Most of us can rattle off our blood pressure or cholesterol numbers. But do you know your triglycerides?
Triglycerides are the main form of fat found within foods and the human body. In fact, 95 percent of all fat, whether in our food or in our body, is in the form of a triglyceride. Having a high level of triglycerides in the blood can increase your risk of heart disease. When we eat, calories we don’t use are converted into triglycerides and stored in fat cells. Regularly consuming foods that are high in sugary carbohydrates and fat may cause you to have high triglycerides, putting you at risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Cholesterol and triglycerides are different types of fat that circulate in the blood. Triglycerides store unused calories and provide your body with potential energy while cholesterol is used to build cells and make bile, vitamin D and other hormones.
Normal levels of triglycerides
You can determine your triglyceride number by getting a blood test. Triglyceride numbers are usually checked at the same time as cholesterol, which is referred to as a blood lipid profile. There are four ranges for triglycerides:
- Normal: less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl)
- Borderline high: 150–199 mg/dl
- High: 200-499 mg/dl
- Very high: 500 mg/dl or above
If your triglycerides are higher than normal, consider taking these 10 steps to lower them. The more of these that you practice these in your daily lifestyle, the more you will lower your triglycerides and risk of heart disease.
- Reduce sugar intake. Having a sugar intake of more than 10 percent of calories daily can result in high triglyceride numbers. The American Heart Association recommends that no more than five percent of daily calories come from added sugar. For men, this means no more than 150 calories (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons) and for women, no more than 100 calories (25 grams or 6 teaspoons) of sugar each day.
- Lose weight. If you are overweight, losing five to 10 percent of your body weight can have a significant impact on lowering triglycerides—even by 20 percent.
- Increase fiber. Drastically reduce all refined, sugary foods—cookies, sugary beverages, ice cream, cake, pie and desserts—and replace them with high fiber foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.
- Reduce fructose intake. Fructose, a type of sugar, leads to high triglycerides. The main source of fructose is high fructose corn syrup, which is in many of our processed foods and soft drinks. Even some “healthy” foods like raisins and dates are high in fructose. Choose fruits containing less fructose, such as peaches, cantaloupe, grapefruit, strawberries and bananas.
- Follow a moderately low-fat diet. The American Heart Association recommends that about 25-35 percent of our total daily calories come from fat. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, you should eat 600 calories from fat. Since fat has nine calories per gram, you should take in no more than 67 grams of fat per day. You can find the number of fat grams on packaged foods on the Nutrition Facts label.
- Choose healthy fats. Saturated fats and trans fats are both unhealthy fats. Saturated fats are found in red meat, butter, cheese, whole milk, coconut oil and palm oil. Trans fats are found in shortening and stick margarine. Replace unhealthy fats with both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Examples of polyunsaturated fat include safflower, corn and soybean oils. Examples of monounsaturated fats include canola and olive oils.
- Add omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel, lake trout and sardines are brimming with omega-3 fatty acids. Consuming fatty fish twice a week is recommended. If you don’t like fish, you can take fish oil supplements. However, be sure to consult your doctor because too much omega-3 can interfere with your blood’s ability to clot.
- Limit alcohol. Even a small amount of alcohol can increase triglycerides. The American Heart Association recommends that those with very high triglycerides avoid alcohol completely.
- Exercise more. All of us should exercise, but this is especially important for people with high triglycerides. Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week can lower triglycerides.
- Triglyceride lowering medications. People with very high triglycerides may take—at the recommendation of their doctor—medication to lower their triglycerides. This might include taking fibric acid derivatives, niacin, omega-3 fatty acids or statins.
Dr. Samadi is a board-certified urologic oncologist trained in open and traditional and laparoscopic surgery and is an expert in robotic prostate surgery. He is the Director of Men’s Health at St. Francis Hospital, Roslyn, NYC and medical correspondent for Newsmax TV. Learn more at roboticoncology.com. Visit Dr. Samadi’s blog at SamadiMD.com. Follow Dr. Samadi on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook.