Why Triglycerides Matter —And How to Lower Them

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You might already be aware that high blood pressure and cholesterol can wreak havoc on your health.

But did you know there’s a third culprit that could threaten your heart health if left unmanaged?

Triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood, play a key role in converting calories into energy between meals. When you eat food, the body stores any unused calories as triglycerides—which means if you’re not exerting the right amount of energy based on calorie consumption, the extra stored triglycerides can throw your health off balance.

“If you’re frequently consuming more calories than you burn, you may have high triglycerides—otherwise known as hypertriglyceridemia,” said Dr. Samantha Crites, Mon Health Cardiologist. “And with high triglyceride numbers comes a greater risk of developing heart disease and other chronic health conditions.”

High triglycerides are linked with several health risks that can lead to life threatening conditions like heart disease or stroke. Commonly linked health risks include:

  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes
  • High cholesterol

Fortunately, having your triglyceride number checked by a doctor is the first step in making a change. Dr. Crites encourages patients to ask for bloodwork if they’re concerned about triglyceride levels.

What your triglyceride numbers mean:

  • Normal — Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or less than 1.7 millimoles per liter (mmol/L)
  • Borderline high — 150 to 199 mg/dL (1.8 to 2.2 mmol/L)
  • High — 200 to 499 mg/dL (2.3 to 5.6 mmol)
  • Very high — 500 mg/dL or above (5.7 mmol/L or above)

The second step,  according to Dr. Crites, is making a few simple changes in diet and activity levels to improve your health.

“The same lifestyle changes that decrease blood pressure, lower cholesterol numbers and increase overall health can help to lower your triglycerides,” says Dr. Crites. “The small things really add up when it comes to making strides in becoming healthier.”

5 ways to lower your triglycerides

Dr. Crites encourages patients with high triglyceride numbers to try the following:

  1. Eat less sugar. Try to cut down on added or refined sugar from processed foods, candies and baked goods. Limit sugar intake to natural sources like fruits and vegetables.
  2. Exercise more. Find an activity you enjoy and stick to it. You can feel free to enjoy low impact exercises like walking or swimming, or take on the challenge of more intense cardio and strength training activities. Discuss new activities with your doctor for medical clearance and advice on any limitations or necessary modifications.
  3. Focus on healthy fats. This means limiting trans fats which are found in commercially baked goods, fried foods, stick margarine and foods that list “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredients list. Avoid saturated fats, such as whole fat dairy products, fatty (marbled) cuts of meat and coconut. Instead, consume the majority of fat in your diet from healthy sources like fish, olive, canola or peanut oil, nuts and avocados.
  4. Don’t forget the fiber. Make sure you’re getting plenty of fiber in your diet, which helps stave off hunger and keep your appetite under control. Good sources for fiber are fruits, vegetables, oats, beans, nuts and seeds.
  5. Limit alcohol intake. Not only is alcohol full of empty, non-nutritive calories and sugars, it’s closely linked with binge eating and high blood pressure. Cut out alcohol or, at the very least, limit intake to a more moderate consumption (1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men), as defined by the CDC.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Crites

*Clinical dietician Robin Redd contributed to this blog.