It’s not uncommon to have high cholesterol. Millions of Americans live with the condition, despite its many health risks. While medications can help keep cholesterol under control, what you eat is also an important part of managing the potentially harmful cholesterol in your bloodstream. There’s something out there called the TLC diet — and this is definitely an eating plan you don’t want to miss.
What is the TLC diet?
The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet was created to help Americans lower their cholesterol and improve overall heart health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the millions of adults in the United States with high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, fewer than 1 out of every 3 have it under control.
Out-of-control cholesterol puts your heart at risk, increasing your chances of dying from chronic disease. People with high total cholesterol — high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol — have double the risk of heart disease compared to those with normal cholesterol.
Since heart disease is currently the leading cause of death among both men and women in the U.S., experts at the National Institutes of Health developed the TLC diet in an effort to make heart disease prevention more straightforward for the general public.
With an emphasis on trimming large amounts of saturated fat from your plate, the TLC diet might be the motivation you need to eat healthier and decrease your risk for multiple diseases. You might even be able to lose weight. Let’s look closer at all the ways TLC can change your life.
The US News & World Report ranks the TLC diet No. 4 on its list of Best Diets Overall. It also comes third among diets promoting heart health, and fourth among diets that promote healthy eating. If that is not enough to convince you, here are all the ways following the diet can make you healthier.
Since the whole purpose of the TLC diet is to help you lower your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, it’s no surprise that following its guidelines puts you at a much lower risk of a multitude of heart problems. But the main reason for this is because the diet discourages you from eating terrible foods by helping you replace junk food with healthy alternatives. There aren’t any restrictions, other than a calorie limit, but that in itself makes you think twice before ordering an entire plate of sweet potato fries at dinner (sigh).
This diet, unlike most other diets out there, calls for at least 30 minutes of exercise most or all days of the week. This not only benefits your heart, but your mood, appetite, and chances of losing weight as well. Just make sure you’re doing something you aren’t going to wake up dreading the morning of. Yes, exercise can be fun! Even something as simple as going for a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes can make a difference, even in terms of losing weight over time.
Can you lose weight and improve your overall cholesterol at the same time? Absolutely. While this isn’t a diet designed specifically to help you lose weight, it does require that you eat fewer calories every single day. Even though eating fewer calories aren’t the only factor that promotes weight loss, many people who struggle with their weight do so because they are simply eating too much. Reducing your calorie intake, either to 2,500/1,800 or 1,600/1,200 per day can make a huge difference.
Surprisingly, that isn’t the only part about this diet that could set you up for weight loss success. Its emphasis on less fat, more fiber doesn’t just lower your bad cholesterol. It also promotes satiety, or feelings of fullness. Fiber is a slow digesting carbohydrate, which means it causes a slower release of sugar into your blood. That, combined with moving more slowly through your digestive tract, discourages you from overeating — a huge win for shedding pounds while eating good food.
Now that you know some of the possible benefits of going on the TLC diet, here are the rules you would start following if you decided to give the diet a chance.
Following the TLC diet might be time-consuming for some people, especially since you will have to pay a lot more attention to food labels and restaurant menus as you go. Avoiding large amounts of saturated fat isn’t easy. High-fat foods are just everywhere, it seems. These guidelines should help you stay on track and answer any questions you might have about what the TLC diet entails specifically.
The TLC diet does involve counting calories, which does help some people hold themselves accountable, stay on track, and stick to their goals. If you plan on following the diet just to lower your LDL cholesterol, your allotted calorie limit rests a bit higher — 2,500 for men and 1,800 for women.
If you also want to lose weight while getting your cholesterol under control, you can do that, too. You will just need to eat fewer calories. Men will consume up to 1,600 calories per day on the TLC diet, while women should consume 1,200.
Even though it isn’t nearly as harmful as trans fat, saturated fat isn’t something you can eat in excess without devastating consequences. Harvard Health warns that too much saturated fat in your diet can raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which increases the chance that plaque will build up in your arteries. Resulting blockages to your heart can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and death.
This is why developers of the TLC diet have set a limit of less than 7 percent of daily calories from saturated fat. This is slightly lower than the generally recommended dietary guideline of 10 percent.
We hear a lot about fiber when discussing digestive issues and disorders, but this important nutrient serves more than one vital purpose in terms of keeping you healthy. Soluble fiber, found in foods like beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, is an extremely important resource when fighting high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. It helps prevent large amounts of potentially harmful cholesterol from entering your bloodstream and clogging your arteries.
It is recommended that you consume approximately 25 grams of soluble fiber per day to help decrease your body’s absorption of cholesterol. However, this won’t be too difficult consider the amount of fruits and vegetables you’ll include in your meal plan on the TLC diet.
Now let’s talk about what you really came here for — what you can, and can’t, eat on this diet.
Can you eat meat on the TLC diet?
Yes — but no more than 5 ounces of chicken (without the skin), turkey, or fish. Meat, because it’s strictly from an animal source, contains “naturally occurring” saturated fat. This isn’t quite as terrible for you as the oils and other fatty ingredients added to processed foods to make them taste better, but too much meat can still add a lot of fat to your diet, raising your total cholesterol — which isn’t good.
What about dairy?
If you love cheese, yogurt, and cow’s milk, here’s the good news: you don’t have to give any of that up. Dairy products do contain some saturated fat, but they are also excellent sources of protein, one of your greatest weight loss allies. You’ll have to choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products to cut back your saturated fat intake on the TLC diet, but they’re easy to find in stores. Limit your consumption to no more than three servings per day.
Fruits and vegetables
Many people struggle to get enough fresh produce in their diet. Depending on the fruit or vegetable, it can feel time-consuming. Why take the extra time to slice up an apple or peel an orange when you can just grab something from the pantry and start eating right away? However, fruits and vegetables provide so much fiber per serving, and so few calories, that you really can’t get through a less than 2,000-calorie day (or many in a row) without them.
On the TLC diet, you will need to incorporate about four servings of fruit and anywhere between three and five servings of vegetables per day. You might have to get a little creative when cooking at home, but it is totally possible to get your recommended nine servings of produce in. With a little almond butter or Greek yogurt, both fruits and vegetables can easily become a regular healthy snack.
On the TLC diet, you will want to eat anywhere from six to 11 servings of grains per day. This includes foods like rice, pasta, breads, cereals, oatmeal, and more. Grains, especially whole grains, are another essential food source of dietary fiber, important for controlling your cholesterol. Fiber also helps promote weight loss and stabilize blood sugar.
You should incorporate as many whole grains into your meals and snacks as possible, since many sources of grains these days tend to go through heavy amounts of processing. The last thing you want to do is flood your bloodstream with more fat and sugar than it can handle, especially if you are trying to lose weight while also lowering your cholesterol.
Do you have to give up alcohol to lower cholesterol or lose weight?
The short answer: no. However, too much alcohol can still impact your risk for developing heart disease. Depending on the beverage you choose, it’s also very easy to drink hundreds of calories in one sitting — which really isn’t helping you accomplish your goals.
It’s recommended that women stick to only one drink per day, while men avoid having any more than two drinks in a day. A glass of wine with your dinner won’t hurt you, but do your best to practice moderation, the same way you will have to when counting calories.
With the guidelines above, planning out your meals and snacks for the day should seem much easier. You CAN stay within your calorie limit — portion out your food ahead of time, if you have to. Remember, it’s important to make sure you choose foods low in calories as often as possible. Stick to seasonings and spices whenever possible to avoid sauces and dips high in saturated fat.
Plain (original, if instant) whole grain oatmeal with honey, almonds, and berries
Whole grain cranberry mini muffins with chia seeds
Garden salad with grilled salmon, grape tomatoes, red onions, and mozzarella cheese
Apple, sliced, with nut butter of your choice
3 ounces of plain Greek yogurt
Lemon and rosemary seasoned grilled chicken breast
Fresh green beans
Brown rice or whole grain pasta
Whole grain dinner roll
Homemade baked sweet potato “chips”
Tips for success on the TLC diet
- Focus on eating larger portions of low-calorie foods. Sometimes it’s not the amount of food on your plate, but the quality of that food, that makes all the difference. Fruits and vegetables, many grains, and chicken or fish seasoned with herbs and spices are all examples of foods you can eat in full portions without going over your daily calorie limit.
- Drink water. When you start counting calories, you will notice that drinks tack on hundreds of calories to your daily total. It’s okay to treat yourself every once in awhile, but when you can, swap out a high-sugar, high-calorie drink for plain water.
- Eat high-fiber foods when you get hungry. These foods tend to fall under the nutrient-dense category, which means they are extremely nutritious but very low in calories.
When it comes to healthy eating, the TLC diet touches on many of the pain points people deal with in everyday life. While improving your total cholesterol and decreasing your disease risk, a healthy diet and regular exercise also promotes weight loss.
Though there are guidelines, they’re fairly straightforward. As long as you’re willing to trade a high-fat diet for something much healthier, you will see results. In the long term, you’re increasing your chances of living a much longer, happier life. Hopefully that’s worth giving up steak in favor of beans, bread, and greens.