The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet — commonly called the TLC diet — was created by The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute to help people lower cholesterol and blood pressure while reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes.
The diet itself isn’t overly strict but does involve limiting dietary cholesterol to 200 mg daily by eating foods lower in harmful saturated fat, like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats.
What Is the TLC Diet?
Many organizations, including the American Heart Association, recommend the TLC diet. This diet is centered around the idea that high blood cholesterol levels of LDL cholesterol are detrimental to health.
High concentrations of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) in the blood increase your risk of coronary heart disease and strokes. This is because the excess cholesterol narrows or blocks the arteries by forming plaques on the walls of these blood vessels.
Hence, high cholesterol levels are not suitable for your health, and cutting back on certain foods can significantly improve. These include foods high in saturated or trans fats and sources of dietary cholesterol.
Additionally, cutting back on these foods will have extra benefits like weight loss, reducing the risk of diabetes, and lowering high blood pressure. Therefore, the TLC diet is good for your overall health and well-being and can help lower your cholesterol.
How TLC Diet Works
The main guidelines of the TLC diet are:
- Limit your intake of foods high in saturated and trans fats down to 7% of your total daily calories.
- Limit foods high in cholesterol to less than 200 mg per day.
- Add foods that can help lower cholesterol, such as soluble fiber.
- Increase your level of physical activity.
The TLC diet works best alongside exercise; many studies have shown that exercise helps reduce LDL cholesterol.
High-intensity exercise such as running has the best results. However, any level of activity you can manage will support your diet and help you reduce LDL cholesterol further.
The Diet Plan
Start by avoiding and limiting foods high in saturated and trans fats because these foods increase your LDL cholesterol levels. Additionally, these foods are unhealthy and contribute to weight gain.
These include foods such as:
- Deep-fried foods
- Processed foods
- Fatty cuts of meats such as pork chops
- Baking such as cakes and muffins
Dairy and meat are allowed in moderation — just opt for leaner versions with less fat.
You can still include some foods that contain saturated or trans fats but keep them limited to 7% of your total daily calories. However, not all fats are bad for you, and there are some healthier fats you can switch to.
Healthy fats include:
- Monounsaturated fats
- Polyunsaturated fats
Foods that contain these healthier fats include:
- Lean meats, such as fish and chicken
- Unsaturated oils – olive, canola, or safflower
Therefore, you do not need to cut fat from your diet entirely. Instead, you can make simple changes by selecting foods with healthy fats instead of unhealthy fats.
Also, limit foods that are high in cholesterol. Animal products contain the highest amounts of cholesterol, and foods to watch out for are eggs, shrimp, meat, and dairy products.
While cutting back on these foods can be challenging, you can start by preparing dishes that do not combine these ingredients. For example, don’t cook chicken in cream or fry the meat in butter.
Lastly, you can help lower your cholesterol by selecting fruits and vegetables high in soluble fiber and plant stanols. These foods can block the absorption of cholesterol in the digestive tract.
Foods that are high in soluble fiber and plant stanols include:
- Whole grains
- Vegetables – especially leafy greens
Besides the cost of food, this diet is free, and there are no extra costs unless you want to see a dietician and personal trainer for additional guidance or buy some recipe books that support the TLC diet.
Some people find that switching to this diet is cheaper if they previously ate out frequently. On the other hand, those who eat processed meals and snacks from home will notice that the TLC diet costs more.
However, if your cholesterol is high, your healthcare costs will increase. Therefore, by improving your health through diet and exercise, you might lower the costs of your medical bills in the long run.
Dos and Don’ts
- Cut back on foods high in saturated and trans fat
- Switch unhealthy fats for healthy fats
- Eat more fruits and vegetables
- Count calories
- Check in with a doctor regularly to monitor your cholesterol levels
- Consume more than 7% of your daily calories in saturated and trans fat
- Do not exceed 200 milligrams a day of cholesterol
- Avoid exercise
Sample Diet Plan
Whole-grain cereal with chopped fruit and soy milk.
Dark green salad greens with pumpkin, avocado, and chickpeas roasted in olive oil. Sprinkle with chopped almonds.
Oven-baked salmon with broccoli, beans, and potatoes.
Health Benefits and Drawbacks
Although the main benefit of switching to the TLC diet is lowering LDL cholesterol, there are many more.
Other benefits include:
- Improving heart health
- Reducing the risk of a stroke
- Reducing the risk of diabetes
- Weight loss
- Better nutrition and lifestyle
Some people find the TLC diet challenging because they must make significant lifestyle changes. This includes cooking more meals from home, preparing meals that require more time, and buying fresh foods with a short shelf life.
Meal prepping and planning is highly recommended to help keep you on track as much as possible.
Another drawback is that some people may find it difficult to cut back on meat and eat more vegetables. Some people prefer meat over vegetables, while others consume more meat to boost their iron levels.
The Bottom Line: Is TLC Diet a Healthy Way to Lose Weight?
The therapeutic lifestyle changes in diet are a healthy way to lose weight because it does cut out many foods high in fat. However, the overall goal of this diet is to lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Meagan Morris is the editor in chief of Celebribody. She's veteran health and wellness editor with over 15 years of experience. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Yahoo Health, Cosmopolitan, SELF, and Women's Health, among others. She spends most of her time writing, but her favorite part of the day is spent under a barbell doing squats.