How Quickly Does Cholesterol or Triglycerides Rise After a Fatty Meal?

Consistently high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides have adverse effects on your health, according to the American Heart Association. A healthy, balanced diet is one of many lifestyle changes your physician may suggest to manage high cholesterol and triglycerides, but research shows that even one high-fat meal can immediately increase these molecules and affect treatment.

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Functions of Cholesterol

Cholesterol and triglycerides typically trigger bad connotations in the general public, but they have important functions throughout the body, notes the American Heart Association. Your body needs cholesterol for cell membrane composition and the production of several hormones, including estrogen and testosterone. Consuming more cholesterol and saturated fat than your body needs can lead to the buildup of plaque along the walls of your blood vessels and increase your risks for heart attack and stroke. Triglycerides store calories not immediately used after consuming food in your fat cells. Hormones release this stored energy between meals as needed, but if you consume more calories than you expend, triglycerides circulate throughout the blood and may harden the plaques caused by high cholesterol, further increasing your risks.

Normal Levels

A cholesterol test measures the levels of total cholesterol, including HDL and LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides in your blood. According to the American Heart Association, normal, healthy cholesterol levels are less than 200 milligrams per deciliter; 129 milligrams per deciliter and below for LDL, or bad, cholesterol; 60 milligrams per deciliter and above for HDL, or good, cholesterol; and 150 milligrams per deciliter and below for triglycerides. Your physician may adjust your optimal level depending on if you have a family history of heart disease.

Effects of Fatty Meals

After reducing your cholesterol and triglyceride levels with the help of a modified diet, you should still avoid fatty meals. However, research warns that just one meal can adversely affect your progress. A study published in the "Journal of the American College of Cardiology" in 2006 showed that one meal high in saturated fat diminished the ability of HDL cholesterol to protect arteries from LDL cholesterol and other inflammatory agents within three hours of consumption. These unhealthy effects lasted six hours. The results of a study published in early 2011 in the "American Journal of Physiology: Heart and Circulatory Physiology" showed that a meal high in saturated fat immediately increased triglycerides, which triggered inflammation of blood vessels.

Does One Meal Matter?

Both study publications note that the effects of a high-fat meal are temporary. However, they warn that when triggered on a regular basis, these effects can compound into a significant problem. One of the best ways to combat high cholesterol and triglycerides is to a eat healthy, balanced diet, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Modifying your diet to decrease cholesterol includes choosing healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. You should also eliminate trans fats; reduce high-fat meats and dairy products and choose whole grains. Eat heart-healthy fish, such as salmon, and consume alcohol in moderation. To lower your triglyceride levels avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates, limit dietary cholesterol and reduce overall calories to avoid excess fat storage.

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