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Lifestyle Changes Can Slash Blood Fat Levels, Experts Say

MONDAY, April 18 (HealthDay News) -- Healthy lifestyle changes can significantly lower elevated levels of triglycerides, a type of blood fat associated with heart disease and other health problems, says an American Heart Association scientific statement released Monday.

About one-third (31 percent) of adults in the United States have elevated triglyceride levels, defined as more than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).

These levels can be lowered 20 percent to 50 percent by replacing unhealthy saturated fats with healthy unsaturated dietary fats, being physically active and losing excess weight, according to the statement authors, who analyzed more than 500 international studies from the past 30 years.

"The good news is that high triglycerides can, in large part, be reduced through major lifestyle changes," statement committee chair Dr. Michael Miller, director of the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, said in an AHA news release.

Clinically, the new guidelines recommend lowering optimal triglyceride levels to less than 100 mg/dL and using non-fasting triglyceride testing as an initial screen.

"In contrast to cholesterol, where lifestyle measures are important but may not be the solution, high triglycerides are often quite responsive to lifestyle measures that include weight loss if overweight, changes in diet and regular physical activity," said Miller, who is also a professor of medicine in epidemiology and public health at the university.

The statement outlines recommended dietary changes for people with high triglyceride levels. These include limiting:

  • added sugar to less than 5 to 10 percent of calories consumed, or about 100 calories per day for women and 150 calories for men
  • trans fat to less than 1 percent of total calories
  • alcohol
  • fructose from both processed and natural foods to less than 50 to 100 grams per day

Figuring out the amount of added sugar in foods is tricky because it is not listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel of packaged foods. Noting that Americans obtain most of their added sugar in soda and other sweetened beverages, the American Heart Association recommends drinking no more than 36 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages a week.

A healthy diet for people with high triglycerides should include more vegetables; lower-fructose fruits, such as cantaloupe, grapefruit, strawberries, peaches and bananas; whole-grains; and healthier unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish.

Adults with elevated triglyceride levels should do moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) for at least 150 minutes per week.

The statement is published April 18 in the journal Circulation.

More information

HealthLink B.C. has more about triglycerides.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, April 18, 2011

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