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What Foods Cause High Triglycerides?

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Updated May 20, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Controlling triglyceride levels can be a struggle when you have type 2 diabetes. Because diabetes is such a complicated and intricate disease, there are many ways diabetes can contribute to high triglycerides. Aside from getting your diabetes under good control, exercising, and stopping smoking, you can try to lower your triglyceride levels by avoiding foods that raise them significantly. According to the American Heart Association, lifestyle changes can make a major dent in elevated triglycerides -- with diet and exercise being key components.

Some people have a genetic predisposition to high triglyceride levels. If this problem runs in your family, dietary changes will still help but may not be as effective. Talk to your doctor about medications that may help.

About Triglycerides

Triglycerides are a type of blood and body fat. They are a lipid, like cholesterol. Triglycerides are obtained from food you eat or are released from your liver and are used to meet short-term energy needs. When too much food or significant high-fat food is consumed, the excess triglycerides are stored as body fat.

Foods That Raise Triglyceride Levels

  • Sugar: Simple sugars, such as fructose, are the worst culprits. It is easy to eat too much fructose as it seems to bypass bodily satiety signals. This leads to weight gain and the development of insulin resistance. Fructose is most often found in high-fructose corn syrup. Read the labels and watch out for corn syrup, honey, sucrose, glucose, fructose, honey or maltose listed as one of the first ingredients. Minimize your consumption of foods such as candy, ice cream, flavored sweetened yogurts, sweetened juices and other drinks, cereals, honey, molasses, jams, jellies, and canned fruit. (While fresh fruit does have naturally occurring fructose, the fiber in fruit slows down its digestion.)

  • Saturated and trans fats: Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and are found in fried foods, red meat, chicken skin, egg yolks, high-fat dairy, butter, lard, shortening, margarine, and fast food. Trans fats are hydrogenated fats and are found in many packaged foods, such as chips, cookies, cakes, donuts, microwave popcorn, and pastries. Trans fats are also present in margarine, shortening, fried foods, and fast foods. Instead, choose lean proteins, such as skinless white chicken meat, fish, low-fat dairy, egg whites, and legumes. Good oil choices are olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil.

  • Refined grains or starchy foods: Try to avoid enriched or bleached white bread, wheat bread, or pasta. Also avoid sugary cereals, instant rice, bagels, pizza, pastries, pies, cookies, and cakes. Starchy foods include high-starch vegetables, such as potatoes. Instead, choose foods with 100% whole grains, long-grain rice instead of instant rice, and non-starchy vegetables.

  • Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption causes the liver to increase triglyceride production.

  • High-calorie foods: Excess calories increase triglyceride levels. Pay attention to the calories you consume and try to avoid eating more calories than you can burn though physical activity. You can keep track of your calorie intake with online tools, such as Calorie Count.

Foods That Help Lower Triglyceride Levels

Omega-3 fatty acids can help lower triglyceride levels significantly. This fat is found in fish, such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, tuna, and tilapia. Try to eat fatty fish at least twice a week. Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in walnuts, flax seeds, canola oil, and foods made with soy. Fish oil or omega-3 supplements are also available and may be an excellent addition to your care regimen.

A diet high in vegetables and fruits can help lower triglyceride levels. Try to get more than three cups of vegetables a day and choose low-GI fruits.

Sources:

Angelopoulos, TJ; Lowndes J; Melanson, KJ, Nguyen, V; Huffman, A; Rippe, JM. "The Effect of High-Fructose Corn Syrup Consumption on Triglycerides and Uric Acid." J Nutr April 20 2009 139(6):1242S-1245S

Dietary Guidelines for Reducing Triglycerides. Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Accessed March 5, 2012. http://www.pamf.org/nutrition/patients/triglycerides.html

How Foods Affect Triglycerides. Cleveland Clinic. Accessed March 10, 2012. http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/nutrition/triglycerides.aspx

Qi, Qibin; Liang, Liming; Doria, Alessandro; Hu, Frank B; and Qi, Lu. "Genetic Predisposition to Dyslipidemia and Type 2 Diabetes Risk in Two Prospective Cohorts." Diabetes Feb 7 2012 61(3):745-752

Tackling Triglycerides: 8 Ways to Solve a Big Fat Problem. Harvard Health Publications. Accessed March 10, 2012. http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/tackling-triglycerides

Triglycerides. American Heart Association. Accessed: March 5, 2012 http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/NutritionCenter/Triglycerides_UCM_306029_Article.jsp#.T167BfUZ-dk

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