Triglycerides are a common form of fat found in both food and in the body. They make up 95% of the fat in the foods a person eats. They are also found in blood plasma and along with cholesterol, they make up the plasma lipids.
What food source is the nutrient found in?
Triglycerides are present in all foods that contain fat, whether from animals or plants. They are also added to some foods during processing.
How does the nutrient affect the body?
High blood levels of triglycerides result from the following conditions:
an uncommon inherited condition called familial hypertriglyceridemia
carbohydrate sensitivity in individuals whose bodies have trouble breaking down fats or carbohydrates
diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes
- heavy consumption of alcohol
High blood levels of triglycerides have been linked to heart disease in some people. Women appear to be at greater risk than men. Many people with high triglyceride levels have low levels of high-density lipoprotein, called HDL. HDL is known as the "good" cholesterol because it acts like a removal system for other cholesterols. Low levels of HDL are another risk factor for heart disease.
The National Cholesterol Education Program, which is a part of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, put out new guidelines for healthy fasting blood triglyceride levels in 2001. They are as follows:
- 150mg/dL = Normal (healthy) range
- 150 to 199 mg/dL = Borderline-high range
- 200 to 499 mg/dL = High range
- 500 mg/dL or higher = Very high range
Changes in lifestyle will help lower blood levels of triglycerides to a healthy level. These include:
losing weight, if overweight
being physically active for 30 minutes per day at least 5 days a week
eating less saturated fats and cholesterol, by following a low-fat diet where fat is 30 percent or less of total daily calories, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat
eating plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
drinking no more than two alcohol drinks per day (for men) or one per day (for women)
eating less carbohydrates, such as high-sugar desserts and snacks, sweeteners, and sweetened beverages
eating more fish such as trout, sardines, tuna, and salmon, which are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and may help keep triglyceride levels stable
- substituting healthier forms of fat such as canola oil, olive oil, and liquid margarine for saturated fats
When a person has his or her blood cholesterol checked, the healthcare professional may also check triglycerides. This is most often done when people have other risk factors for heart disease, such as:
high blood pressure
chronic kidney disease
- circulatory problems
A fatty meal that is high in triglycerides will cause a short-term jump in blood cholesterol levels. Because of this, people must fast for 12 hours before a blood test. A person should have two or three tests, one week apart, for the most accurate results.
Triglyceride levels can be affected by any or all of the following factors.
- alcohol intake
- menstrual cycle
- time of day
- recent exercise
Medicines may be used in people with very high triglyceride levels if they have:
diagnosed heart disease
a family history of high triglycerides, known as familial hypertriglyceridemia
consistent high cholesterol levels with low levels of HDL ("good" cholesterol)
The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food and Nutrition Guide. Roberta Larson Duyff. Chronimed Publishing, Minneapolis, MN, 1996
The American Dietetic Association. Skim the Fat: A Practical and Up to Date Food Guide. Chronimed Publishing, Minneapolis, MN, 1995.
The American Heart Association. Website. The Details: Fat and Fatty Acids.
Duyff, R., MS, RD, CFCS. (1996). The American Dietetic Association's Complete Food&Nutrition Guide. Minnesota: Chronimed Publishing.
Mahan, K, MS, RD, CDE&Escott-Stump, S., MA, RD, LDN. (2000). Krause's Food, Nutrition,&Diet Therapy (10th ed.). Pennsylvania: W.B. Saunders Company.