Holiday indulgences can result in more than gaining a few extra pounds. Fatty sweet cookies, pies, and candy as well as excess calories and alcohol can lead to a spike in your triglycerides. Why should this concern you? It may be putting you at risk for heart disease.
Lorraine Matthews-Antosiewicz, registered dietitianand author of 10 Days to Sugar Free: Sugar Detox Survival Guide, has provided answers to some questions regarding the relationship between triglycerides, fat, and sugar. Read on to learn what steps you can take to lower triglycerides and reduce heart disease risk.
What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are a type of fat that come from food, and your body also makes them. They are the most common type of fat found in the body. Triglycerides are continually circulating in the blood ready to be metabolized to provide a source of energy when needed, but their main function is to store energy for later use. When you consume more calories than your body can use, it converts the excess into triglyceride and stores it in fat cells. Fat cells hold the triglyceride molecules until your body needs energy between meals. Hormones signal the fat cells to release the triglycerides for your body to use.
Why do triglycerides matter?
When present in excess, triglycerides can be stored as fat which may lead to obesity and related health conditions over time. Research suggests that high levels of triglycerides in the blood may increase the risk of developing coronary artery disease, diabetes, and fatty liver disease. According to the American Heart Association, young people with high triglyceride levels have a four times greater risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke than young people with normal triglyceride levels.
How are triglycerides measured?
Triglyceride levels in the blood are measured by a simple blood test. Your doctor will usually check for high triglycerides as part of a routine cholesterol screening called a lipid panel or lipid profile. Fasting for nine to 12 hours is required before blood is drawn for an accurate triglyceride measurement.
What is considered a normal triglyceride level?
The American Heart Association guidelines for triglyceride levels are as follows:
- healthy: below 100 milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL)
- borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL
- high: 200 to 499 mg/dL
- very high: 500 mg/dL and above.
What causes high triglycerides?
Some people have a genetic predisposition to manufacture excessive amounts of triglycerides. Triglycerides can become elevated as a result of having diabetes, hypothyroidism, or kidney disease. Being overweight and inactive can also contribute to abnormal triglycerides. Dietary factors play a role as well.
How does diet affect triglycerides?
Eating too much of the wrong kinds of fats - saturated and trans fats - can raise your blood triglycerides. Triglyceride levels can also rise after drinking alcohol or eating foods that are high in carbohydrates especially sugary and refined carbs. This includes sugar, honey, agave and other sweeteners, soda and other sugary drinks, candy, baked goods, and anything made with white (refined) flour including white bread, cereals, pastries, white pasta, and white rice. Dried fruit and fruit juice contain high amounts of fructose which has a strong impact on raising triglyceride levels.
What is the recommended intake for sugar?
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons per day (25 grams) of added sugar for adult women and 9 teaspoons (37.5 grams) for men. While all individuals should limit sugar intake, it is especially important for those with increased triglyceride levels. Consumption of sugary low-quality refined carbs causes a sudden rise in insulin, which may lead to a spike in triglycerides.
For further guidance, you can access Lorraine’s 10 Days to Sugar Free: Sugar Detox Survival Guide here.
Lisa Nelson RD, a registered dietitian since 1999, provides clients step-by-step guidance to lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, so they can live life and enjoy their family for years to come. Because her own health is the foundation of her expertise, you can trust that Lisa will make it truly possible for you to see dramatic changes in your health, without unrealistic fads or impossibly difficult techniques. She can be found on Twitter @lisanelsonrd and Facebook at hearthealthmadeeasy.