What are triglycerides?
Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in your body. They are made up of three fatty acid molecules and a glycerol molecule, hence the name “tri-glycerides” and are found in foods that come from both plants and animals including sunflower oil, peanut oil, olive oil, vegetable shortening, meat, butter, and other dairy products. They can also be made by your liver (and in the breasts during milk production).
What do triglycerides do in my body?
Triglycerides help your body in different ways, but their main function is to help store energy for your body to use later. When you eat, your digestive system captures the calories within food and uses them to power your body. When you eat too many calories, your body transforms the excess energy into fatty acids and then into triglycerides and stores them, mainly in fat cells in adipose tissue. Very small amounts are stored in other tissues such as the liver and muscle. Later on when you need more energy, hormones trigger the release of their fatty acids into the bloodstream where they can travel to where they are needed. In addition, triglycerides help to insulate and protect your organs by being stored in the adipose tissue (fat cells) that surrounds your organs.
Do triglycerides impact my health?
If we consume too much fat or sugar, leading to greater production and storage of triglycerides, the liver may struggle to keep up with the demand for storing and distributing them. Unfortunately, this can lead to a buildup of triglycerides in the liver, also known as fatty liver disease. To try to remove triglycerides from the liver, it puts them into the blood. However this creates another threat to your health since high levels of triglycerides in the blood have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
How do I manage my triglyceride intake?
If you have high blood levels of triglycerides, you may lower them through a combination of diet and exercise changes. Specifically, you should aim to:
- Choose unrefined whole grains (whole wheat bread or brown rice) over refined carbohydrates (white bread, rice, flour)
- Choose mono and polyunsaturated fats (olive oil or avocados) over saturated fats (butter,red meat, or whole milk)
- Cut back or eliminate alcohol
- Avoid foods with fructose or added sugars (soda, candy, flavored yogurt, ice cream)
In some cases, your doctor may recommend medications or other treatments to help lower blood triglyceride levels. These may include statins, fibrates, or omega-3 supplements. Omega 3 are also naturally found in cold water fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, and cod. Chia seeds, walnuts, spinach and brussel sprouts are just a few non-fish alternatives to get more omega 3.
In summary, triglycerides are an important storage form of energy for our bodies, but having high levels of them in the blood and liver can be harmful to our health. The liver plays a crucial role in regulating blood levels of triglycerides, but having too much trapped in the liver leads to fatty liver disease and other complications. By maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, you can often help prevent these complications and maintain good liver health.
How can I learn more or get access to healthy foods?
The Wellness League Search Tool helps you find free and low cost programs in your community to learn more about healthy eating or find a food pantry. On the search page, simply enter your zip code and the resource you’re looking to find like “nutrition education” or “food pantry”.