How do I optimize my triglycerides?

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Triglycerides, that pesky item on your blood work report. Nothing spurs a comment like “No more ice cream for you, honey!” like high triglycerides. What do you need to know in order to optimize your level?

A triglyceride is the form that fat takes to travel around in your body. When you eat fat in foods like fatty meats, oils, or some dairy products, it is digested, meaning turned into triglycerides, and it travels in the blood stream getting used as energy right away or being stored for later. High triglyceride levels can be caused by consistently eating fat in excess of what your body needs or by genetic conditions that work against clearing fat from your bloodstream.

That’s straight forward enough, but here’s the kicker. Fat is not the only source of triglycerides in your blood. When you take in simple carbohydrates like alcohol, desserts, or sugary drinks, those are quickly digested into glucose which is the form carbohydrate takes to travel in your bloodstream. Just like triglycerides, glucose is waiting to be used as energy or stored for later (as glucagon). When you take in an excess amount of simple sugars, some of the extra glucose gets converted into triglycerides.

That’s amazing and handy but not great news for your triglyceride count. Doing this consistently can also contribute to high triglyceride levels.

Do complex carbohydrates have the same effect? Not likely if they are high-fiber complex carbohydrates. These are found in foods like whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals, in dried beans and peas, and in starchy vegetables like winter squash, potatoes, yams, corn and peas. The high fiber content of these foods slows their digestion, putting smaller amounts of glucose into the bloodstream at a time. This makes it much more likely the glucose will be used as glucose instead of contributing to “carbohydrate-induced hypertriglyceridemia” (translation: a high triglyceride level caused by high carbohydrate intake). This is especially true when these foods are eaten in moderation.

On the other hand, low-fiber carbohydrates like non-whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals do not have the protective effect of fiber and consistently eating them in excess can contribute, like the high-sugar foods, to high triglyceride levels.

How do you apply these basic principles of triglyceride management to an overall eating pattern?

For starters, for everything except non-starchy vegetables, become aware of your portion sizes. All foods can work into an overall healthy eating style, but the foods that contribute to high triglyceride levels must be eaten in moderation. Also, spread your whole day’s intake throughout the day so that no one meal or snack enters the super-sized zone. And lastly, get well-acquainted with foods that slow digestion and add some of them to every meal and snack. These include high-fiber foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. Additionally, foods that are good sources of protein or healthy fats will also slow digestion.

Enjoy that ice cream, honey, and work it into an overall eating style that adds years to your life and life to your years!

Debbie Coblentz is a registered dietitian living in Churchill County. Your comments in response to this article are welcome at


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