The TLC (therapeutic lifestyle changes) diet targets patients with high cholesterol readings, a common health issue in America today.
This plan was developed to lower cholesterol levels in the blood and decrease the risk of developing coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
High blood cholesterol levels contribute to the formation of plaque in the arteries, a process that happens slowly over many years, eventually restricting blood flow and compromising heart function. (1)
The TLC Diet can be a lifesaver, and we’re not talking about a cute roll of multicolored sweetness, though hard candy is allowable on the plan as long as your indulgence falls within recommended caloric limits. You’ll have to watch packaged snacks like cookies and crackers, because they’re usually heavy on the saturated fats.
Decrease Saturated Fats
Since the goal is to lower dietary saturated fats, which helps drop LDL cholesterol (they call it the “bad” kind) and raise HDL cholesterol (that’s the “good” kind), the focus is on foods that help accomplish this, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
On the TLC diet, you’ll lighten up your consumption of these type of foods, cutting your daily serving to a maximum of 5 ounces:
- chicken and turkey
- eggs, limited to 2 yolks weekly
When it comes to dairy products, choose low-fat or non-fat milk and yogurt, up to three 8-ounce servings a day. You can have low-fat cheese, but a single ounce is one serving. (2)
Following this plan, you’ll decrease dietary saturated fat to less than 7% of total calories, or an average of 200 milligrams daily.
If you have trouble adjusting to eating smaller servings of chicken, fish, meat or eggs, try cooking a quarter cup of dry beans or peas to have with your meal. Season with your favorite spices, and swap the full serving of legumes for an ounce of your protein allowance.
You can still have some of the heavy protein, but you’ll find beans, lentils and peas (which usually double in size during cooking) help you feel more satisfied.
Fruits and vegetables are the bonanza, with generous servings from each category included in the TLC diet.
- 2 – 4 servings of fruit daily at a half-cup each; a small apple or orange is one serving, a large banana is 2
- fruit juice is acceptable, but only three-quarters of a cup a day
- 3 – 5 servings of vegetables like broccoli, green beans and other cooked vegetables; these weigh in at half a cup per serving
- leafy greens are a good bet for filling you up at a full cup per serving.
Try to eat both raw and cooked vegetables each day. Vegetable juice is great, but keep it to six ounces. (3)
Many diets limit carbohydrates, but the TLC diet allows generous intake of bread, grains, rice and cereal: six or more servings are encouraged on a daily basis.
One slice of bread is considered a serving, as well as half an English muffin, hamburger bun, or bagel. Remember that whole grains will help bump up the amount of fiber you’re getting each day.
If you’re going for cooked grains like rice or oatmeal, count a half-cup as one serving. It’s all right to include prepared, dry cereal, but stick with one ounce. (4)
The TLC diet is designed for reducing blood cholesterol levels, but people who pay attention to caloric intake and increase activity levels often find it useful as a weight-loss strategy.
There are plenty of opinions on how to arrive at the magic number of calories right for you, but if weight-loss is part of your personal health goal, establish an individual baseline.
Your doctor may be able to help you calculate the number of calories you should aim for. If that’s not an option, there are online tools you can use. The Mayo Clinic website has a simple format where you can enter your age, weight, height and sex; there’s also a converter for switching to international units. (5)
The National Institutes of Health provides a chart listing total saturated fat grams appropriate for various caloric levels, from 1200 to 2500 daily. Lower amounts are meant for smaller, more sedentary people, while the larger number could be appropriate for a lumberjack or marathon runner.
Keep in mind that saturated fat intake should be kept at less than 7%, so it will vary for different caloric levels. For example, a 1200-calorie diet locks saturated fat grams at 8, while a 2500-calorie diet allows 17. (6)
The Center for Disease Control states that carrying excess weight, like high blood pressure, increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease. (7) Adjusting caloric levels so you can achieve a normal weight is among the most positive health choices you can make.
Be sure to consider your intake of liquid calories when planning your TLC diet menu. For example, if you’re in the habit of drinking sugary soda or frothy coffee drinks, you’ll need to make adjustments. Water is always your healthiest drink choice. By including plenty of raw fruits and vegetables in your diet, you’ll increase your total daily water intake. (8)
Alcoholic drinks are allowed on the TLC diet in moderation; that’s usually considered one drink daily for women and two drinks for men.
If you’re going to have a drink, remember to account for the calories and stay within your target range. Expect to add about 100 calories each for a 5-ounce glass of wine or a 1.5 ounce shot of hard liquor, and up to 150 calories for 12 ounces of beer. (9) Check calorie counts for your favorite drinks to be certain where you stand when you tip your glass.
The other vital part of the TLC program is exercise; studies show physical activity helps to reduce cholesterol levels. (10)
General guidelines for exercise with the TLC diet suggest starting with 30 – 60 minutes of activity a day, but the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association emphasizes the importance of individual needs, and recommends checking with your doctor before deciding on an appropriate exercise program. (11) Because consistency is the key to success in both diet and other strategies for reducing cholesterol levels, be sure to settle on a type of exercise you enjoy.
The TLC program is a smart choice for bringing your cholesterol level into healthy ranges, and may also help if you’re looking to drop extra pounds.