Triglycerides: Keeping the Numbers Down

News about cholesterol is everywhere, and the general population is pretty knowledgeable about the role of cholesterol in the body and its damaging effects on health. Somewhat less understood is the role of triglycerides, which also are damaging to one’s health. Triglycerides are the same form of fat that is found in foods. They also are created by excess calories, stored as fat in the body. Triglycerides usually are stored as fat in the body. However, some triglycerides are in the blood and responsible for atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fat and cholesterol in the arteries. When excessive levels of triglycerides build up in the body, they raise health risks, including heart attack and stroke. Though ideal levels for triglycerides are under 100 mg/dL, risks for cardiovascular disease really begin at fasting levels of 150 mg/dL or greater.


According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, criteria for heart disease risk is as follows: 

Risk Level                  Triglyceride Level (mg/dL)

Normal                        150 or below

Borderline-High          150-199

High                            200-499

Very High                   500 and above


Heart disease risk factors

Risks for heart disease include:

▪ Age

– 45 years or older for men

– 55 years or older for women)

▪ Family history of early heart disease

– Father or brother affected before age 55

– Mother or sister affected before age 65

▪ High blood cholesterol (high total cholesterol and high LDL [“bad”] cholesterol)

▪ Low HDL (“good”) cholesterol

▪ Smoking

▪ High blood pressure

▪ Diabetes

– If you have diabetes, your risk for developing heart disease is high, as high as a heart disease patient’s risk for having a heart attack

– You will need to lower your cholesterol under medical supervision, in much the same way as a heart disease patient, in order to reduce your high risk of getting heart disease

▪ Obesity/overweight

▪ Physical inactivity

 Lowering your triglyceride levels

Tips to lower triglyceride levels include:

▪ Move!

– Increasing activity and weight loss by 10% may reduce triglyceride levels by as much as 22%

– Even the smallest increase of activity or weight loss counts in the efforts to lower triglyceride levels

▪ Choose high-fiber and whole-grain foods

– Refined sugars, corn syrup, and processed grains all contribute to elevated triglyceride levels

– Choosing a diet with fewer added sugars and refined grains helps lower triglyceride levels

– Whole fruits, vegetables, and high-fiber/whole-grain carbohydrates are essential to keeping numbers in check

▪ Avoid saturated fats and trans fats.

▪ Substitute olive oil and canola oils when sautéing and baking

▪ Choose foods with omega-3s, such as fish and flaxseed, instead of meats and fattier foods 

▪ Choose lean meats, and don’t eat the fat on steaks

▪ Do not eliminate all fat, because fat is an essential part of the diet, but it is important to choose the right fats, which can make a big difference

▪ Limit alcohol intake or restrict it if your triglyceride level is 500 mg/dL or more

▪ Ask you doctor about taking a statin with niacin or a high-dose niacin prescription drug; take the prescription in conjunction with the recommendations in this article, not instead of them


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