnuts, and canola oil have considerable content of omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Make sure that only 20%–30% of your daily calories come from fats. So, if your daily calorie intake is 2,000 kcal, your fat consumption should be around 44g/day-67g/day. To understand this in simple terms, you can refer to the servings of foods that are a regular part of your diet that contains 5g of fat.
|Oil, butter, margarine, mayonnaise||1tsp (5g)|
|Salad dressing or cream cheese||1tbsp (15g)|
|Low-fat mayonnaise or low-fat margarine spread||1tbsp (15g)|
|Reduced-fat cream cheese or reduced-fat salad dressing||1.5–2tbsp (22.5g-30g)|
|Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds||1tbsp (15g)|
|Almonds, Cashews or Assorted nuts||6|
|Pecans or walnut halves||4|
|Natural peanut butter||1.5tsp (22.5g)|
4. Your daily consumption of saturated fats should be limited to 7% of your total caloric intake, ie, about 16g per day. This is equal to about 3tsp of butter. Saturated fats are present in foods like butter, ghee, cheese, coconut oil, palm oil, cakes, biscuits, cured meats, sausages, fatty cuts of meat, ice cream, pastries, chocolates, etc.
5. Choose oils with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as groundnut oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, canola oil for daily use and for most of your cooking needs to ensure that you get the right kind of fats from your food.
6. Eliminate or minimize your intake of trans fats to less than 1% of your calorie intake. Trans fats are a type of fat present in confectionary food items (cakes, pies, cupcakes, cookies); processed foods like frozen pizza, microwaveable popcorn; fried foods like doughnuts, fried chicken, fries; and foods made using refried oil (oil that has already been used for frying once), such as roadside fried snacks like samosas, vada, puffs.
7. Restrict your cholesterol consumption to 200mg per day. You can use the following table to figure out how many portions of a particular food you can eat in a day to stay within your recommended cholesterol intake.
|Dairy Products||Portion||Total Fat (g)||Saturated Fat (g)||Cholesterol (mg)|
|Milk (non-fat)||1 cup (15g)||0||0||4|
|Milk (low-fat)||1 cup (15g)||3||2||10|
|Milk (whole)||1 cup (15g)||8||5||33|
|Yogurt (non-fat)||1 cup (15g)||0||0||10|
|Yogurt (whole)||1 cup (15g)||7||5||29|
|Cheddar cheese||28g (1/5th cup)||9||6||30|
|Cottage cheese (low-fat)||1 cup||2||2||10|
|Fats||Portion||Total Fat (g)||Saturated Fat (g)||Cholesterol (mg)|
|Butter||1 tsp (5g)||4||3||11|
|Margarine||1 tsp (5g)||4||1||0|
|Vegetable Oils||1 tsp (5g)||5||1 – 2||0|
|Meats and Protein||Portion||Total Fat (g)||Saturated Fat (g)||Cholesterol (mg)|
|Tofu||1/2 cup (75g)||11||2||0|
|Pinto beans||1/2 cup (75g)||1||0||0|
|Tuna (in water)||3/4th cup(100g)||1||0||30|
|Shrimp||3/4th cup(100 gm)||1||0||194|
|Beef (ground, lean)||3/4th cup(100g)||18||7||78|
|Beef (short ribs)||3/4th cup(100g)||42||18||94|
|Beef (sirloin)||3/4th cup(100g)||12||5||89|
|Beef liver||3/4th cup(100g)||5||2||389|
|Pork (tenderloin)||3/4th cup(100g)||6||2||79|
|Pork (chop)||3/4th cup(100g)||25||10||85|
|Chicken liver||3/4th cup(100g)||6||2||631|
|Chicken (no skin)||3/4th cup(100g)||5||1||85|
8. Prefer unprocessed or minimally processed foods over refined and polished food grains. Pick brown rice, wheat bread, and multigrain atta over the refined versions so that your diet is rich in fiber. A high-fiber diet helps in lowering lipid levels by attaching to and aiding in the excretion of excess LDL cholesterol from the liver.
9. Don’t eat food late in the night. It can often lead to the consumption of excess calories and over time, lead to weight gain. When you eat food at regular timings in healthy amounts, the body is able to regulate your blood sugar properly using insulin. Irregular food habits will impair the working of insulin, potentially causing insulin resistance — a condition that can increase the level of triglycerides in the body.
10. Avoid skipping meals or bingeing. For this, eat your meals at the same time each day and space your meals at least four hours apart from each other. Once your body is used to this schedule, you will feel hungry at the same time every day and follow a disciplined eating routine. This will also encourage effective working of insulin and prevent insulin resistance, thus discouraging an increase in the level of triglycerides.
What are the normal values for triglyceride levels?
When you undergo a lipid profile test (a blood test that shows you how much of which fatty substance is present in your blood), the report will include information about total cholesterol, good cholesterol, bad cholesterol, and triglycerides. Since triglyceride levels generally rise after a meal, you will be asked to give your blood sample after an overnight fast of 10 to 12 hours.
As per the U.S. National Library of Medicine, here is how you interpret your triglyceride reports:
|< 150 mg/dL||Normal/ desirable|
|150–199 mg/dL||Borderline high|
|> 500 mg/dL||Very high|
If your blood test reports show elevated triglyceride levels (you will need to make certain lifestyle modifications to normalize your levels. Use the above tips to make your kitchen and meals heart-friendly. Live fit.
1. Triglycerides & Heart Health. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/17583-triglycerides–heart-health (accessed Apr 30, 2021).
2. High Triglycerides. Michigan Health, University of Michigan. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/zp3387 (accessed Apr 30, 2021).
3. High Blood Triglycerides. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/high-blood-triglycerides (accessed Apr 30, 2021).
4. HDL (Good), LDL (Bad) Cholesterol and Triglycerides. American Heart Association. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cholesterol/hdl-good-ldl-bad-cholesterol-and-triglycerides (accessed Apr 30, 2021).
5. Triglycerides. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/triglycerides.html (accessed Apr 30, 2021).
6. Cholesterol Content of Foods. University of California, San Francisco. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/cholesterol-content-of-foods (accessed Apr 30, 2021).
7. Myers J. Exercise and Cardiovascular Health. Circulation 2003; 107: e2–5.
8. Wang Y, Jones PJ, Ausman LM, et al. Soy Protein Reduces Triglyceride Levels and Triglyceride Fatty Acid Fractional Synthesis Rate in Hypercholesterolemic Subjects. Atherosclerosis 2004; 173: 269–75.
9. Oliveras-López MJ, Molina JJ, Mir MV, et al. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) Consumption and Antioxidant Status in Healthy Institutionalized Elderly Humans. Arch Gerontol Geriatr 2013; 57: 234–42.
10. Yang Q, Zhang Z, Gregg EW, et al. Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US adults. JAMA Intern Med 2014; 174: 516–24.
11. Triglycerides Test. MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/triglycerides-test/ (accessed Apr 30, 2021).