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Triglycerides and Your Health

What Are Triglycerides and How Do You Improve Them?

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If you're concerned about heart health, then you probably take steps to reduce your cholesterol and keep your blood pressure in check. But there's another important measure you should be aware of: your triglycerides. People with high triglycerides (called hypertriglyceridemia) often have low HDL ("good cholesterol") levels; this combination is considered by many experts to be associated with an increased risk for heart disease.

Triglycerides are the most common forms of fat found in the food you eat and in your body. The visible fat on chicken and steak, for example, is actually triglycerides. Your body stores the extra calories you eat inside your fat cells as triglycerides. Since your body regularly uses stored body fat as fuel between meals, the triglycerides stored in your fat cells are released into the bloodstream. The more excess body fat you have, and the more extra calories you eat, the higher your triglyceride levels are likely to be.

A simple blood cholesterol test (also known as a lipid profile), performed after fasting for nine to 12 hours, can determine your triglyceride level. Less than 150 mg/dL of triglycerides is considered normal. Levels above 150 are considered "high" to different degrees: 150-199 mg/dL (borderline high), 200-499 mg/dL (high) and over 500 mg/dL (very high).

High triglycerides are correlated with a hardening and/or thickening of the artery walls, a condition known as atherosclerosis, which elevates your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. They can also be a "symptom" of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and poorly managed type 2 diabetes—additional health conditions that increase the risk of heart disease.

So how do you lower your triglycerides? By making heart-healthy lifestyle choices when it comes to your diet, weight and fitness. Here are a few ways to start:
  • Lose weight if you are overweight. Since your body releases triglycerides into the bloodstream from your stored fat, the less fat you have available, the lower your triglycerides will be. You don't have to lose a lot of weight to see a benefit either. Losing just seven to 10 percent of your body weight (just 14 to 20 pounds for a 200-pound person) can make a difference in your triglycerides—and for your heart!
     
  • Control your calories. Consuming more calories than your body needs results in the extra calories being stored as fat (triglycerides) in the body. By eating what you need—not more—you'll help manage your weight and lower your triglycerides, too. Use the SparkPeople program to determine your daily calorie needs, and the Nutrition Tracker to keep your calories in check.
     
  • Avoid sugar and fast-digesting carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates (like white flour) and sugars in any form (sugar, corn syrup, natural sweeteners, honey, etc.) are more likely to be stored as fat (triglycerides), especially if eaten in excess. Limit your intake of added sugars and make sure that you're not overeating carbs, which should make up no more than 60 percent of your total calories each day. When making carbohydrate choices, choose fiber-rich, unprocessed foods as much as possible, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans. These are slower-digesting and less likely to be stored as fat when compared to other carbohydrate sources.
     
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet. Limit your daily cholesterol intake to no more than 200 milligrams and keep your saturated fat intake to less than 7% of your daily calories. Choose foods rich in heart-healthy fats, such as nuts, olive oil, seafood and avocadoes while limiting your intake of trans fats (hydrogenated oils). If you do drink alcohol, you may need to cut back. Small amounts of alcohol (which is high in calories and sugar and is often stored as fat) have been shown to elevate triglyceride levels, so cut back on drinking.
     
  • Exercise regularly. The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most of all days of the week. Exercise boosts your HDL (good) cholesterol levels and lowers your LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and your triglycerides. Plus, it helps you to burn extra calories and lose weight—both of which can reduce triglycerides in their own right. Get started with SparkPeople's Heart-Smart Workout Plan!
This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, MS, Licensed and Registered Dietitian.

Sources
American Heart Association. "Triglycerides," accessed March 2011. www.americanheart.org.

Mayo Clinic. "Triglycerides: Why Do They Matter?," accessed March 2011. www.mayoclinic.com.

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Third Report of the Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults," accessed March 2011. www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

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Member Comments

  • Great information. Thanks for sharing!
  • important info ...I learned what to do to keep healthy
  • Thanks for sharing.
  • I've never given much thought about triglycerides for some obscure reason I can't imagine why not...however reading both chicken fat and steak fat are used or recognized by our bodies as triglyceride i.e. fats it took me aback. Think maybe it's time to rethink of more than carb, starch, fiber, fruit, veggie, sugar etc.! Hmmm good food for thought. ??
  • thank you for the info
  • ABCOACH
    I'm a health coach and while this article is informative, it does have some errors. The author writes - "Avoid sugar and fast-digesting carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates (like white flour) and sugars in any form (sugar, corn syrup, natural sweeteners, honey, etc.) are more likely to be stored as fat (triglycerides), especially if eaten in excess. Limit your intake of added sugars and make sure that you're not overeating carbs, which should make up no more than 60% of your total calories each day. When making carbohydrate choices, choose fiber-rich, unprocessed foods as much as possible, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans. These are slower-digesting and less likely to be stored as fat when compared to other carbohydrate sources." While it's great advice to avoid processed sugars and grains, it doesn't makes sense that slower-digesting carbs would be less likely to be stored as fat when compared to other "fast-acting" or higher glycemic foods. If glycogen stores are full in the muscles and liver, it doesn't matter if CHO are fast or slow acting, they will still be stored as fat.
  • This article, while full of excellent--and accurate--informa
    tion, is incomplete. There are certain prescription medications such as hormonal birth control, steroids, beta blockers, anti-psychotics and even blood pressure medications that can elevate triglycerides. While all the author's advice for lowering your triglyceride levels are absolutely reasonable, one should also consider the potential for factors which might require close consultation with your physician.
  • My husband has had triglycerides problems for years and its a constant yoyo. He cant take statins that causes body aches. He has tried fish oil and is currently taking prescription. Latest results this week was trig back up to 1591. It has been determined its hereditary and been going on for at least 10 years. I need a diet plan to follow. He is a country boy and likes country foods. Eats several fruits and vegetables a day and no or very limited alcohol. ( maybe a case a year, if that) Please help
  • MRCMDT
    Good advice since heart problems run in my family/
  • JMONTIE
    Very informative.
  • ISLAYY
    My triglycerides count is 2.36 mmol/L. How do I convert this number to correspond with the number in your article?
  • BG2YHEART
    Yes, there have been five clinical trials whose subgroup (high TGs) analyses have all shown an outcome benefit (fewer heart attacks, strokes, etc.) when high TGs are lowered medically. Vascepa is effective in lowering TG levels and has a good safety profile, notably better than fenofibrates. Its manufacturer should be permitted to inform those 36 million high TG patients, and their doctors and insurers, of the ANCHOR trial data, and to market Vascepa for the high TG indication. Only then will these patients, in consultation with their doctors, be able to make informed decisions whether to use Vascepa to lower their high TGs.
  • CMM3RD
    I echo ZMANINMD's comment about the relatively new drug Vascepa. If your TGs are over 200 and persist above that level after you have tried diet and exercise, do a little research on Vascepa and then ask your doctor (who may never have heard of it because it is new and its manufacturer is a small company), to consider whether you should try it. It's a highly purified Omega 3 called EPA, which stands for Eicosapentanoic Acid Ethyl Ester. Multiple clinical trials showed it to be effective in lowering elevated TGs, and it also lowers some markers of systemic inflammation. Even better is that it is very safe, in particular it does not, unlike the older drug Lovaza, which your doctor probably has heard of, raise LDLc ("bad" cholesterol) and it has no "black box" warning of an association with atrial fibrillation. Also, in one trial, in addition to lowering elevated TGs, it actually raised HDLc ("good" cholesterol) slightly. The FDA approved it in 2012. Good luck!
  • CHICAGO471
    I just love this site each moring when i get up , the first thing i do is check my sparks . i love all the different receipes & have tryed quite a few . just love all the info & different sites that i can check out thank you so much. job well done. i espically love that the receipes have all the calories , etc listed
  • HAZEL12310
    Good information.

About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

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