Triglycerides are a type of fat found in your blood.

When you eat more calories than you burn, your body converts all the surplus calories into triglycerides. Having triglycerides in your blood stream is totally normal. They are basically stored energy. In between meals, when you don't have food as an energy source, your hormones release the triglycerides for energy. However, you can have too much of a good thing. High triglyceride levels are linked to heart disease and stroke.

Triglycerides and cholesterol are often discussed together. They are very similar, but there are important differences. Both are types of fats that circulate in your blood. However, triglycerides store unused energy while cholesterol is used to build cells and hormones. Both are an important component of your blood composition. Often when you get blood work done to track your cholesterol levels, you'll get your triglyceride profile done too. So triglycerides and cholesterol are different fats, and have different effects on the body. Both contribute to increased risk of heart disease, though, so you'll want to keep careful watch on the levels of both in your blood.

Normal — Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or less than 1.7 millimoles per liter (mmol/L)

Borderline high — 150 to 199 mg/dL (1.8 to 2.2 mmol/L)

High — 200 to 499 mg/dL (2.3 to 5.6 mmol/L)

Very high — 500 mg/dL or above (5.7 mmol/L or above)

Triglyceride levels should be tested at least once a year. You can buy test kits and check your results against the table above, but having them checked at your next doctor's visit it probably cheaper and more convenient. If your levels are in the borderline high - high range, the following changes to your diet can help bring them down to a normal level.

1. Lose weight. If you're overweight, losing 5 to 10 pounds can help lower your triglycerides. Motivate yourself by focusing on the benefits of losing weight, such as more energy and improved health.

2. Cut back on calories. Remember that extra calories are converted to triglycerides and stored as fat. Reducing your calories will reduce triglycerides.

3. Avoid sugary and refined foods. Simple carbohydrates, such as sugar and foods made with white flour, can increase triglycerides.

4. Limit the cholesterol in your diet. Aim for no more than 300 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day — or less than 200 mg if you have heart disease. Avoid the most concentrated sources of cholesterol, including meats high in saturated fat, egg yolks and whole milk products.

5. Choose healthier fats. Trade saturated fat found in meats for healthier monounsaturated fat found in plants, such as olive, peanut and canola oils. Substitute fish high in omega-3 fatty acids — such as mackerel and salmon — for red meat. “Marbled” red meat is fine; in fact, the fat in marbled fat is compatible with the percentage of other nutrients in the cut of meat, and is healthy and needed. However, cut any ‘rind’ fat off your meat before cooking.

6. Eliminate trans fat. Trans fat can be found in some fried foods and commercial baked products, such as cookies, crackers and snack cakes. But don't rely on packages that label their foods as free of trans fat. In the United States, if a food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat a serving, it can be labeled trans fat-free. Even though those amounts seem small, they can add up quickly if you eat a lot of foods containing small amounts of trans fat. Instead, read the ingredients list. You can tell that a food has trans fat in it if it contains partially hydrogenated oil.

7. Limit how much alcohol you drink. Alcohol is high in calories and sugar and has a particularly potent effect on triglycerides. Even small amounts of alcohol can raise triglyceride levels.

8. Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week. Regular exercise can boost "good" cholesterol while lowering "bad" cholesterol and triglycerides. Take a brisk daily walk, swim laps or join an exercise group. If you don't have time to exercise for 30 minutes, try squeezing it in 10 minutes at a time. Take a short walk, climb the stairs at work, or try some situps or pushups as you watch television.

Fortunately, the way to keep your triglyceride levels in check is almost identical to the way to solve many other health problems: cut down on sugars and unhealthy fats and exercise more.

If healthy lifestyle changes aren't enough to control high triglycerides, your doctor or holistic practitioner may recommend medications that can help further lower your triglycerides. Usually, the focus of therapy is to lower high levels of the "bad" cholesterol (LDL cholesterol), before addressing high triglyceride levels. Treatments include:

Niacin. Niacin, sometimes called nicotinic acid, can lower your triglycerides and your "bad" cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol). Your doctor may prescribe a niacin supplement, such as Niaspan. Don't take over-the-counter niacin without talking to your doctor first. Niacin can interact with other medications and can cause dangerous side effects if you overdose.

Fibrates. Fibrate medications, such as fenofibrate (Lofibra, TriCor) and gemfibrozil (Lopid), also can lower your triglyceride levels.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can help lower your cholesterol. You can take over-the-counter supplements, or your doctor may prescribe a prescription omega-3 fatty acid supplement (Lovaza, Vascepa), as a way to lower your triglycerides. These prescription supplements may be taken with another cholesterol-lowering medication, such as a statin. If you choose to take over-the-counter supplements, get your doctor's OK first. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements could affect other medications you're taking.

Author's Bio: 

Lisa C. Baker, CNC, RNHP, is a certified Nutritional Counselor, and also holds a certificate in Complementary and Integrative Health. She is a member of the American Nutritional Association, the International Association of Natural Health Practitioners, International Institute for Complementary Therapists, and is a Registered Natural Health Practitioner by the IANHP.

Mrs. Baker is a musician and recording artist, a mother of one, and resides in Muskogee, Oklahoma with her husband and their kitties.