You Are What You Eat: Triglycerides and Diet
By Greg Post
I must confess that I am a Steve Martin fan. Like me he studied philosophy in his earlier days. He plays a banjo like I wish I could. And he is funny. In 1987 he was in a movie entitled "Roxanne". He played a small town fire chief with an enormous nose who fell in love with a beautiful astronomer played by Daryl Hannah. The only problem was she had an eye for a younger fireman with a relatively normal nose. C.D. Bales (Steve Martin), having a poetic command of the English language, agreed to coach the younger and much more awkward man in his pursuit of the educated astronomer. It is a hilarious twist on an old story. In one of the more sober scenes C.D.'s friend Trixie encourages him to pursue the young maiden for himself since he was obviously in love with her. She makes her point by saying the truth "is as plain as the nose on your face." Well said.
Many people today are concerned about their triglyceride levels. And rightly so. High triglycerides have been marked as an independent risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD). But in all the scramble to reduce our triglycerides many doctors have been trying to tell us that the truth is as plain as the nose on our collective face.
Triglycerides are a form of fat. In fact they are the most prevalent form of fat in our bodies. Our bodies make triglycerides and we consume them in our diets. Even though we live in culture where "thin is in", fat is a good thing. Triglycerides in particular are good because they are the form of fat our bodies use for energy. But like many things more is not necessarily better. Triglycerides truly represent an example of the maxim, "too much of a good thing". In this case too much can contribute to serious health side effects especially in relation to heart health. So if your triglycerides are too high get them down.
But how? How do we get them down? To answer this question it is first helpful to understand what causes our triglycerides to rise. There are several causes which we will only mention in passing because they do not compose the main subject of this essay. There are certain medical conditions that elevate triglyceride levels such as hypothyroidism, kidney disease, liver disease, familial hypertriglyceridemia and pregnancy. And of course medical conditions are often accompanied by medications that negatively impact triglycerides. Among these are oral contraceptives, estrogen replacement therapy, certain steroids, diuretics, beta-blockers, newer classes of antipsychotic medications, cyclosporine, glucocorticoids, progesterone, retinoids and tamoxifen to mention a handful.
The above mentioned factors can contribute to a rise in serum triglycerides. But they are by no means the most common. For most of us our problems lie elsewhere. Diabetes is a common cause of high triglycerides. Unfortunately diabetes is a two-pronged fork. Not only does it affect triglyceride levels but diabetics are more susceptible to the damage that results from factors such as high triglycerides.
Obesity, whatever the reason, causes higher levels of triglycerides to hang around in the blood. As our nation gets progressively heavier higher cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as the heart damage that accompanies them, will become more common.
Now for the rest of us. For most of us our triglycerides are high for one reason. The truth is as plain as the nose on C.D.'s face. We are what we eat. Doctors, though themselves seldom the epitome of health, have been telling us for years to watch what we eat. With all the medical advances over the past several decades diet and exercise are still the primary and most effective methods for promoting heart health, especially in relation to cholesterol and triglycerides and the damage they can cause.
I have only this to say about exercise. Get some! But concerning diet we need a bit more detail. Let's begin where it hurts the most. Alcohol, though good for your heart in many ways, is easily converted to triglycerides. If yours are too high stay away from alcohol.
Next in line, and this hurts me even more, is sugar. Simple, and especially highly processed carbohydrates, cause triglycerides to rise perhaps even more than alcohol. The American diet is no stranger to sugar and highly processed foods. Such foods are doing more than making us fat. They are causing the incidence of heart disease to escalate with amazing speed. When it comes to high triglycerides, sugar is your worst enemy.
Fruits are questionable. Eliminating fruits is not the place to start. Whole fruits, and the sugars they contain, do not convert to triglycerides as readily as their processed cousins. However, if you have done all you can in other areas of your diet you might consider reducing fruit intake. But before you do this make sure you have eliminated the juices that are more sugar and juice than they are fruit. And avoid canned fruits that are packed in syrup.
Since triglycerides are fat it makes sense to avoid fatty foods. I have in mind especially saturated animal fats. Foods such as bacon, sausage, fatty fowl like duck or goose and fatty beef should be restricted in your diet. Hotdogs and hamburgers? I realize they are the core of the American diet. But do I really need to comment on these?
Now for the surprise. Some fatty foods actually cause triglycerides to fall. Can you believe it? There is a silver lining behind every dark cloud. Cold water fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and tuna, not the canned varieties, are high in omega-3 fatty acids which are well documented to reduce triglycerides. When is the last time you heard about an Eskimo having bypass surgery? Perhaps that is because Eskimos know that the American Heart Association has recommended two to four grams of omega-3 fatty acids from marine sources for people with high triglycerides. That is a lot of omega-3 but such quantities are well proven to lower triglycerides as well as offer a whole list of heart health benefits. Though it is difficult to eat that much fish and there is the risk of mercury poisoning, there is a safe way to get enough omega-3 to effectively lower triglycerides. You can take fish oils supplements. Please purchase them from a trusted source.
So, as you can see, the epidemic of rising triglycerides is an unnecessary danger. For most of us the solution rests in the things we eat and the exercise we need to get. It sounds all too simple. But I am a simple guy. I think it is nice to know that the solution to rising triglycerides is as plain as the nose on C.D.'s face.
For more information on causes of high triglycerides and triglyceride lower diets please use the links below:
About The Author
Greg Post has degrees in science, divinity and philosophy and is currently an I.T. developer.