Triglycerides are the main type of fat in food and make up about 95% of the fat that you consume in your diet. They’re an important source of energy, but if your levels are too high, your risk of heart disease goes up.
It’s possible to lower your triglyceride levels by eating a fiber-rich diet and oily fish, as well as reducing your intake of refined carbohydrates and saturated fats.
Other lifestyle changes that can help reduce triglycerides include cutting back on alcohol and being more physically active, as well as losing weight if you have overweight or obesity.
Triglyceride levels are most often measured using a fasting blood test. But after you eat, your levels of triglycerides increase.
Measuring your triglycerides after a meal can act as an early warning sign of increased health risks.
ZOE runs the largest study in the world exploring the effect of food on post-meal triglyceride levels.
We’ve found that everyone responds differently to food and that triglyceride levels can vary hugely between people — by as much as 20-fold — even if they’ve eaten the same thing.
The ZOE at-home test analyzes your blood fat and blood sugar levels, as well as your unique gut microbiome, so you can find the best foods for your body and your long-term health.
You can take our free quiz to find out more.
What are triglycerides and what raises them?
Everyone consumes triglycerides as part of their diet. They circulate in your bloodstream, similar to cholesterol, and pair with proteins to form lipoproteins.
These lipoproteins carry triglycerides to your tissues, where they are either used for energy straight away or stored as fat for later.
Triglyceride levels can be measured by a simple blood test. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), fasting levels — those taken when you haven’t eaten — should be below 150 mg/dl (1.7 mmol/l) and post-meal levels below 200 mg/dl (2.3 mmol/l).
Many lifestyle factors can raise your fasting triglyceride levels, such as a diet high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats, a lack of physical activity, drinking too much alcohol, and smoking. Pregnancy and menopause can also have an effect.
Postprandial lipaemia is the scientific name for the rise in triglycerides that happens after eating. The peak in triglyceride levels is around 4–5 hours after eating, and the level should return to baseline around 8 hours after eating.
Measuring triglyceride levels within a 4-hour period after a meal is a strong predictor of your risk of heart disease, even if your fasting triglycerides are within a healthy range.
That means post-meal triglycerides can act as an early warning system for your risk of heart disease.
Your blood fat control indicates how well you can clear triglycerides from your blood — in other words, how well you’re able to handle high-fat foods.
Blood fat control, blood sugar control, and your gut microbiome — the community of bacteria and other microorganisms that live in your gut — all play a role in your risk of chronic conditions like heart disease.
Exactly how gut health is involved is not fully understood, but ZOE’s research has identified certain gut bugs that are linked with blood fat control.
9 ways to lower triglycerides
Studies have shown there are a number of things that you can do to lower your triglyceride levels. Many of these have to do with the foods that you eat, but there are also other lifestyle factors, such as exercise, that can make a difference.
1. Weight management
If you have overweight or obesity, then losing weight will have the single biggest impact on your triglyceride levels.
Losing weight can be really challenging, and what makes an optimal weight range will be different for everyone. You can work with a healthcare professional to determine what weight range is best for your health.
Our unpublished research found that following ZOE’s personalized, gut-friendly nutrition program led to an average weight loss of 9.4 lbs after 3 months.
2. Reduce saturated fats
The AHA recommend swapping saturated fats for unsaturated fats as a great way to lower your triglyceride levels.
You can find unsaturated fats in foods like vegetable oils, nuts and seeds, oily fish, and avocados.
3. Replace refined carbs
The AHA also note that eating refined carbs, which contain a lot of simple sugars, raises your triglyceride levels.
So cut down on refined carbs and simple sugars and swap them for complex carbs, which are also full of fiber.
4. Eat more fiber
Research has found that people who include more high-fiber foods in their diets have lower triglyceride levels.
But only 6% of children and adults in the U.S. eat the recommended amount of 25–30 grams of fiber every day.
Good sources of fiber include:
vegetables: Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, avocado, broccoli, zucchini
fruit: apples, oranges, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, peaches
legumes: lentils, chickpeas, peas, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, soy beans
whole grains: oats, bulgur, quinoa, buckwheat, spelt, whole wheat pasta, brown rice
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5. Eat more oily fish
Oily fish, such as trout, mackerel, and sardines, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to reduce post-meal triglycerides.
One study found that eating salmon twice a week also reduced fasting triglyceride levels.
There are plant sources of omega-3s, too, such as flaxseed, walnuts, and Brussels sprouts. But the omega-3s in these plants are slightly different from those in oily fish, and they're less effective at lowering triglyceride levels.
If you swap out refined carbohydrates and saturated fats with omega-3 rich foods, particularly oily fish, the benefits to your triglyceride levels will be even greater.
6. Eating foods with a low GI
The glycemic index (GI) indicates how much a specific food is likely to increase your blood sugar levels.
For example, oats have a low GI, but white bread has a high GI and is more likely to lead to a big spike in your blood sugar.
Research suggests that eating a low glycemic diet is associated with lower triglycerides.
7. Eat your biggest meals earlier in the day
To manage blood fat levels, it may be beneficial for you to eat your biggest meals earlier in the day and reserve smaller meals for later.
A study involving shift workers found that those who ate larger meals later in the day had a higher risk of heart disease, and one of the potential links was higher post-meal triglyceride levels.
8. Cut down on alcohol
Drinking alcohol can lead to increased production of triglycerides from the liver, which are packed into specialized particles called very low density lipoprotein (VLDL). These particles carry triglycerides from the liver into your bloodstream.
Your VLDL levels are higher in the period after you drink alcohol, and your body’s ability to break down fat from the diet is impacted.
Most alcoholic drinks also contain a lot of calories. If your body doesn’t need all that energy, it’s likely to store the extra as triglycerides in your fat cells. Excess body fat can increase your risk of heart disease.
9. Exercise regularly
Along with its many other health benefits, exercise is a great way to control your triglyceride levels.
Regular aerobic exercise can significantly lower your fasting triglycerides, and research has found that even a single workout can reduce post-meal triglycerides.
Eat the right foods for you
As we’ve seen, there are some broad dietary guidelines you can follow to help lower your triglyceride levels.
But our research shows that everyone’s blood fat responses to the foods they eat are personal, with more than 10 times the difference between some people.
ZOE runs the largest nutritional study of its kind, with over 15,000 participants so far. Based on our studies, we’ve developed a personalized nutrition program that takes your unique biology into account to help you improve your metabolic health.
Using the latest scientific techniques, the ZOE at-home test analyzes your triglyceride and blood sugar levels after eating, as well as the microbes in your gut.
Based on your results, the ZOE program then gives you advice on the best foods and food combinations for your body and your long-term health goals.
You can take a free quiz to find out more.
Triglycerides are a type of fat. High fasting levels of triglycerides are linked to an increased risk of chronic illnesses like heart disease.
However, the rise in triglycerides after you eat gives a clearer indication of how well your body metabolizes fats and can act as an early warning system when it comes to these risks.
There is evidence that a number of lifestyle changes may help lower your triglyceride levels, including exercising, drinking less alcohol, and adding more omega-3s and fiber to your diet.
But everyone responds differently to food. ZOE can help you to understand which foods to eat to avoid higher rises in your triglyceride and blood sugar levels after you eat.
You can find out more about the ZOE program here.
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Usual nutrient intake from food and beverages, by gender and age, what we eat in America, NHANES 2015-2018. (2021) https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400530/pdf/usual/Usual_Intake_gender_WWEIA_2015_2018.pdf