Troublesome Triglycerides (Part 2)

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In last week’s blog entry, you learned a little bit about triglycerides: what they are, what causes them to be high, and why it’s not good if they’re too high. This week, we’ll continue to talk about triglycerides, but this time, we’ll look at how you can lower your levels if they’re above target (150 mg/dl).

It’s worthwhile to note that triglycerides, in and of themselves, aren’t “bad.” Remember that they’re a storage form of energy for the body. The problem comes in when they accumulate in the blood—heart disease being the primary problem.

So, what can you do if your levels are above 150 mg/dl? First, make sure that your triglycerides were tested after you fasted for about 12 hours. In other words, your reading won’t be accurate if you just polished off a Happy Meal at McDonald’s. Second, talk to your health-care provider about reasons why your triglycerides might be high. Is your diet the culprit? Or could it be your diabetes?

How is diabetes related to high triglycerides? Actually, uncontrolled blood glucose levels often go hand in hand with high triglycerides. The reason has to do with insulin. Insulin is needed to help move not just glucose into cells for energy, but also protein and fat. Therefore, if you don’t have enough insulin on board (whether from your own pancreas or from injections), you can have high blood glucose and triglyceride levels. If you and your health-care provider suspect that this is the case, your main job, then, will be to focus on getting your diabetes under better control.

You can take other steps to lower your triglycerides. Let’s run through these one by one:

  • Cut down on sweets and refined carbohydrates, such as desserts, fruit juices, white bread, white pasta, and white rice.
    Some people seem to be sensitive to sugary and refined carbs in terms of triglycerides levels.
  • Go for the whole grains.
    Here’s another reason to choose whole grain breads, cereals, and pasta: Substituting whole grain carbs for refined carbs can lower your triglyceride levels.
  • Lighten up on alcohol.
    In most cases, alcohol doesn’t have too much of an impact on triglyceride levels. However, as with refined carbs, some people are sensitive to the effects of alcohol (on triglyceride levels, that is!).
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
    Reason number 105 for shedding some pounds.
  • Focus on omega-3 fatty acids.
    Fatty fish and other seafood are rich in this type of polyunsaturated fat. The American Heart Association recommends that we eat at least two fish meals each week. (I’ll talk more about omega-3 fatty acids in a future blog entry, since there’s so much more to say about them.)
  • Substitute heart-healthy fats for saturated and trans fats.
    Olive oil, canola oil, peanut oil, corn oil, flaxseed oil…all of these are much healthier than butter, margarine, shortening, and lard. And these heart-healthy fats can help lower your LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol, too.
  • Be active on a regular basis.
    Exercise can help raise HDL (or “good”) cholesterol, while lowering LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
  • Ask about medicine.
    Just as some people need to take medicine to lower cholesterol levels, some people need medicine to lower triglycerides. Your health-care provider may prescribe fibrates, nicotinic acid, or even a prescription version of omega-3 fatty acids. However, as with cholesterol, even if you need medicine to lower your triglycerides, you’ll still need to make the lifestyle changes we discussed above.

Get your triglyceride levels checked regularly, and make sure you keep track of them and all your diabetes numbers, including HbA1c, blood pressure, albumin, and LDL and HDL cholesterol. The more you know about your health, the more you can do to stay healthy.

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