TLC Diet: Lower Your Cholesterol to Maintain a Healthy Heart

Nearly 94 million U.S. adults age 20 or older have total cholesterol levels above 200 mg/dL, putting them at risk for heart disease and stroke. While there are medications for reducing cholesterol levels, health professionals recommend making lifestyle and eating habit changes. The TLC diet has focused on creating a natural strategy to reduce cholesterol levels for those with borderline or high cholesterol levels.

Key takeaways:

What is the TLC diet?

The TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) diet was designed by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program to improve your blood cholesterol level. It focuses on heart health, minimizing your daily intake of fat, and focusing more on healthy, whole foods.

TLC diet consists of the three main components:

  1. Diet. Decrease saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Add plant stanols (legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds) and increase soluble fiber.
  2. Physical Activity. Inactivity is a major risk factor for heart disease, and being regularly active can help lower your LDL, triglycerides, blood pressure, and more.
  3. Weight Management. While TLC focuses on heart health as its number one priority, it’s essential to follow a nutritious diet and be physically active throughout the week.

Key guidelines for the TLC diet

If you're thinking about trying the TLC diet, here are the guidelines to follow:

  • Limiting saturated fat levels to less than 7% of your total daily calories (you can lower your LDL levels by 8–10%).
  • Decrease your dietary cholesterol to less than 200 mg/day (it will reduce your LDL levels by 3–5%).
  • Add 5–10 grams of soluble fiber daily to decrease LDL levels by 5–15% (incorporating soluble fiber can help block cholesterol).
  • Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.
Reading nutrition facts labels is the most essential move when it comes to healthy eating, dieting and maintain a healthy nutritious lifestyle.
Nutrition Facts

Who benefits most from the TLC diet?

While the TLC diet is perfectly safe for anyone to partake in, it’s most effective for those who overeat saturated fat, those having heart problems, and are experiencing high cholesterol levels. Focusing on heart-healthy foods and following this diet can help lower cholesterol levels and improve your overall heart health. TLC isn’t a diet but a lifestyle change you can follow and maintain for the rest of your life.

Cholesterol – what you should know:

The body uses cholesterol to make essential components like hormones, bile acids, and vitamin D. Too much can cause the excess to become trapped in artery walls. Over time, as this plaque continues to build in blood vessels in the body, it can cause coronary arteries to become blocked, leading to chest pain. If a plaque bursts — sending cholesterol and fat into the bloodstream — it can cause a blood clot to develop over the plaque, restricting blood flow through the artery and potentially causing a heart attack.

There are certain activities and dispositions that are risk factors for high cholesterol:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Overweight/Obesity
  • Physical Inactivity
  • Diabetes

The risk of developing high cholesterol also increases at age 45 for men and 55 for women, so it’s even more crucial to begin making healthier lifestyle changes before you get to this age.

What can I eat on the TLC diet?

The TLC diet is not about starving yourself, but instead encouraging you to incorporate healthy eating habits in your everyday routine. Below we will cover what your dietary plan would look like and if you need more information, there's a full guide on the TLC-approved foods.

Whole grains

Whole grains are high in complex carbs, which are high in fiber and can help reduce cholesterol levels. They are also low in total fat and saturated fat. A few examples of whole grains are brown rice, quinoa, barley, and oats.

Vegetables and beans or peas

Dry beans and peas are high in fiber, as both reduce cholesterol and are a good source of plant protein. A few examples of vegetables and beans are spinach, asparagus, garbanzo beans, and black beans.


The fruit carries several essential vitamins and minerals that our body needs and is fiber-rich. Try incorporating berries into your morning bowl of oatmeal or an apple as a snack. Watch out for added sugars in canned products, and try to eat whole fruit rather than juice if possible, as it has much more fiber than a glass offers.

Low-fat dairy

Low-fat dairy products are higher in calcium and protein, all while carrying significantly less saturated fat per serving. Eating a bowl of cottage cheese for a snack is an excellent source of protein while low in saturated fat. Also, if you love your morning coffee with cream, try switching out your half-and-half for 2% milk, as it’s significantly lower in saturated fat but will still give you a creamy texture.

Meat or fish

It’s perfectly fine to enjoy a steak or fattier cut of meat now and then, as long as it doesn’t exceed more than 5 ounces daily. If you really want to cut back, try opting for skinless chicken, fish, ground turkey, and even lean cuts of pork.

Fats, nuts and oils

While TLC focuses on reducing fat intake, dietary fat provides your body with energy and supports cell function. You still need a certain amount of fat for your body to function, allowing flexibility of 25-35% of daily calories to come from fat. These can come from nuts, oils, seeds, and healthy salad dressings. Because a little goes a long way, carefully track these foods when logging your daily intake, as they can easily exceed your calorie or fat limit for the day.

How does TLC differ from other diets?

Most diets today focus on specific targets such as low-fat, low-carb, and sugar-free, and they incorporate meal-replacement shakes and other foods that are nutritionally questionable while restricting calories. With the TLC diet, there’s no restriction on calories. While some may believe it follows the idea of ‘low-fat', it’s just limiting the amount of bad fat responsible for causing some of the leading deaths in the United States. The TLC diet wasn’t designed to focus on weight loss but to improve overall health and lower cholesterol levels, resulting in better heart health.

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