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Triglycerides are the common type of fat found in food and in the body. They make up 95% of dietary fat. They contain saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats in different mixtures. Triglycerides occur naturally in foods. The liver also makes them when excess kilojoules are present. They are transported and stored in the body's fat tissue.

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 foods during processing.

How does the nutrient affect the body? 
High blood levels of triglycerides result when the body has trouble breaking down fats or carbohydrates. This is what happens to people who are carbohydrate-sensitive. High triglyceride levels may also occur in people who are obese, who have diabetes, or who drink heavily.

It is not known for sure whether high blood levels of triglycerides are directly linked to heart disease. High triglycerides appear to be a stronger risk for heart disease in women than in men. Many people with high triglyceride levels have low levels of high-density lipoprotein, or HDL. HDL is called "good" cholesterol because it acts like a removal system for cholesterol. Low levels of HDL are another risk factor for heart disease.

Many changes in lifestyle will help lower blood levels of triglycerides. These include:
  • losing weight, if over weight
  • increasing physical activity
  • eating a diet low in saturated fats
  • eating a low-fat diet, 30 percent or less of fat from total daily kilojoules and less than 10 percent from saturated fat
  • eating plenty of whole grains, and vegetables
  • Limiting alcohol or not drinking it at all
  • eating fewer simple carbohydrates, including high-sugar desserts and snacks, dried fruits, juice, sweeteners, and sweetened beverages
  • eating more fish, a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, may help keep triglyceride levels stable
  • stopping smoking
When a person has blood cholesterol checked, their doctor may also check triglycerides. This is usually done when people have other risk factors for heart disease. Some of those factors would include: A fatty meal, high in triglycerides, will cause a short-term jump in blood fat levels. Because of this, for an accurate test of triglycerides and cholesterol in the blood, people must fast for 12 hours before a blood test. It is important to have two or three tests, at one week apart, for the most accurate measurements.

The normal blood level for triglycerides is below 2.6 mmol (millimoles) per litre of blood. A borderline high level is 2.6 mmols/L to 4.5 mmols/L. High is considered 4.5 mmols/L to 11.0 mmols/L and over 11.0 mmols/L is very high. Triglyceride levels can be affected by alcohol intake, medication, hormones, diet, menstrual cycle, time of day and recent exercise.

Medications 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 hypertriglyceridaemia
  • consistent high cholesterol levels with low levels of HDL
A change in diet as well as other factors can help decrease and maintain triglyceride levels. Many of the same advice for lowering cholesterol levels also apply to lowering triglyceride levels. It is important to be aware of current blood triglyceride and cholesterol levels.

Author: Kelly Streit, MS, RD, LD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 22/11/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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