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Spotlight On: The TLC Diet

Name: The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet

Concept: Put simply, the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet gives your heart a little tender loving care. It’s an old-school, low-fat diet that was developed by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program. The aim of the TLC diet is to reduce heart disease risk by cutting back on fat — especially the artery-clogging saturated variety — and eating more fiber-rich foods.

Calorie levels are set based on your goals. If high cholesterol is the sole concern, 2,500 calories per day for men and 1,800 for women is optimal. If weight loss also is a goal, the daily caloric intake drops to 1,600 for men and 1,200 for women. Of the allotted daily calories, saturated fat should represent less than 7 percent and cholesterol should be less than 200 mg.

The Promise: Slash bad LDL cholesterol by as much as 10 percent in six weeks. The eating plan can also be adapted to promote weight loss. If your cholesterol does not decrease, the TLC diet offers a step-up protocol that calls for adding 2 grams of plant stanols or sterols and 10 to 25 grams of soluble fiber each day. Fiber- and plant-based stanols and sterols help block the absorption of cholesterol, helping to lower it.

The Perils: The TLC diet is government approved. It is not a “fad diet” — there is no gimmick. If you follow the plan, your LDL cholesterol level should drop. That said, you do have to do your own math and interpret the ever-more-complicated nutrition labels.

“Yes” Foods: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, fish and skinless poultry.

“No” Foods: Butter, cheese and other full-fat dairy foods, salami, bacon and red meat.

Sample Meal: Dinner a la TLC

  • 3 ounces baked or broiled salmon
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 cup cooked broccoli
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (used in cooking)
  • Salad made with romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and oil and /vinegar-based dressing
  • 1 slice Italian bread with teaspoon soft margarine

Should you or shouldn’t you? Check with your doctor first, but if you have high cholesterol levels, the TLC diet is likely a good starting point. Note that you may also need medications to keep your cholesterol levels where they should be. Diet and lifestyle changes alone may not be enough to lower your risk for heart attack and stroke. If you have had bariatric surgery, discuss the TLC diet with your doctor to see if it is right for you.

Further Reading:
Your Guide to Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC – NHLBI