On Your Health

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What Are Triglycerides and Why Is It Important to Keep Your Levels Low?

If you check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels regularly, you might need to monitor another important thing in your body: your triglycerides.

Like high blood pressure or bad cholesterol, having high triglyceride levels increases your risk for heart disease. However, the same lifestyle choices that promote overall health can help lower your triglycerides, too.

What are triglycerides?

Triglycerides are a type of fat, also called a lipid, that occurs in the blood. Any calories your body doesn’t convert to energy right away get turned into triglycerides. Those lipid triglycerides then get stored in fat cells so they can be used as energy later.

Like most fats, if you eat more calories than you burn, it could lead to high triglyceride levels.

Triglycerides and cholesterol

Triglycerides and cholesterol are different types of lipids found in your blood. While cholesterol builds cells and supports certain hormones, triglycerides give your body energy by storing excess calories.

Your total cholesterol is measured by the overall amount of triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL) in your blood. HDL, known as “good cholesterol,” works to remove “bad” LDL cholesterol from the blood and protects the heart.

LDL cholesterol is sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because it can build up in the arteries and cause blockage in blood vessels. LDL levels can get too high if you eat a diet that’s high in trans or saturated fats.

High triglyceride levels can increase your risk of stroke or heart attack by thickening artery walls and hardening arteries. They can even cause pancreatitis. Many times, high triglycerides go hand in hand with other medical conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, and metabolic syndrome, a group of problems caused by high blood pressure, obesity and high blood sugar.

Certain medications such as estrogen and progestin, retinoids, beta-blockers, steroids and diuretics can also cause triglyceride levels to increase.

What is a healthy range for triglycerides?

Your doctor can determine your triglyceride levels with a simple blood test. A normal healthy range should be less than 150 mg/dl. If your levels are between 150 and 199 mg/dl, you are in the borderline range. High triglycerides levels are designated as the 200 to 499 mg/dl range, while very high is 500 mg/dl or above.

Your doctor will check your triglyceride levels as part of a lipid panel, which checks your LDL and HDL levels as well.

How to lower your triglycerides and cholesterol 

Adopting healthy lifestyle choices is important in reducing not only the “bad” cholesterol but your triglyceride levels as well. Choosing the right foods and incorporating exercise is vital in maintaining healthy levels.

Exercise

Most adults need a minimum of 30 minutes of physical activity daily. Not only does exercise boost “good” cholesterol, but it also lowers triglycerides. Simple physical activities such as walking, swimming, dancing, riding a bike or taking a group exercise class are ways to incorporate more physical activity into your day.

Lose weight

The extra calories in your body are stored as fat after being converted into triglycerides. Avoiding sugar and simple carbohydrates can help you lose weight.

Choose healthy fats

Not all fat is bad. Saturated fat found in meats and highly processed foods can be swapped for healthier choices, such as salmon and mackerel high in omega-3 fatty acids, lean white meat, nuts and olive oil. Choose naturally occurring unhydrogenated vegetable oils such as canola, safflower, sunflower or olive oil. Choose soft margarine instead of butter and limit fried foods, which are still made using hydrogenated oils that are high in saturated and trans fats.

Reduce your alcohol intake

Booze is not only high in calories, but it can be especially rough on triglycerides. If you are in the high or very high range, its best to avoid alcohol altogether.

Ask about medications

Your doctor may prescribe medications if diet and lifestyle changes aren’t working. Statins and fibrates are sometimes prescribed, but fish oil and niacin can also be helpful in lowering triglyceride levels.

Eat more fiber

Several types of food can help lower cholesterol. Whole grains such as brown rice and oats are superfoods that help lower cholesterol while boosting your intake of soluble fiber. Fiber is known to boost HDL levels, so eating two servings of whole grains a day is an easy way to stay healthy. Vegetables and fruit also have soluble fiber, especially black beans, avocados, broccoli and turnips. Fruits such as prunes, strawberries, grapes and apples are full of pectin, which is a kind of soluble fiber that lowers LDL cholesterol.

Quit smoking

One-third of deaths from cardiovascular disease are caused by smoking. Smoking lowers the good HDL cholesterol levels in your blood, which causes the “bad” LDL levels to increase.


With regular exercise, a heart-healthy diet and regular monitoring of your cholesterol levels, you can achieve and maintain healthy triglyceride levels. Monitor your annual health with an INTEGRIS primary care physician and stay on track for healthy cholesterol and a strong heart.

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