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Triglycerides are the form of fat that exists in food as well as in the body. Triglycerides and cholesterol form lipids (fat) in the blood. Triglycerides in the blood come from fats eaten in foods or made in the body from carbohydrates. Calories eaten at a meal and not used right away are converted to triglycerides and stored in fat cells. Hormones regulate the release of triglycerides from fat cells, so they can be used for energy between meals.

A high amount of triglycerides in the blood is called hypertriglyceridemia. A high triglyceride level in the blood is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke. High blood glucose levels can increase triglyceride levels. Sometimes when a person if diagnosed with diabetes his triglyceride level is high. As blood glucose control improves the triglyceride level may improve. For some people high triglyceride levels may be an inherited problem. Triglyceride level can be measured by a blood test. This blood test is called a “lipid profile” and should be done after an overnight fast.

National Cholesterol Education Program guidelines for Triglycerides

Normal less than 150 mg/dL
Borderline-high 150 to 199 mg/dL
High 200 to 299 mg/dL
Very high 500 mg/dL or higher

In rare cases, people who have very high levels of triglycerides may develop inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), which can cause sudden, severe abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

The American Heart Association makes the following recommendations to lower triglycerides:

  • if overweight, cut down on calories to lose weight
  • reduce saturated fat (fat from animal products such as butter, cheese, whole milk, fatty cuts of meat, and poultry skin)
  • reduce intake of alcohol
  • be physically active at least 30 minutes on most or all days of the week
  • substitute monounsaturated fats for saturated fats; canola oil and olive oil are good sources of monounsaturated fats
  • substitute fish high in omega-3 fatty acids instead of meats high in saturated fat like hamburger. Fatty fish like mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • control blood glucose levels within the target range
  • control high blood pressure; high triglyceride levels are an independent risk factor for stroke
  • stop smoking!

Some people may need to take a medication to help lower triglycerides. People who take a medication still need to make healthy food choices and be physically active for the medication to work properly.

Submitted by Karen Halderson, MPH, RD, LD, CDE
Extension Diabetes Coordinator
Adapted from information at and

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