Understanding Your Triglyceride Levels

Do you have too much fat in your blood?

Chances are you get your cholesterol levels and triglycerides measured every year at the doctor’s office. But while most people have a good idea of what cholesterol is, triglycerides are a grey area for many of us.

HUM Nutritionist, Carrie Gabriel, RDN, tells us what we need to know.

What Are Triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a free-flowing fat found in your bloodstream. They are a common form of fat found in every body. When you consume food, your body converts any calories it doesn’t need to use immediately into triglycerides. These are then stored in your fat cells. These are called “lipids” in your body. Later on, hormones can release triglycerides for energy you can use between meals. Essentially, if you eat more calories than you burn, you may end up with high triglycerides, which is also called hypertriglyceridemia.

What Is A “Normal” Level?

First, to find out your triglycerides level, your primary care physician can give you a common test called a lipid panel. This lipid panel checks for different types of cholesterol, glucose levels and your triglyceride levels. (The American Heart Association recommends that anyone over the age of 21 get a lipid panel at least every five years.)

The levels are best checked after an overnight fast (aka 12 hours or more with no food.) Why is that? Because fat from a recent meal can cause inaccurate results. Normal triglyceride levels tend to run at 150 milligrams or lower. Borderline high levels are from 150-200 milligrams, and high can be anywhere from 200 and up. What does that put us at risk for? Elevated triglyceride levels can lead to hardening of the arteries, which can lead to heart disease and stroke, specifically if a person also has low “good” (HDL) cholesterol and high “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.

What Can I Do If My Triglyceride Levels Are High?

Before jumping onto medications to lower triglycerides, I recommend trying these natural methods first: eating well and getting regular exercise. Exercising five or more days a week is ideal – even if it’s not super intense every single day.

If you know you are carrying extra weight, losing 5-10% of your body weight can also help you lower your triglyceride levels. Belly fat is often associated with higher triglyceride numbers and is where we tend to store extra weight if we’re inactive or frequently eat large portions of food.

Eating less “bad” fat is also ideal – meaning less saturated fat and little to no trans fats. This is not to be confused with the healthier fats such as avocados, walnuts, flaxseeds, oily fish, etc. Consumption of these Omega-3s is good for you and can help boost “good” cholesterol levels. 

But being mindful of greasy, fried and sugary packaged goods is helpful in this regard. Another thing to watch is your carbohydrate consumption. Also, if you are a drinker, anything more than one alcoholic beverage a day can add up and increase not only your caloric intake but also your triglyceride levels.

Again, there is always a chance that medication may be needed in some cases, but I recommend starting with these at home prevention tips first before resorting to prescription alternatives.

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