Doctor’s Orders: Reduce Your Sugar Intake to Lower Triglycerides

Reducing sugar intake is important for anyone with high triglyceride levels. Sneha Chekuri/Unsplash

Hearing from your doctor that your triglyceride levels are high can be confusing news for a lot of people. There’s far less public eduction about what effect Triglycerides have on a person’s overall health compared to an issue like high cholesterol. Learning about what triglycerides are is the first step towards understanding how they function in the body, why high levels are bad, and what you can do to get them under control.

Triglycerides are a type of fat found in the blood, which accounts for 95 percent of the fat found within the human body. This is the same type of fat found in the majority of the food we eat. When you eat food containing more calories than you need, your body will convert those extra calories into triglycerides, which are stored in your fat cells. Anyone diagnosed with high triglycerides must take action to lower their levels in order to improve heart health. When a person has high levels of triglycerides, it puts him or her at an increased risk of developing coronary artery disease, diabetes, and fatty liver. The American Heart Association warns that if a young person has high triglyceride levels their risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke is four times greater than a person with average levels.

There are several simple lifestyle modifications one can take to reduce triglyceride levels. One of the most effective and natural methods is to lower your intake of sugar.

How does sugar affect triglycerides?

Consuming too much sugar provides a person with extra calories they don’t need. When the body has extra calories it takes them and converts them into triglycerides, which are then stored as fat. The biggest problem is these extra stored triglycerides can end up in your arteries where they buildup into what is called plaque. Plaque hardens the artery walls, inhibiting blood flow and eventually leading serious complications like heart attack or stroke.

Normal triglyceride levels are defined as less than 150 mg per deciliter. 150-199 is considered borderline high, 200-499 is high, and 500 or higher is called very high. Elevated levels of triglycerides make the blood sticky and thick, which elevates the chance of forming clots. Both men and women who have high triglycerides are at risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

What should the average person’s daily sugar intake be?

Everyone should be aware of how much sugar they are consuming, but this is especially true for anyone with high triglycerides.  According to the American Heart Association, sugar should be limited to fewer than 100 calories per day (25 grams or six teaspoons) for women and 150 calories (37 grams or nine teaspoons) for men. Four grams of sugar is equivalent to one teaspoon.

Here are some ways to reduce your intake of sugar throughout each day:

  • Avoid foods concentrated in sugar such as soft drinks, candy, dried fruit, cake, cookies, pastries and energy drinks.
  • Reduce the intake of refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates include white rice, white bread or enriched flour products such as rolls, cereal, buns, and crackers, and regular pasta. These types of food can raise blood sugar and insulin levels more than fiber-rich whole grains. Having higher insulin levels can lead to a higher rise in triglycerides after a meal.
  • Choose whole grains such as 100 percent whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, brown or wild rice, oatmeal, quinoa, barley, and bulgur.
  • Drink no more than 16 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages per week, including soft drinks, sweetened tea, lemonade, fruit drinks, sports drinks, and sugary coffee drinks. Ideally, you should avoid these beverages.

Another substance to avoid is the sugar fructose. Fructose is found in table sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup. When we eat too many foods containing fructose it enhances fat production in the liver and leads to large increases in blood triglycerides.

Fructose is also the natural sugar found in fruits and is associated with raising triglyceride levels. While you don’t want to cut out fruit completely, you should to limit fructose intake to no more than 100 grams a day. For example, a one ounce box of raisins contains about 13 grams of fructose, a large banana contains about seven grams and a large apple with the skin contains about 13 grams.  To know how much fructose is in various foods, this site is a great resource.

Other lifestyle changes you should consider to lower triglycerides include:

Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is chairman of urology, chief of robotic surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital. He is a medical correspondent for the Fox News Channel’s Medical A-Team. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pintrest, SamadiMD.com and Facebook