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Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that — when elevated — increase your risk for heart disease and other health problems.
Fortunately, you can lower high triglycerides by making changes to your diet.
This article explains what to eat and avoid to lower your triglycerides and provides a 3-day sample high triglycerides diet menu.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat that can be either consumed from the diet or produced by the body.
They circulate in your blood where they can either be used for energy or stored as body fat for later use.
Hypertriglyceridemia is the medical term for elevated blood triglycerides.
A fasting (without food) triglyceride level of less than 150 mg/dL is healthy.
There are many factors associated with elevated triglycerides including (2):
- high-calorie diets
- excessive alcohol use
- rheumatoid arthritis
- metabolic syndrome
- insulin resistance
- type 2 diabetes
- gestational diabetes
- renal disease
Genetics are also a cause of high triglycerides and many medications like corticosteroids and antipsychotic agents like clozapine and olanzapine can also increase triglycerides.
Fortunately, you can lower high triglycerides with your diet.
High triglycerides diet
As such, there isn’t necessary a single best high triglycerides diet.
However, the reason why these diets were effective for lowering triglycerides was that they were low in calories and led to weight loss.
Indeed, one review found that for every 2.2 pounds (1 kg) that patients lost, their triglycerides decreased by an average of 8 mg/dL (7).
Following a low-calorie diet is the single best thing you can do to lower triglycerides since consuming more calories than you need increases your intake of triglycerides while also causing your body to produce more of them.
But doing so doesn’t mean that you have to meticulously track your calories.
Instead, most people can significantly reduce their calories by eating more nutrient-dense, whole foods like fruits and vegetables and limiting or avoiding foods that are rich in sugar, refined grains, and unhealthy fats (8).
Foods to eat
Incorporating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy sources of fat can help lower your triglycerides and reduce your risk for heart disease.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are rich in dietary fiber and beneficial plant compounds called polyphenols that help lower triglycerides.
They are also relatively low in calories and help increase satiety, allowing you to eat fewer calories throughout the day.
One review of seven studies found that for every serving of fruit consumed daily, triglycerides decreased by 9% (9).
It’s best to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet as each offers different nutrients and health benefits.
Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains are also an excellent source of fiber and polyphenols.
These compounds reduce triglycerides by positively affecting the gut microbiome and reducing the body’s production of triglycerides (10).
Examples of whole grains include:
- brown rice
- whole-wheat bread and pasta
Lean proteins are those that contain limited amounts of fats.
Replacing some of the carbohydrates and fats in your diet with lean proteins can help lower triglycerides (8).
Doing so can also help you reduce the calories in your diet since protein increases metabolism and promotes satiety or a feeling of fullness.
Lean sources of protein include:
- skinless white meat poultry
- beans, peas, and lentils
- low-fat dairy products
- round or loin
- white-fleshed fish
- pork loin
- round steak or top sirloin
Although fatty types of fish like salmon, mackerel, and herring aren’t lean, you should still consume them since are rich in heart-healthy fats that can lower triglycerides.
While limiting fat in your diet can help lower triglycerides, it’s generally unnecessary unless you have severely elevated levels (greater than 500 mg/dL) (8).
However, the type of fat that you consume is important.
You should consume mostly unsaturated fats as they have less of an impact on triglyceride levels and some types like omega-3 fatty acids can decrease levels.
Healthy sources of unsaturated fats include:
- olive oil
- nuts and seeds
- fatty fish
Foods to limit or avoid
Alcohol and foods rich in saturated fats and added sugars can increase triglycerides and therefore should be limited or avoided.
Alcohol can increase triglycerides, especially when consumed with a fatty meal.
Moderate alcohol consumption is OK if you choose to drink and have moderately elevated triglycerides (less than 500 mg/dL), but you should avoid alcohol entirely if your triglycerides are severely elevated (greater than 500 mg/dL) (8).
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as one drink per day for women and two for men.
Excessive alcohol use with high triglycerides can lead to pancreatitis.
Saturated fats are generally classified as “bad” fats since they have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
However, not all sources of saturated fats have been linked with an increased risk of heart disease, namely those found in full-fat dairy products like milk, yogurt, and cheese (11).
Still, guidelines recommend limiting saturated fats and emphasizing unsaturated fats (8).
Foods high in saturated fats include:
- full-fat dairy products
- fatty cuts of meat
- coconut and palm oil
- cakes and cookies
- processed meats like bacon and sausage
- fried foods
Added sugars and refined grains
Added sugars are sugars that are added during the manufacturing process to improve the taste and texture and extend shelf life.
However, they significantly increase the body’s production of triglycerides, and therefore increase blood triglyceride levels, especially when consumed as excess calories (12).
Common sources of added sugars include:
- sports drinks
- regular soda and energy drinks
- specialty coffee drinks
- barbeque sauce
- many breakfast cereals
- fruit snacks
- cakes and cookies
Along with added sugars, you should also limit refined grains.
Refined grains are processed in a way that removes the fiber-rich components from the grain.
Without this fiber, refined grains cause a greater increase in blood sugar levels, and consequently, triglycerides (8).
Examples of refined grains include white breads, pastas, and rice, as well as rolls, donuts, and sugary cereals.
Swapping refined grains with whole grains has been shown to significantly lower triglycerides (13).
3-day sample high triglycerides diet menu
Here’s a 3-day sample high triglycerides diet menu:
- Breakfast: spinach and eggs scramble and oatmeal topped with blueberries
- Lunch: grilled chicken salad
- Snack: low-fat cottage cheese topped with sliced peaches
- Dinner: pork loin and roasted carrots
Day 2 (vegan option)
- Breakfast: overnight oats topped with sliced banana
- Lunch: chickpea salad
- Snack: apple slices and walnuts
- Dinner: pan-roasted sweet potatoes and tempeh
- Breakfast: cottage cheese with sliced cucumber on whole-grain toast
- Lunch: citrus shrimp and avocado salad
- Snack: low-fat Greek yogurt topped with fruit and slivered almonds
- Dinner: baked salmon, brown rice, and grilled asparagus
Supplements to lower triglycerides
In addition to diet, supplementing with fish oil and vitamin D can also help lower triglycerides.
Fish oil supplements are the most studied and effective supplement available for lowering triglycerides.
These supplements are rich in polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
These omega-3 fatty acids reduce triglycerides by decreasing the body’s natural production of triglycerides and clearing the fat from the blood (14).
While most studies demonstrated the triglyceride-lowering effects of fish oil have used prescription products, dietary supplements from reputable manufacturers like Wiley’s Finest and Nordic Naturals are likely to offer the same benefit.
There are plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids like chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts, but the effects of omega-3 fatty acids these sources on triglycerides are less studied.
Vitamin D is a vitamin-like hormone that most people don’t get enough.
Most people don’t get enough vitamin D since food sources are limited, and while you can make vitamin D from the sun, regular sun exposure isn’t always recommended for increasing vitamin D since it can increase skin cancer risk (17).
Besides, some people with dark skin or older adults are less able to efficiently make vitamin D from the sun.
Consequently, more than 50% of the world’s popular have inadequate vitamin D levels (17).
There are many health problems associated with inadequate vitamin D levels, including elevated triglycerides (18).
However, supplementing with vitamin D can help restore and maintain optimal levels, which can help reduce triglycerides.
A review of 41 studies found that vitamin D supplementation significantly reduced triglycerides, potentially by decreasing the body’s production of triglycerides (19).
A daily dose of 1,000–2,000 IU (25–50 mcg) is likely sufficient for most people, but you may need larger doses if you are severely deficient (21).
Find Vitamin D supplements online.
The bottom line
Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood that — when elevated — increase your risk of developing heart disease, a stroke, or in severe cases, pancreatitis.
While there is no best diet for reducing triglycerides, emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can help lower triglycerides.
At the same time, you should limit or avoid alcohol, added sugars, and refined carbohydrates as they can elevate triglycerides.
In addition to diet, supplementing with fish oil and vitamin D can also help reduce triglycerides.