What are Triglycerides?

By Jennifer Carland, RD, CDN

Triglycerides are the type of fat carried in our blood. They not only come from the fat in the foods we eat, but also the overconsumption of calories, sugar and alcohol. These excess calories are automatically converted to triglycerides and stored in the body as fat. Some triglycerides are necessary to protect our organs and for energy, but too high a level of triglycerides increases the risk of heart disease.

How do I know if I have a high level of triglycerides?
Your doctor may order blood work for you at your annual physical (or as needed) to test things such as your triglycerides. Triglyceride levels are tested as part of the “lipid profile,” which also tests for the amounts of total cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and LDL (bad) cholesterol. This blood test should be taken after 12 hours of fasting as triglycerides are higher after eating a meal.

A normal level of triglycerides is under 150 mg/dl; borderline is 151 – 200 mg/dl; high is 200 – 499 mg/dl; and very high is 500 mg/dl or higher. Anything over 200 means that you are at increased risk of heart attack, stroke or death. If you have this blood work done, your doctor should discuss your results with you.

Whether you’ve had this blood test done or not, everyone can benefit from eating a healthier diet.

How can I lower my triglycerides?
A healthy diet, regular exercise, limiting alcohol intake, and losing weight and/or maintaining a healthy weight can all help lower triglycerides. Discuss with your doctor before starting any exercise programs, and decide together if medication may also be necessary.

• Limit unhealthy fats such as saturated fats and trans fats, which are found in foods such as butter, cheese and other dairy products with high fat content, baked goods, fried foods, meat and poultry.

• Eat healthier fats including polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, omega-3s and omega-6s, which are found in foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, fish, and low-fat dairy products.

  • Omega-3s have particularly been found to help lower triglycerides. It is also important to know that omega-3s are not    made by the body; we must consume foods with omega-3s in order to survive.
  • The recommended adequate intake of omega-3s for adults is 1.1 – 1.6 grams each day. In order to meet these needs, try to consume fatty fish at least twice a week, including tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovy, halibut, and any fresh water fish. Don’t like eating fish? Other sources of omega-3s include flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil, soy, walnuts, mayonnaise, refried beans, baked beans and kidney beans.

• Limit simple carbohydrates and added sugars found in candy, syrups, soft drinks, processed and packaged baked goods.

• Limit starchy carbohydrates including refined/enriched pastas and breads made with white flour as well as potatoes.

• Consume more nutritious carbohydrates such as whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals; brown rice; ancient grains; oats; fruits; vegetables; beans and legumes.

What you eat can have a tremendous impact on your health. Follow these and other healthy tips to enjoy your best health.