Triglycerides are fatty substances composed of three fatty acids – hence the tri in the name. Most of the fat in the body is found in the form of triglycerides.

What Triglycerides Do

When food is eaten, the calories it supplies, if they are not immediately required as fuel by the body, are converted into triglycerides and transported to the fat cells to be stored. Between meals, hormones trigger the release of triglycerides from the fat cells to provide energy.

Triglycerides, like cholesterol, cannot dissolve in water and so are transported about the body in lipoproteins (the LDL and HDL you hear about in every cholesterol discussion).

Triglycerides vs. Cholesterol

Basically, they are different types of fats that perform different roles in the body. Cholesterol is used to make certain hormones, assist in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and build cell walls. Triglycerides provide the body with fuel.

Normal Levels

Triglycerides can be measured in the body by a simple blood test. A fast of between 9 to 12 hours is required before such a test, as triglyceride levels remain elevated for some time after eating.

The ranges into which test results fall are:

Normal Less than 150 mg/dL (milligrams per decilitre)
Borderline-high 150 – 199 mg/dL
High 200 – 499 mg/dL
Very high 500 mg/dL and above

High Triglyceride Risks

High levels of triglycerides in the blood can increase your risk of atherosclerosis, heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

Certain medications, poorly controlled type-2 diabetes, liver disease, kidney disease and low levels of thyroid hormones may also be associated with high triglyceride levels.

How Do You Lower Your Triglyceride Level?

Lower your calorie intake and lose weight. Regularly eating more calories than you burn contributes to high triglyceride levels as your body seeks to store this unused energy.

Reduce your carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrate consumption triggers the body to produce insulin. Insulin is associated with increased triglyceride production. Avoid sugary foods and those made with refined carbohydrates such as white flour.

Eat healthier fats. Replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats – olive, peanut and canola oils are good sources. Reduce your intake of fatty meat and fat-loaded dairy products (cheese and butter).

Increase your omega-3 intake. Omega-3, an essential fatty acid group, is found in oily cold water fish, flax seeds, walnuts, cabbage and cauliflower. Increased intake helps lower triglyceride levels.

Don’t eat trans fat. Trans fat is an extremely dangerous form of fat found in many commercially baked goods. It is made by hardening liquid vegetable oils through a process of partial hydrogenation. Read the label. If you see the term “partially hydrogenated” anywhere, leave it on the shelf.

Exercise regularly. You don’t have to workout to Olympic standards – even a brisk 30 minute walk a few times a week can help increase “good” cholesterol and lower triglycerides.

Avoid alcohol. I know, know… But alcohol is a powerful raiser of triglycerides and even a small amount has a significant effect. It’s your choice…

Friend or Foe

As with cholesterol, triglycerides play a vital role within the body. Without them we would be unable to store and transport energy. But levels of triglycerides that are too high promote debilitating and sometimes deadly diseases.

Medication is available for the control of these fats, but lifestyle changes, too, can have a profound effect on triglyceride levels. A few small changes to your diet, a little more exercise, and you and your children could live longer, healthier lives.

Learn more about triglycerides in this video.

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