It seems there is always at least one seasonal celebration with foods that threaten our healthy hearts and trim tummies.
But with barbecues, cocktail parties, birthday parties and more on our weekly calendars, it can be extra tough for some of us to watch our cholesterol and stick to a heart-healthy diets.
Although cholesterol typically has a bad reputation for clogging arteries, it also performs important bodily functions like building cell membranes and contributing to the formation of certain hormones, vitamin D and bile acids. In other words, too much cholesterol increases the risk for heart disease, while too little can actually do the same.
"Cholesterol won't just dissolve in the blood," explains Mateo Dayo, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Venice-Ocala Heart Institute in Florida.
That is why it is important to maintain a balance between the two types of cholesterol: HDL (the "good") and LDL (the "bad").
LDL, a low-density lipoprotein, gives cholesterol its poor name because it accumulates on the walls of blood vessels when there is too much of it circulating in the bloodstream. HDL, on the other hand, helps prevent this by acting as a high-density lipoprotein that transports cholesterol throughout the body, thus counteracting a buildup.
With animal products posing as the main culprits for contributing to "bad" cholesterol, that is why it is so important to be aware of how much meat, butter and cheese you eat this summer.
These foods are high in saturated fat, which increase levels of LDL.
Here are some tips on how you can still enjoy a barbecue without giving up the foods that give it its name:
* Reduce the amount of meat you consume per meal.
* Opt for seafood at least twice a week.
* Cook fresh vegetables, but avoid the butter and the salt.
* Eat only egg whites, instead of the entire egg.
* Increase the amount of whole grains and fiber in your diet, as these foods help reduce cholesterol levels.
Although healthy cholesterol can sometimes be affected by age, family history, and gender, a few simple lifestyle changes can also help lower your bad cholesterol:
* Don't smoke.
* Exercise regularly.
* Eat healthfully by limiting your daily intake of fast to less than 30 percent each of your total calories each day.
* Have your cholesterol tested regularly so that you can find the right treatment plan for you.