The Surprising Truth About Triglycerides

When it comes to heart health, everyone knows that blood pressure and cholesterol are important. But what about triglycerides? Surprisingly, knowing your triglyceride levels can say a lot about your overall health, especially heart health, and is as easy to check as your cholesterol. In fact, the National Cholesterol Education Program suggests that triglyceride levels greater than 150 mg/dl are unhealthy for your blood vessels.

So, now that you know that triglycerides are important, you’re probably wondering what exactly they are and how they differ from cholesterol. To help provide clarification, Martin Siegfried, MD, a cardiologist with Gwinnett Cardiology Services, shares his expertise.

What are triglycerides?

Like cholesterol, triglycerides are a type of fat that is found in your blood. In fact, triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body. Whenever you eat or drink, your body uses calories for energy. As for the excess calories that your body doesn’t need or use, these are converted into triglycerides. These triglycerides are then stored in fat cells.

You may utilize these triglycerides at some point when your body needs energy; however, your triglyceride levels may become high if you consistently consume more calories than you burn. This is especially true if you’re eating a diet high in carbohydrates and fat.

Cholesterol vs. Triglycerides

While triglycerides and cholesterol are both types of lipids, or fats, which are found in your blood, your body uses them for different purposes. For instance, your body needs and utilizes cholesterol to build cells and produce hormones. Because cholesterol helps your body to perform a number of vital processes, your body naturally makes cholesterol.

On the other hand, triglycerides help to store unused calories in your fat cells, which are important for later use. When they’re needed, your body releases them as fatty acids, which fuel body movement, create heat and provide energy for body processes.

Now you may be wondering if these two types of lipids, or fats, are so important, why should we worry about their levels? The truth is there can be too much of a good thing for many of us. Because your body naturally produces both cholesterol and triglycerides, when we consume diets that are high in calories, we produce excess cholesterol and triglycerides that become deposited in blood vessels and block blood flow to the heart and brain. 

Getting to a healthy level

The good news is there are simple ways that you can achieve both healthier cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels. On top of that, these simple changes will also support overall health that lasts.

Be mindful of non-healthy fats vs. healthy fats.

  • Cut back on saturated fats and trans (also called hydrogenated) fats by selecting lean cuts of meat, low-fat dairy and using oils instead of solid fats, like butter. Of course you’ll also need to limit baked goods, processed meats and fried foods, some of the biggest cholesterol culprits.
  • Eat foods that are rich in healthy fats, like omega-3 and omega-6 (especially omega-3 fatty acids). Because our bodies don’t naturally make these fats, you’ll want to get them from foods like nuts, seeds, fatty fish and healthy oils (vegetable oils).
  • Also, incorporate foods high in monounsaturated fats, these raise your HDL, which is the good cholesterol, and they lower your LDL, bad cholesterol. Try healthy oils (canola, olive and peanut), nuts, seeds and fresh produce, like avocados (a great reason to indulge in delicious guacamole).
  • When you’re eating carbs, make sure you’re sticking to those that are whole grain and high in soluble fiber (such as oat bran). This is because refined, processed carbs, such as white bread and white rice, can lead to high triglyceride levels.
Be active.

  • Choose an activity you’ll actually enjoy, like walking, swimming or riding a bike all count and are great ways to be active.
  • Start at a level where you feel comfortable. Increase your time and pace a little each week. The ideal you’ll want to work up to is 40 minutes of moderate to high intensity physical activity, which raises your heart rate, at least 3 to 4 days per week.
  • Don’t be all or nothing. Beginning a new exercise routine can take time. Be patient with yourself and remember—some activity is always better than none.
Work with your doctor.

  • In addition to diet and exercise, there are a number of other factors that can affect your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as your overall heart health. Things like your weight, smoking, medications and your family history all have an impact. By utilizing an expert, like the experienced specialists of Gwinnett Cardiology Services, you will ensure the best heart health possible. Because of its complex nature, heart health can be hard to navigate on your own. Let a dedicated provider help you to achieve lasting heart health.

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