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Carbohydrates & Triglycerides

By Jay Schwartz

Carbohydrates in food can have a significant effect on triglyceride levels in human blood.

Refined carbohydrates can increase triglyceride levels; unrefined carbohydrates can lower triglyceride levels. Knowing which carbohydrates are refined and unrefined is important because a high triglyceride level increases the odds of coronary heart disease and premature death.

Basics of Carbohydrates

Foods consist of carbohydrates, fats and proteins. There are four calories in one gram of carbohydrates and proteins, nine calories in one gram of fat. The difference is important because people who weigh more are more likely to have high triglyceride levels, according to “Controlling Cholesterol.”

Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates like alcohol, honey and sugar have no nutritional value, according to “Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program For Reversing Heart Disease.” Complex carbohydrates, which are also known as starches, are often very nutritious. Beans, fruits, grains and vegetables consist mostly of complex carbohydrates.

Basics of Triglycerides

Triglycerides are fats in the blood. People should change their diets if they are at moderate risk for heart disease and consult doctors if they are at high risk.

According to “Controlling Cholesterol,” 40- to 59-year-old men don’t have to change their diets if their triglyceride levels are below 122 milligrams per deciliter. They are at moderate risk if their levels are between 122 and 170 and at high risk if their levels are between 171 and 231. Women of the same age are at moderate risk with 99 to 140 levels, at high risk with 141 to 190 levels.

The Wrong Carbohydrates

Simple and complex carbohydrates can be refined or unrefined. Refined carbohydrates are often very healthy, but they can increase triglycerides because they “tend to trigger higher insulin levels,” according to “The New Pritikin Program.”

Refined carbohydrates are carbohydrates that had their fiber, bran and other nutrients removed while being transformed from their original form. Mashed potatoes and apple juice are refined carbohydrates. “How To Improve Triglyceride Levels,” a publication of Harvard (Mass.) University, reports that people with high-risk triglycerides should eat less white bread, white pasta and white rice as well as fewer baked cookies, baked cakes and pretzels.

The Right Carbohydrates

Fruits and vegetables in their original form, including potatoes and apples, can reduce triglyceride levels because they are unrefined carbohydrates. The best choices are the ones with the fewest fat calories and overall calories.

“Controlling Cholesterol” lists the following unrefined carbohydrates as having “traces” of fat and fewer than 100 calories per serving--apples, apricots, asparagus, beets, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumbers, grapefruit, lettuce, mushrooms, onions, oranges, papayas, peaches, peas, pineapples, potatoes, squash, tangerines and tomatoes.

Carbohydrates’ Significance

Nutritionists recommend that Americans eat more carbohydrates, partly because the change would reduce triglycerides.

Dean Ornish estimates that 30 percent of calories of a typical diet comes from carbohydrates, 45 percent from fat, 25 percent from protein. He recommends that 70 to 75 percent of calories come from carbohydrates, almost all from unrefined carbohydrates. The U.S. government’s Daily Food Pyramid recommends three to five servings of vegetables, two to four servings of fruits and six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta.

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