Most people have an understanding about what fats are and the negative connotations associated with most of them. But one common misconception that most people have is that all fats are the same thing or have similar effects in the body, which is obviously not the case. Two very common terms are normally associated with fats are either cholesterol or triglycerides, but the big question is, what is the difference between these two?? Are both of them really fats?? And is one better for you than the other?? Well let’s examine these types of fats a little closer and find out.
As we saw both triglycerides and cholesterol are fatty substances (lipids) that are present in our blood however, triglycerides are fats whereas cholesterol is not. Cholesterol is a lipid but not an actual fat, it is made up of a waxy substance that is made by the liver and is used for certain reactions in the body. Triglycerides are fats that we obtain directly from the food that we ingest. When a person consumes more calories than the body needs, the body ends up converting the extra calories into triglycerides, which are stored in fat cells until further needed. Triglycerides normally come from excess amounts of carbohydrates and fats through your diet alone. So if you are ingesting more food than you are burning off, you can have a case of high triglycerides, which can lead to complications such as heart disease and atherosclerosis.
Cholesterol on the other hand can come from two sources, your body and from external food sources. Cholesterol is used to build up cells and certain hormones in the body (such as estrogen and progesterone in women and testosterone in males). Cholesterol is also very important for processing vitamin D and digestion. Cholesterol is derived mostly from animal sources (like beef, pork etc.). Since our body produces the appropriate amount of cholesterol naturally, it is often very easy to generate high levels of cholesterol due to excess amounts acquired from external sources (like the foods we eat). There are different types of cholesterol, good and bad (LDL and HDL cholesterol). So it depends on which type of cholesterol is present when looking for any sort of health risk.
The main difference between cholesterol and triglycerides is that triglycerides are burned off and used to create more energy when needed whereas cholesterol are used for important bodily functions such as aiding in digestion and the production of hormones. Another key difference between the two is that cholesterol levels are affected by the amount of fat you consume where triglyceride levels are effected by the amount of calories you eat (even if the calories do not come from fats).
This may lead you to the question, which type of lipid is more dangerous to deal with in excess amounts?? Well both high levels of triglycerides and cholesterol can lead to similar complications such as heart disease and stroke, however high levels of cholesterol have been proven to lead to heart disease where high levels of triglycerides tend to be a warning sign. One of the main reasons for this may be due to the fact that it is a lot harder to lower cholesterol levels than triglyceride levels.
The only way to increase your triglyceride levels is through your diet meaning that if you cut back on your sweets and fats and exercise more frequently than you should have no problem lowering those numbers. Cholesterol is a different story. Since cholesterol is produced by your body, there is still a chance that your cholesterol levels will run high even with an excellent diet and exercise routine. In this situation, a doctor will normally provide you with a type of medication to help lower your cholesterol but it may not always work as efficiently as you want it to.
Having an understanding between these two types of lipids can help many prevent long-term problems with high lipid levels in their blood. Since it is common for people with diabetes to have cardiovascular complication, knowing what causes some of these issues can help prevent or prolong any kind of problem from occurring. Understanding the different types of lipids and the repercussions of each at extreme levels will hopefully guide you to making better choices in the foods you eat which can lead to a longer healthier life.
Note: The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice for any questions regarding a medical condition or changes in your treatment.