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What are Triglycerides and Why are They Important?

Posted by Smarter Nutrition on

"Since triglycerides are a result of lifestyle, you can make a definite, intentional choice to improve your triglyceride levels at any time."

You take your blood pressure, you monitor your cholesterol, you pay close attention to your weight, and you watch your triglyceride levels... right? Wait, you don't monitor your triglycerides? Do you know what your triglycerides do to affect your health? More importantly, do you know what your triglyceride levels are, and why they are important?

In today’s live show with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist, learn what triglycerides are, why you should know your triglyceride level, and what simple changes you can make to get your levels to where they should be.

Video Highlights

  • 01:01: Surprising statistics
  • 03:12: What triglycerides are
  • 03:53: The more excess calories you eat, the more triglycerides you store, and the more body fat you accumulate
  • 04:28: A lipid panel will tell you your triglyceride numbers
  • 05:03: Triglyceride ranges
  • 06:35: Triglycerides are not cholesterol
  • 07:33: Good vs. Bad Cholesterol
  • 11:04: A good diet and exercise plan can lower triglyceride levels
  • 11:53: Causes of high triglycerides
  • 12:53: Health issues associated with high triglycerides
  • 15:17: Controlling triglyceride levels
  • 19:35: Ways to improve your diet
  • 25:31: Triglyceride-lowering recipes
  • 26:07: Overnight oat and berry bowl
  • 27:27: Black bean soup
  • 28:43: Avocado Quinoa Black Bean Lettuce Wrap
  • 29:30: Recap

Some Surprising Statistics

Before we really get into the subject of triglycerides, we need to discuss some statistics. For instance, did you know that nearly 75% of American men and 60% of American women are now obese and overweight? Also, nearly 30% of boys and girls under the age of 20 are either obese or overweight. These are staggering numbers! It's also important to note that coronary heart disease remains the leading cause of death and disease in the United States, affecting more than 13 million Americans each year. 

You may already have known about these alarming trends, but did you also know that 31% of the U.S. population has high triglycerides? This is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. 

What Triglycerides Are

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat found in your body. Your body uses this type of fat to store excess energy from your diet. In other words, your body converts the food you eat into calories, or energy, that you can use right away. What it can't use right away, it stores away in triglycerides, which are stored in your fat cells. 

Later, the hormones release triglycerides for energy between meals. So the more excess calories you eat, the more triglycerides you store, and the more body fat you accumulate. This means higher triglycerides, and a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome.

The national cholesterol education program sets guidelines for triglyceride levels. Your doctor should be checking your triglyceride levels as part of a cholesterol blood test, usually done as part of your annual physical. This is sometimes called a lipid panel or a lipid profileThis blood test will show whether your triglycerides fall into a healthy range.

Triglyceride ranges

  • Normal triglyceride levels: less than 150 mg/dL
  • Borderline high triglyceride levels: 150 - 199 mg/dL
  • High triglyceride levels: 200 - 499 mg/dL
  • Very high triglyceride levels: 500 mg/dL or above

Normal levels are considered good, but it's even better to be well below normal. Your goal is to keep your triglyceride levels as low as possible, not just at 150. 

Triglycerides vs Cholesterol

It's also important to note the fact that triglycerides are not the same thing as cholesterol. The two are easy to confuse, and they are commonly lumped into the same conversation, but they are entirely different substances. Triglycerides and cholesterol are both fatty substances known as lipids, but triglycerides are fats. They are unused calories, that provide your body with energy. Cholesterol, on the other hand, is used to build cells, and certain hormones. Since cholesterol and triglycerides are often discussed together, you should be aware of what is good and what is bad cholesterol.

Good Cholesterol = HDL 

HDL Cholesterol, or high density lipoprotein, is good cholesterol. HDL carries cholesterol from our body tissues back to the liver, where it is removed from the body. Having plenty of HDL cholesterol means that your body is able to regulate and reduce the cholesterol content in your body. You want your HDL levels to be high. An HDL cholesterol level of 60 mg/dL or above is considered protective against heart disease. 

Bad Cholesterol = LDL

Low density lipoprotein, is bad cholesterol. LDL moves cholesterol from the liver to other areas of the body. LDL is referred to as bad cholesterol because some LDL particles enter the walls of the arteries, where they form harmful cholesterol deposits, which increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other issues. Think of it like bacon grease which has solidified on a dish. That's what's happening inside your arteries! 

One thing is very clear. A good diet and exercise plan can lower triglyceride levels, improve cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and decrease the chances of heart disease! Exercise can also lower the chances of type 2 diabetes, increase insulin resistance, and lower the risk fo metabolic syndrome and other issues.

The Causes of High Triglycerides

There are several factors that can raise your triglyceride levels, including:

  • Regularly eating more calories than you burn off, especially if you eat a lot of sugar, and processed or simple carbohydrates
  • Smoking
  • Drinking excess amounts of alcohol
  • Thyroid diseases
  • Poorly managed type 2 diabetes
  • Liver or kidney damage or disease

All of these have been shown to negatively affect triglyceride levels.

Health Affects of High Triglycerides

Arteriosclerosis. High triglyceride levels continue to harden and thicken the artery walls. This is a condition called Arteriosclerosis, a dangerous condition which increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.

High triglycerides are often also a sign of other conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, including obesity. 

Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of conditions, that includes too much fat around the waste, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels.

In addition to heart disease and Metabolic Syndrome, high triglycerides might also be a sign of type 2 diabetes, or pre-diabetes, low levels of thyroid hormone (hypothryoidism), and other things. 

The good news, is that high triglycerides are controllable! You can absolutely reduce triglyceride levels, as well as the triglyceride stored already in your body fat, by making some lifestyle adjustments.

Controlling Triglyceride Levels

Maintain a healthy weight/lose weight 

You need to find out where your foundational marker is, and go from there. Start to implement some strategies to achieve a healthy weight. You're not aiming to become fashion model skinny! You're just looking to achieve a weight that is healthy for you. Talk to your doctor about what a realistic goal for you is.

Participate in regular exercise 

Challenge your heart and challenge your body. You don't need to do anything extreme, just make sure you move your body daily. Go outside for walks, or do some kind of body movement every day. 

Quit smoking 

This can be tough, we know, but it's essential. You need to kick your nicotine habit as soon as possible.

Limit your alcohol intake 

This is a big one. People don't want to do this, but there is a direct correlation between your alcohol intake and high triglyceride levels

Make changes to your diet 

Limit saturated fats and choose healthy fats, cut out refined sugars and processed foods, and incorporate the other dietary changes discussed below. Making adjustments to your diet is the key to managing your triglyceride levels.

Supplementation

Taking a high quality, natural Curcumin supplement that reduces the inflammation in your body is really key. 

Ways to Improve Your Diet

Start by downloading Dr. Nancy's anti-inflammatory diet for tips on what to eat, what not to eat, and other lifestyle changes. Here are some basic ways to improve your diet.

  1. Consume less saturated fat. Saturated fat is a type of fat that comes from animal products such as red meat, whole milk, and other dairy foods. The most common places to find saturated fat include: beef, pork, bacon, lamb, processed deli meats, hot dogs, cold cuts, breakfast sausages, milk, butters, or any fat that is solid at room temperature. Instead of these, choose lean meats like seafood, and look for healthy fat alternatives like olive oil, avocados, avocado oil, and nut butters.
  2. Cut simple carbohydrates and processed foods such as refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup out of your diet. These processed foods cause a lot of health issues. In addition to affecting your triglycerides, they are empty calories which have zero benefits and serve zero purpose in your body. They are significant contributors to damaging inflammation. The best alternatives are foods made with the entire grain kernel including steel-cut oatmeal and brown rice. Quinoa is also great, although it is technically not a grain.
  3. Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These foods have been found to be very powerful in lowering triglycerides. You can find omega-3 fatty acids in fish like salmon and tuna, as well as plant-based foods like avocados, chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts.
  4. Increase your intake of vitamin B3. Research shows that vitamin B3, also known as Niacin, lowers triglyceride levels by 30 - 50% and raises HDL cholesterol levels by 20 - 30%. It also lowers LDL cholesterol by 5 - 25%. Natural food sources of B3 include tuna, chicken breast, green peas, avocado, and brown rice. You can also take a high quality vitamin B3 supplement to ensure you are getting the recommended amount each day.
  5. Increase your intake of fiber. Fiber-filled foods include watermelon, blueberries sprouts, pomegranate, brussel sprouts, avocados, broccoli, chickpeas, lentils kidney beans, pears, quinoa, chia seeds, and more. In addition to lowering triglycerides and cholesterol levels, fiber is very satiating, which means it keeps you full for longer! This is helpful when you're trying to eat fewer calories to lose weight and lower triglyceride levels. You want to consume 35 - 40 grams of fiber each day. Make sure that whatever plate you're using, the majority of it is fibrous foods including dark leafy greens, and fruits and vegetables.  These are also great for your skin, bowels, and they help to lower your inflammatory load.

Triglyceride-lowering recipes

Overnight Oat and Berry Bowl

If you're allergic to oats, use cooked quinoa instead. 

  • Nut milk of your choice (almond, cashew) or oat milk or coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup of gluten free rolled oats or cooked quinoa
  • chopped nuts of your choice
  • sprinkled cinnamon, or chia seeds if you like

Add all ingredients to a mason jar, and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, top it off with fresh berries. 

Black Bean Soup in a blender

  • 1 - 2 cups black beans, drained
  • 1 cup bone broth or vegetable broth
  • Ground cumin
  • Sea salt or Himalayan salt
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic powder

Put all ingredients in a blender or a Nutribullet and combine. Heat in a pan and top with cilantro and avocado for a delicious soup that takes practically no time to make. 

Avocado Quinoa Black Bean Lettuce Wrap

  • Black beans
  • Large lettuce leaves
  • Avocado, diced
  • Cooked quinoa

Simply combine black beans, avocado, and quinoa in lettuce leaves and eat like a sandwich. Kids love this one too! Add salmon or a lean protein if you want, or kimchi and other fermented vegetables.

Recap

With so much of the population overweight or obese, and almost 1/3 of Americans having high triglyceride levels, we really need to do something about this problem. Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body and in the blood. Our bodies store excess calories as triglycerides, or as body fat, which then increases the risk of a number of serious health problems including: heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, diabetes, thyroid issues, and metabolic syndrome.

You absolutely need to keep your triglyceride levels below 150 mg/dL and the lower the better. Remember that triglycerides and cholesterol are not the same thing, and we need to be aware of both of them. 

High triglyceride levels are almost exclusively the result of controllable lifestyle choices including: the food you eat, smoking, alcohol, and exercise. This being the case, you can make an intentional choice to improve triglyceride levels at any time. Use the tips in this article to start making forward progress on reducing inflammation, reducing triglyceride levels, and improving your overall health so you can feel vibrant and healthy!


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1 comment


  • What does taking Cucumin do?? Does it lower your triglycirides ?? How does it help the body or why should I take Cucumin??

    Delois Misener on

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