You can't look anywhere these days without hearing about fats: They're in your butter, your crackers, your bloodstream and maybe even bulging a little bit over your belt.
But there's one type of fat that doesn't get nearly enough play: The blood fat called triglycerides - TGs, for short. One recent survey found that 87 per cent of us ignore it - even though its effect on your risk for heart attacks and strokes can be as potent as that of "celebrity" blood fats like LDL ("L" is for the lousy, which should be under 100) and HDL ("H" is for the healthy, and it should be over 50) cholesterol.
Here's why you need to pay attention to triglycerides, too: These guys cause more trouble than pledges during fraternity rush. High levels (over 100 - see, all you have to remember is 100/50/100 for the LDL/HDL/TG levels you want) more than double your stroke risk, boost your heart attack risk by 72 per cent, and in families with a strong history of heart disease, they can raise your risk of cardio problems up to 38 times higher than normal. As if that weren't enough, if you have diabetes, high triglyceride levels up your odds of serious nerve damage.
Normally, triglycerides ferry extra calories from the food you eat to your fat cells for long-term storage. But if you're overweight, inactive or indulge in too many cheese-fry fests, your liver converts excess calories into a TG stockpile - and uses them to increase production of small, dense and ultra-nasty LDLs that accelerate the growth of plaque in your arteries' walls. Excess TGs also reduce levels of healthy HDL, putting you even closer to heart-attack city.
Already over 100? These steps will get you back on target. Bonus: They'll help get your other blood fats where they need to be. Heard some of them before? Great. This time, do them! Check out how easy it is:
1. Walk away. People who clipped on pedometers and added an extra 5,000 steps (about 2 1/2 miles) to their daily step count saw their TG levels fall 19 per cent in just six weeks. Exercise slows down that TG production factory in the liver.
2. Dress with olive oil. Skip the creamy salad dressings, loaded with saturated fat (a TG feeder), and drizzle olive oil on your greens instead. Add some avocados and some walnuts there, too - in other words, pack your diet with monounsaturated fats. In one study, people who spent three weeks doing that halved their levels of the small, dense LDLs associated with high triglycerides. The protective omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, trout, walnuts and flaxseed also have the power to lower TGs. If you don't like fish, pop fish-oil capsules (2 grams) or DHA pills (600 mg) made from algae.
3. Get green. Spinach, broccoli, peas, Brussels sprouts, collard greens and chard are rich in alpha lipoic acid, a weak oxidant that stimulates your cells to produce your own antioxidants. In one lab study, alpha lipoic acid lowered TG levels by 60 per cent.
4. Don't be so refined - about grains, that is. One study found that refined carbs sent TG levels soaring by 50 per cent to 60 per cent. If you haven't yet made the switch from white breads, rolls, crackers and noodles to high-fibre, 100 per cent whole-grain types, now is a great time.
5. Sweeten your life naturally. Standard sweeteners such as glucose and fructose (yes, including high-fructose corn syrup) can skyrocket TG levels. Opt for unsweetened drinks, and end meals with ripe, seasonal fruit (yes, it contains fructose, but it's absorbed much more slowly) instead.
6. Drop a few, gain a lot. Dropping just five to 10 per cent of your body weight could lower your TG by 33 to 72 points. That's as little as eight and a half pounds if you now weigh 170!
7. Put a cork in it. For some people, alcohol jacks up TGs. To find out if you're among them, take a break from beer, wine and cocktails for a few weeks, then get your levels rechecked.
TGs still high? Ask about meds. If your TGs stay over 200 or you're at extremely high risk for heart disease, your doc may want to add prescription-quality niacin, a pill in a class of medicine called fibrates, high doses of omega-3 fatty acids or a statin to bring them in line. Of course, you'll need to keep all those healthy lifestyle changes going, too - the combo is more powerful than drugs alone.
The You Docs - Mike Roizen and Mehmet Oz - www.RealAge.com
are authors of 'YOU: Being Beautiful: The Owner's Manual to Inner and Outer Beauty
' Their column runs Saturday.