Triglycerides, a form of fat used by your body, can accumulate in your bloodstream and put you at risk for heart attack and stroke. The level of triglycerides in your blood can vary considerably, depending on factors such as diet, lifestyle, weight, age and genetics. You can help keep your triglyceride levels within the normal -- or healthy -- range if you limit the amount of fat and sugar in your diet.
Triglycerides and Cholesterol
Triglycerides and cholesterol are measured in milligrams per deciliter of blood. Ideally, your triglyceride levels should stay below 150 mg/dl. Your risk for developing cardiovascular disease rises if your triglycerides measure higher than 150 mg/dl. Triglycerides between 150 and 199 mg/dl put you at borderline risk, levels between 200 mg/dl and 499 mg/dl put you at high risk and levels above 500 mg/dl put you at very high risk of developing cardiovascular disease. To protect your heart health, ideally you should aim to keep your low-density lipoprotein -- LDL, or "bad" cholesterol -- below 100 mg/dl, your high-density lipoprotein -- HDL, or "good" cholesterol -- above 60 mg/dl and your total cholesterol below 200 mg/dl.
Triglycerides and Saturated Fat
The amount of saturated fat in your diet can affect the level of triglycerides in your bloodstream. To keep yours in the normal range, choose lean sources of protein and keep portions small -- 3 ½ oz. of beef sirloin rather than a ½ lb. hamburger. Animal products and some tropical oils -- palm and coconut, for example -- contain saturated fat. Protein choices low in saturated fat include water-packed tuna, salmon, halibut, ham and low-fat dairy. You could also choose vegetable protein such as beans or tofu. Pinto beans contain no saturated fat and tofu 2 g per ½-cup serving. Aim to limit saturated fat in your diet to between 16 g and 22 g daily.
Trans Fat and Triglycerides
Your triglyceride levels also prove sensitive to trans fat, found primarily in margarine and shortening. Although some restaurants no longer use trans fat, many still do, so check before ordering fried foods. Also check nutrition labels, as commercial baked goods such as crackers, cakes and cookies often contain trans fat. To keep your triglycerides within acceptable ranges, you should include no more than 2 g of trans fat in your daily diet -- less than 1 tbsp. of margarine. While you're reading labels, check for other types of fat in products. Some baked goods that advertise themselves as free from trans fat may contain tropical oils high in saturated fat.
Sugar and Exercise
Avoid foods with added sugar, as they can boost your triglycerides to above-normal ranges. Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruit rather than pastries. Also, limit or eliminate regular soft drinks. Consume no more than 100 to 300 calories from sugar-added foods and drinks. Your HDL works to rid your body of potentially harmful triglycerides and LDL cholesterol. You can increase your HDL levels -- and the ability of your body to remove plaque in your arteries -- by exercising for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.