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The question: My doctor told me I have high blood triglycerides. Are there foods that can lower my level?

The answer: While high triglycerides – too much fat in the bloodstream – can contribute to hardening of the arteries and heart disease, the good news is that most people can lower their number through diet. In fact, it's estimated that lifestyle changes can reduce triglycerides by as much as 50 per cent.

Triglycerides in your blood are made from the foods you eat. When you eat, calories that are not needed right away are converted to triglycerides. So if you regularly eat more calories than you need, your blood triglycerides can rise. (A high triglyceride level is considered 1.7 millimole/litre or greater.)

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Eating too much sugar and refined carbohydrates, drinking too much alcohol, carrying excess weight and being sedentary can all raise blood triglycerides. People with poorly controlled diabetes and kidney disease can also have high triglycerides.

If you are overweight, cutting calories to lose weight can have a dramatic triglyceride-lowering effect. Not only is being overweight linked to high triglycerides, carrying extra body fat around the abdomen is too.

A steady intake of refined carbohydrates – added sugars and white starchy foods – also drives up triglycerides. Assess your usual diet. If you drink sugary beverages such as pop, iced tea and fruit juice I recommend you replace them with water. Limit your intake of sweets and desserts to once a week. (These strategies will also help with weight loss.)

Instead of refined starches, choose, high fibre whole grain foods such as oatmeal, 100 per cent whole grain breads and crackers, brown rice, quinoa and whole-wheat pasta.

It's also important to reduce your intake of fructose, a simple sugar that can increase triglycerides. It's found in table sugar, honey and high fructose corn syrup as well as fruit and vegetables. Read ingredient lists and limit processed foods made with fructose (e.g. high fructose corn syrup, fructose-glucose, sucrose, honey).

Fruits lower in fructose include cantaloupe, grapefruit, oranges, strawberries, peaches, nectarines and bananas. Vegetables lower in fructose include butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, carrots, leaf lettuce, sweet potatoes, okra, spinach, and red and white potatoes.

Supplements of fish oil are also effective at reducing triglycerides; speak to your dietitian or doctor about the proper type and dose of fish oil.

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And finally, if you consume alcohol, reduce your intake to no more than one drink a day (e.g. 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of spirits, or 12 ounces of beer).

Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen every Thursday at noon on CTV News Channel'sDirect (www.lesliebeck.com).

Click here to submit your questions. Our Health Experts will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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