A month to change your heart: Day 19

Inactivity and excess body weight paired with a diet containing too much sugar and simple carbohydrates does more than increase your chance of having diabetes.  It also plays a direct role in raising your triglycerides.  

Triglycerides appear on the lipid panel along with your total cholesterol, your LDL (bad) cholesterol and your HDL (good) cholesterol.  Unlike cholesterol, which can be lowered by decreasing the saturated fat in your diet, triglycerides are directly related to your dietary intake of sugar and simple carbohydrate.

Triglycerides (TG) levels are measured in the bloodstream, and should be less than 150 mg/dl. Understanding why triglycerides are different from cholesterol is important to learn how to improve your blood levels.

When sugar (and simple carbs like white bread and pasta) is absorbed in the small intestine of our body, it is gobbled up by TG circulating in the bloodstream.  So, high TG levels are often directly related to how much simple carbohydrate and sugar we eat.  Although prescription medications are often given for high TG, you can often dramatically lower their levels, and the damage that they do, by changing to a Mediterranean diet.  

The first step to take if your triglycerides are elevated is to change your diet.  You will need to eliminate or seriously decrease the white flour products and instead choose only whole grain products.   You should also consider eliminating any sugar containing drinks and increase your fruits and vegetables.

In addition to eliminating sugar and carbs from your diet, you can lower your TG by taking an omega-3 fatty acid supplement.

Omega 3 fatty acids, also known as fish oil, contain long chain fatty acids called DHA and EPA.  They act like a key to fit into the TG molecule, and pull it out of the circulation.  It often takes higher doses of omega 3 fatty acids to do this, as much as 4 grams per day.

Try this triglyceride-lowering recipe: Salmon with Mustard Sauce

  • 4 Salmon fillets (4-6 oz)
  • 2 Tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Cover grill pan with foil or spray with cooking spray.  Place salmon fillets on pan, skin side down.  Mix the mustard, honey and red pepper together, stirring with a fork until mixed.  Coat each fillet with mustard mix.  Bake at 350 degrees until fish flakes when tested.  About 10-12 minutes. 

Why is this important?  TG can cause inflammation, inflame the pancreas, and irritate the lining of the coronary arteries.  When coupled with low HDL or good cholesterol, as it often is, it is given the name metabolic syndrome.  This problem, which is associated with gaining weight, is incredibly common in this country, and is fast becoming as much as a risk factor for coronary artery disease as elevated cholesterol.

Here are some important take home messages about triglycerides:

  1.  Triglycerides are very different than cholesterol, becoming elevated if you have a lot of sugar and simple carbs in your diet.  Following the Mediterranean diet has been shown to lower triglycerides better than most medications.
  2. High triglyceride levels (more than 150 mg/dl) can increase inflammation, and injure your arteries, especially when accompanied by low HDL cholesterol
  3. The DHA and EPA in fish oil can lower triglycerides by  acting like a key to process them out of the bloodstream
  4. Fatty fish like salmon have more EPA and DHA than other fish.

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