From “Ask Dr. Pam”

Pamela A. Popper, Ph.D., N.D.

Wellness Forum Health

 How does eating sugar or refined foods result in higher triglyceride levels?

 Triglycerides are fats in the blood stream. Both dietary fat and carbohydrate can contribute to high triglyceride levels. Carbohydrate can be converted into fat in the liver through a process called de novo lipogensis. This takes place under certain circumstances, such as when people eat a diet that contains a lot of refined foods, juices, and soft drinks; and/or when people overeat. Both are common practices in Westernized countries. The reason why the body converts excess carbohydrate into lipids is because fat is more energy-dense and a more efficient storage form of excess calories.

Unfortunately, the relationship between carbohydrate intake and triglyceride levels has been misrepresented by some health professionals, who tell people that the cause of high triglycerides is a high-carbohydrate diet. They conveniently omit the fact that the relationship is between refined carbohydrates, juices, soft drinks, and overeating, not between a high-carbohydrate diet and triglyceride levels. Studies have shown that eating a diet high in carbohydrate from whole plant foods does not raise triglyceride levels.  One study showed that when people eat starchy foods instead of simple carbohydrates, their triglyceride levels are reduced.[i]  Another study showed that adoption of a whole-food plant-based diet, combined with exercise, reduced triglyceride levels significantly in only 3 weeks.[ii]

Individuals who want to lower their triglyceride levels should keep dietary fat low, 15.0% or less of daily calories, eliminate juices and sugary beverages from the daily diet, restrict intake of refined foods to only special occasions and holidays, and avoid overeating.  A small percentage of people develop high triglycerides as a result of eating large amounts of fruit.[iii]  Restricting fruit intake to 2 servings per day or less and avoiding dried fruit can be helpful in lowering triglyceride levels for these individuals.

[i] Hudgins CH.  “Human fatty acid synthesis is reduced after the substitution of dietary starch for sugar.”  Am J Clin Nutr. 1998 Apr;67(4):631-9.

[ii] Barnard RJ.  “Role of diet and exercise in the management of hyperinsulinemia and associated atherosclerotic risk factors.”Am J Cardiol. 1992 Feb 15;69(5):440-4.

[iii] Truswell AS.  “Food carbohydrates and plasma lipids–an update.”  Am J Clin Nutr. 1994 Mar;59(3 Suppl):710S-718S.