Triglycerides and HDL

What are Triglycerides and HDL?

Triglycerides (TG) are fats found in the blood. They are affected by weight, lifestyle, diet, and family history. Lower is better. HDL is called the “good cholesterol” because high levels of HDL can help protect against heart disease. Higher is better.

Why are they important?

High triglycerides and low HDL increase your risk for heart disease.

How to Lower Your Triglycerides


Limit Simple Sugars

  • Limit simple sugar intake to 1–2 servings/week
  • 1 serving = 100 calories
  • Simple Sugars include: Corn syrup, honey, sweetened soft drinks, candy, baked goods, jam/ jelly

Eat Fruits and Vegetables

  • 4–6 or more serving of fruits and vegetables/day
  • Better choices are fresh or frozen with “no added sugars”
  • 100% fruit juices (Limit 1/2 cup/day)
  • Serving size: 1 medium apple = 1 serving; 1/2 cup steamed vegetables = 1 serving; 1 cup raw vegetables = 1 serving

Choose High Fiber Carbohydrates

  • Avoid refined grains such as white bread, white rice and pasta, which can raise triglycerides more than whole grain and high fiber products.
  • Choose whole wheat products and include oat bran for fiber

Choose “Good” Fats

  • Use monounsaturated fats—canola, olive or peanut oil.
  • Examples of one serving: 1 tsp oil; 1 TBS walnuts, almonds, peanuts; 1 TBS reduced fat peanut butter or 2 tsp regular peanut butter


  • Saturated Fats—coconut oil, palm oil, hydrogenated fats, animal fats
  • Trans Fats—used in baked goods and some margarines
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids: Eat 2–3 servings per week of “cold water” fish—salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel; one serving = 3 ounces after cooking
  • Ground flax seed, flax seed oil, nuts and fish oil capsules

Activity Level, Weight, and Lifestyle Changes

Activity Level
Regular aerobic exercise at moderate to high levels helps to lower TG, raise HDL and maintain ideal body weight. Ideally, one should exercise 5–7 days per week for 30 minutes per day; or 60 minutes per day to achieve weight loss. Activity can be broken into segments throughout the day. Pedometers can help quantify activity level; gradually increase to a goal of 10,000 steps per day.

Examples of Moderate Physical Activity in Healthy Adults

  • Brisk walking (3–4 mph) for 30–40 minutes
  • Swimming—laps for 20 minutes
  • Bicycling for pleasure or transportation, 5 miles in 30 minutes
  • Volleyball (noncompetitive) for 45 minutes
  • Raking leaves for 30 minutes
  • Moderate lawn mowing (push a powered mower) for 30 minutes
  • Home care—heavy cleaning
  • Basketball for 15–20 minutes
  • Golf—pulling a cart or carrying clubs
  • Social dancing for 30 minutes

Excess weight can contribute to elevated TG. Losing 5–10 lbs can improve your TG. 3,500 calories = 1 pound weight gain or loss. Example: To lose 1 lb per week, reduce calories by 500 calories/day or eat 200 fewer calories and increase activity by 300 kcal/day.

Alcohol can raise TG. If your TG are very high (over 500 mg/dL), it is best to completely avoid alcohol. For mild to moderate increases in TG, it is recommended that women limit their alcohol intake to no more than 1 drink/day and 3 drinks/week, men to no more than 2 drinks/day and no more than 5 drinks/week.

According to the American Heart Association, the serving sizes of alcoholic beverages are:
• 5 ounces of wine • 12 ounces of beer • 11/2 ounces alcohol

Smoking cigarettes contributes to low HDL. If you smoke, you should stop.

Medications Used to Lower TG and Raise HDL Cholesterol


  • By prescription: fenofibrate, gemfibrozil (generic names)
  • Primary action is to lower TG, can also increase HDL


  • By prescription: Niaspan
  • Over the counter (vitamin B3)*
  • Raises HDL and lowers TG

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

  • By prescription: Lovaza
  • Over the counter (fish oil capsules)*
  • Primary action is to lower TG, can also increase HDL

Your health care provider may prescribe one or more medications to treat high Triglycerides or low HDL. Ask your health care provider before taking any over the counter products.

Disclaimer: This and other PCNA educational materials are for information purposes only and are not intended to replace medical advice or diagnose or treat health problems. Health-related decisions should be made in partnership with a healthcare provider. It is the reader's responsibility to seek out the most current, accurate information.