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High Triglycerides: Can They Cause Weight Gain?

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 29, 2024

Triglycerides are fat found in your blood that stores excess energy from your diet for later use.

Studies have shown that a low-carb diet is more effective at reducing triglycerides than a high-carb diet. This suggests that what you eat plays a big role in your triglyceride levels, and high levels may signal that you're eating too much.

In this guide, we'll explore the connection between triglycerides and overeating, learn the causes and risks of high triglyceride levels, and discuss management techniques.

🔑 Key Takeaways:

  • Triglycerides are a type of fat that provides energy where the excess is stored in fat cells.
  • High triglyceride levels are linked to conditions like metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and diabetes.
  • Men and older adults are more affected by high triglyceride levels.
  • High triglycerides do not directly cause weight gain, but they can indicate an unhealthy lifestyle that may contribute to weight gain over time.
  • Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, regular exercise, smoking cessation, and staying hydrated can help manage triglyceride levels.
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What Are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat digested in our blood that comes from the foods we eat. After digestion, these fats move and circulate in the bloodstream, supplying your cells with the energy they need.

But when the body has more energy than it can use, the excess triglycerides are stored in fat cells. These reserves can be later used for energy in between meals.

High triglyceride levels in the bloodstream signal more than just excess fats in the body. They highlight a potential risk for conditions like metabolic syndrome. This can lead to developing underlying disorders such as heart disease, poorly controlled diabetes, or thyroid conditions.

Triglyceride levels in the blood can be measured to determine whether they're within a healthy range. These levels can give insights into the person’s dietary patterns, potential metabolic issues, and risk for cardiovascular diseases.

How Do You Test Triglycerides Levels?

A lipid panel test is one way to know if you have healthy triglyceride levels in your bloodstream. It’s essential for assessing the risk of developing heart disease and stroke. Let’s look into the details of this test.

What is a Lipid Panel Test?

A lipid panel test is a blood test that measures the specific amount of fat levels like cholesterol, HDL, LDL, VLDL, and triglycerides in your blood.

The main purpose of this test is to determine the risk of developing heart disease.

How Do You Prepare for the Lipid Panel Test?

It's essential to fast for 9 to 12 hours before taking your blood sample. Only water is allowed during the fasting period. Medications may also influence the test results because of their ability to change lipid levels. So, informing your doctor about any drugs you're taking is crucial.

How Do You Interpret Triglyceride Test Results?

Triglyceride levels are measured using the unit mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter). They typically fall under the following categories:

  • Healthy: Below 150 mg/dL for adults; lower than 90 mg/dL (10-19 years old)
  • Borderline high: Between 150 and 199 mg/dL
  • High: Between 200 and 499 mg/dL
  • Very high: Above 500 mg/dL

🩺 A Doctor’s Note:

A condition with high triglycerides is known as hypertriglyceridemia. To diagnose metabolic syndrome, healthcare providers measure blood pressure and conduct blood tests to check blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

What Is the Connection Between High Triglycerides and Overeating?

Overeating is when you consume more food than your body requires. This means eating more calories than what you burn. Consuming excessive high-calorie foods, especially sweets, causes your liver to produce more triglycerides.

And if you continue overeating, the body accumulates more fat, raising triglyceride levels. Elevated triglyceride levels and overeating can lead to weight gain and eventually obesity, further increasing health risks, such as metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart conditions and type 2 diabetes.

So we've seen how overeating plays a role in boosting triglyceride levels. But what makes us eat more than we should? Let's dive into the reasons behind overeating.

What Are the Causes of Overeating?

Overeating can be due to several factors, which are often physiological, psychological, and environmental causes. They are the following:

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Overeating?

Overeating can make you feel the following symptoms:

Does High Triglycerides Indicate Overeating?

No. But overeating can lead to being overweight, which is only one of the many factors that can cause high triglyceride levels. Other factors that can affect levels include the following:

  • High sugar or carbohydrate diet
  • High alcohol consumption
  • Smoking
  • Having excess weight or obesity
  • Being physically inactive
  • Genetic conditions
  • Having Type 2 diabetes
  • Low levels of thyroid hormone
  • Having medical conditions in the liver or kidney
  • Use of certain medications

What Are the Complications of Having High Triglyceride Levels?

High triglycerides can be a red flag for other health issues, especially metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of health problems that increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. It's like a warning sign that gives you the whole picture of your health.

To determine if someone has metabolic syndrome, they must exhibit three or more of the following risk factors:

Can You Have High Triglycerides but Normal Cholesterol Levels?

Yes, it's possible to have high triglycerides but normal cholesterol levels. While triglycerides and cholesterol are lipids (fats) in the blood, they serve different functions. Factors like high fat and sugar diet, excessive alcohol consumption, and lack of exercise can influence them.

How Are Triglycerides Different From Cholesterol?

Triglycerides and cholesterol are lipids (fats) found in the blood, often leading to confusion among individuals. However, they serve distinct roles in the body. Here's a breakdown of their differences and how they're linked to overeating:

Triglycerides

  • Origin: Some from food, but mainly produced by the liver
  • Function: Store unused calories; provide energy
  • Impact on Health: Can increase heart disease risk

Cholesterol

  • Origin: Some from food, but mainly produced by the liver
  • Function: Build cell membranes; produce hormones
  • Impact on Health: Excess LDL increases heart disease risk; HDL helps protect

Consuming excessive fatty and sugary foods raises triglycerides and can affect cholesterol. While both are vital for health, their increased levels linked to obesity may increase the risk of heart disease.

How Do You Manage High Triglyceride Levels?

Managing high triglyceride levels is crucial for maintaining heart health and preventing potential complications. Here are some ways you can manage them:

Eating Balanced Diet

After understanding the importance of managing high triglyceride levels, your diet is one of the most impactful areas to focus on. Let's delve into how dietary choices can influence these levels.

What To Avoid

Here are some foods that cause high triglycerides:

  • Sugary foods and beverages: Soft drinks, candies, baked goods, and other foods containing added sugars.
  • Refined carbohydrates: White bread, white rice, and other refined grain products.
  • Alcoholic beverages: Excessive alcohol, even if it's from wine, beer, or spirits, can raise triglyceride levels.
  • High-fat meats: Fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb.
  • Full-fat dairy products: Butter, cheese, whole milk, and ice cream.
  • Trans fats: These are commonly found in processed foods, especially in baked goods and fried foods, and anything with "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oils in the ingredients.
  • Certain oils: Coconut and palm oil can increase triglycerides for some people.
  • Processed and fried foods: Most fast foods and other deep-fried items.

What To Eat

If you're looking to manage or reduce high triglyceride levels, here are some foods and dietary patterns you should focus on:

  • Fatty fish: Fishes like salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and trout are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Whole grains: Foods like oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, and whole wheat bread are fiber-rich and can help manage triglycerides.
  • Fruits and vegetables: These are low in harmful fats and sugars and high in beneficial fibers, vitamins, and antioxidants.
  • Nuts and seeds: Almonds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds can benefit heart health.
  • Legumes: Beans, lentils, chickpeas, and other legumes are rich in protein and fiber.
  • Lean proteins: Skinless chicken, turkey, and tofu can be good protein sources without the added fat of some meats.
  • Low-fat or non-fat dairy: In their low-fat versions, yogurt, milk, and cheese can provide calcium and protein without the added fat.
  • Fiber: Fiber helps reduce the absorption of cholesterol and sugar in the intestines, which can aid in lowering blood triglyceride levels.
  • Healthy fats: Avocado, olives, and their respective oils, as well as nuts and seeds, provide healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
  • Green tea: Some studies suggest green tea might help reduce triglyceride levels.
  • Herbs and spices: Spices like garlic and turmeric can have heart-healthy benefits.
  • Limit alcohol: If you do consume alcohol, do so in moderation.

Practicing Lifestyle Changes

Beyond the numbers and tests, lifestyle plays a big role in triglyceride levels. Here are some ways that can help you lower triglyceride levels:

  • Lose Weight: Even a 5-10% reduction in body weightcan significantly decrease triglyceride levels. Don’t forget that losing weight also means adhering to a strict diet.
  • Regular Exercise: Even 30 minutes of physical activity can help reduce triglycerides by up to 30%. Simple exercises like walking, cycling, brisk walking, or swimming can be helpful.
  • Avoid Smoking: The nicotine found in cigarettes can elevate triglyceride levels.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking enough water supports metabolism and can help in maintaining balanced triglyceride levels and losing weight.

Taking Medications

  • Prescribed drugs: Medications may be prescribed for those with extremely high triglyceride levels or those who cannot achieve target levels with lifestyle changes alone. Commonly prescribed drugs include fibrates, niacin, omega-3 fatty acid supplements, and statins.
  • Regular check-ups and monitoring: Monitoring your triglyceride levels is essential. A lipid panel or lipid profile is a standard blood test measuring triglycerides and cholesterol levels.

Bottom line

High triglycerides aren't solely an indicator of overeating. Although excessive consumption can elevate these levels, various other factors, such as genetics, lifestyle, and consuming sugary and fatty foods, come into play.

Consulting a healthcare provider is essential if you suspect your triglyceride levels might be linked to your diet. Ensuring a balanced diet and active routine is the proactive step towards overall health.

FAQs on High Triglycerides and Overeating

Does having high triglycerides cause weight gain?

No, high triglyceride levels do not directly cause weight gain. However, they can indicate an unhealthy diet or lifestyle, which might contribute to weight gain.

What is the first-line treatment for high triglycerides?

The first-line treatment for high triglycerides usually involves lifestyle changes, like weight management and change of lifestyle and diet.

​​What are the warning signs of high triglycerides?

Extremely high levels can lead to fatty deposits in the skin called xanthomas and contribute to fatty liver disease, causing fatigue or upper abdominal discomfort.

Why are my triglycerides high even though I eat healthy?

Even when maintaining a healthy diet, other factors such as genetics, poorly controlled diabetes, thyroid issues, kidney and liver conditions, and certain medications can lead to elevated triglyceride levels.

Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
Virtual weight loss solution
A personalized GLP-1 medication program delivered to you via our partner Korb Health
Illustration of a healthcare provider asking questions on a smart phone.
  • Free consultation; program starts at $269/mo
  • Checkmark Inside Circle.Customized online program and wellness coaching
  • Prescription medications and supplies shipped to your door