Many people know that high triglycerides levels are a bad sign, but what they are and how they differ from cholesterol is not that well understood. Today we will dive into this topic to reveal some important things you need to know in order to take control of your triglycerides levels.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat that your body makes when you eat more food than you need at any one point in time. In a way, they're sort of like a storage mechanism for excess calories. Initially the triglycerides will circulate in your blood, but eventually a lot of them will be stored in your fat cells for future use.
How are triglycerides used?
When your body is low in circulating energy, hormones are secreted to encourage the release of triglycerides into your blood. When they are in the blood, the triglycerides are easily accessible to the other cells in your body and are used to keep essential processes going.
How are triglycerides different to cholesterol?
Both triglycerides and cholesterol are types of fats that your body makes. They both circulate in your body (attached to proteins called lipoproteins), however they have different uses. Cholesterol is used to make hormones and build cells. But on the other hand triglycerides are really just a way of storing excess fuel.
Why are triglycerides bad then?
Our bodies make cholesterol and triglycerides because they are essential for good health. However, when their levels get out of control, they can create imbalances in your body and cause damage to your internal organs.
For example, high triglycerides levels circulating in your body can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, pancreatitis (inflammation of your pancreas) and can sometimes be a sign of poorly controlled type 2 diabetes, liver or kidney disease.
What can I do to lower or manage my triglyceride levels?
Unlike cholesterol, triglycerides are not found pre-packaged in foods like meat, milk and eggs; however there are still changes that you can make to reduce your triglyceride levels, or even prevent them from rising in the first place.
Triglycerides are created when there are excess calories. If you avoid overeating, you can avoid high triglyceride levels. Instead of eating one or two really large meals each day, aim to eat small regular meals full of fresh foods, and eat only in response to your hunger levels. Similarly, losing weight can also help to reduce your triglyceride levels.
Use more spices
After a meal, a person's triglyceride levels will naturally increase. It's still early days, but a recently published study found that using spices can reduce a persons' triglyceride response to meals. It's thought that this may be due to their antioxidant power. If you're not one for spicy food, choose spices that aren't 'spicy' like nutmeg, cinnamon, mint etc. Your other option is to increase your dietary antioxidant intake by choosing more fresh foods including fruits (e.g. berries) and veggies (e.g. green leafy vegetables).
Choose whole foods wherever possible
Sugary and refined foods are what are known as 'easy' calories. They cause spikes in your blood sugar and fat levels, and your body can easily store the calories as triglycerides. Cookies, pastries, cakes, pies ice creams, soda, juices and the like have all been particularly associated with high triglyceride levels, partly because they are so refined, partly because of their high sugar and fat content.
Focusing on foods that are whole grains and are low in their glycaemic index will help to reduce your triglyceride levels - so ditch the junk and choose fresh whole foods wherever possible.
Exercising regularly helps to reduce both your bad cholesterol as well as your triglyceride levels. If you are not currently active start with small activities and build up. The main aim is to exercise in a way that is sustainable, so pick activities you enjoy in manageable amounts.
If you don't have a lot of time, don't stress – any exercise is better than none. Do whatever you can now, and you will be thanking yourself in the future.
Quit smoking or second hand smoking
Smoking is bad. We all know it. If you're a smoker you've probably tried quitting many times over, and may be feeling a little down and out about it. Not to worry! It is normal to need a few attempts to quit. Keep your head up, and check out these tips and strategies to help you quit next time around.
Although the news is going around that wine is good for your heart, the sugar and empty calories in alcoholic beverages can cause spikes in your blood and can contribute to high triglyceride levels. If you're going to drink, drink in moderation, and always combine alcohol with food (preferably fresh whole foods).
What triglyceride level should I be aiming for?
'Normal' levels are considered to be any value less than 150 mg/dl or 6mmol/L. If you find that implementing all the steps above does not help to keep your triglyceride levels in check, see your doctor about other steps you can take.