Triglycerides: Why do they matter?

Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood formed by excess calories. When excess calories are eaten, the body stores them as triglycerides for use at a later time. A normal triglyceride level is considered to be below 150 mg/dL while a level above 200 mg/dL is definitely considered high and can increase your risk for heart disease.

For many, a healthy level can be achieved through lifestyle changes like losing weight, being physically active and limiting refined carbohydrates.

Fat sources in heart healthy eating plans often focus on sources of unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, vegetable oil, nuts and seeds, avocados and fatty fish. 

Seafood is especially high in omega-3 essential fatty acids which can help reduce triglyceride levels. Just 2 servings of seafood per week (about 8 ounces total) will provide the recommended amount of omega-3 fatty acids.  High omega-3 fatty acids seafood include salmon, herring, Atlantic and Pacific mackerel, rainbow trout, and sardines. 
Note: Pregnant and nursing women and young children should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, which contain high levels of mercury.

If you have a history of elevated triglycerides, your doctor may also recommend high doses of supplemental omega-3 fatty acids. This should only be done under the advice and supervision of a doctor.

While extra calories from any source can be stored as triglycerides, excess calories from sugar and alcohol may have a greater effect on raising triglycerides. 

When choosing carbohydrate-rich foods, focus on whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy. Limit refined grains and sources of added sugars, such as desserts, baked goods, sugar-sweetened beverages, and alcohol.

Mediterranean-style eating plans are similarly associated with improved heart health as they include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seafood while limiting saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and alcohol. These diets also include healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats found in oils such as canola and olive oils. 

If your triglyceride level is above 150 mg/dL, discuss lifestyle changes and the potential advantage of supplements with your doctor and registered dietitian nutritionist. An RDN can help develop a healthy eating plan that meets your personal health needs and lifestyle.

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