Understanding the Difference Between Triglycerides? and Cholesterol

If you're worried about cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in Canada, here are some things you need to know

Credit: Wellness Matters

Eating fatty fish like salmon, sardines and herring is a good way to reduce triglycerides

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), which refers to diseases of the heart and blood vessels, is the leading cause of death in Canada and is affected by triglyceride levels

Genetics and lifestyle choices 
(e.g., poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, smoking and alcohol consumption) all influence CVD risk. In addition to checking your blood pressure and cholesterol level, your doctor looks at your triglyceride level to determine your CVD risk. 

What’s the Difference Between Triglycerides and Cholesterol?

Triglycerides and cholesterol are both types of fat (or lipids) in the blood, but they’re not impacted by the same factors.

Cholesterol is mainly affected by the amount of total fat consumed (particularly saturated and trans fat). Meat, butter, cheese and many processed and fried foods can all raise cholesterol levels in the blood. 

Triglycerides are a form of stored fat in the blood. High levels of triglycerides can come from eating too many calories – even if those calories are not in the form of fat. Any excess calories that are not immediately needed for energy are converted into triglycerides for storage in fat cells. Excess calories from alcohol and sugary foods, along with fat, are particularly troublesome in raising triglyceride levels.

How to Minimize Your Risk of Developing Cardiovascular Disease

To manage your CVD risk, it’s important to know your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride numbers like you know your birthday. A healthy triglyceride level is less than 1.7 mmol/L.

If your triglyceride level is high, there are several lifestyle changes that can help return it to normal:

Limit your total fat intake to 20% to 35% of your daily calories, specifically restricting saturated and trans fats. 

  • Avoid overeating and consuming too many calories. Cutting calories from alcohol and sugary foods is especially valuable. 

  • Keep active, and work at staying at a healthy weight.
Eat fatty fish (e.g., salmon, sardines and herring) at least twice a week as fish containing omega-3 fatty acids can further help reduce triglyceride levels.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.