The TLC diet is one of the few diet plans that is consistently ranked as one of the best diets by health experts around the globe.
It’s designed to help promote better heart health and reduce cholesterol levels by coupling healthy eating patterns with lifestyle modifications and strategies for weight control.
Plus, it may also be effective at treating other conditions by lowering blood sugar, managing blood pressure levels and keeping your waistline in check.
This article reviews the TLC diet, its potential benefits and downsides.
The TLC diet, or Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, is a healthy eating plan designed to improve heart health.
It was developed by the National Institutes of Health to help lessen the risk of heart disease and stroke.
The goal of the diet is to minimize blood levels of total and “bad” LDL cholesterol to keep the arteries clear and optimize heart health.
It works by combining components of diet, exercise and weight control to help protect against heart disease.
Unlike other diet programs, the TLC diet is intended to be followed in the long term and should be considered more of a lifestyle change rather than a fad diet.
Summary The TLC diet is a heart-healthy eating plan designed to improve heart health by lowering cholesterol levels.
The TLC diet involves a mix of both diet and lifestyle modifications that have been shown to help improve heart health.
In particular, it involves switching up the types of fat you eat and increasing your intake of health-promoting compounds like soluble fiber and plant sterols that can help lower cholesterol levels.
It also pairs dietary changes with increased physical activity to aid weight control and strengthen the heart muscle.
The main guidelines for following the TLC diet include (3):
- Eat only enough calories to maintain a healthy weight.
- 25–35% of your daily calories should come from fat.
- Less than 7% of your daily calories should come from saturated fat.
- Dietary cholesterol intake should be limited to less than 200 mg per day.
- Aim for 10–25 grams of soluble fiber daily.
- Consume at least 2 grams of plant sterols or stanols each day.
- Get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day.
Following the TLC diet typically involves increasing your consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds to bump up your fiber intake.
Adding 30 minutes of physical activity per day to your routine is also recommended, which can involve activities like walking, running, cycling or swimming.
Meanwhile, you should limit high-fat and cholesterol-rich foods like fatty cuts of meat, dairy products, egg yolks and processed foods to stick within the recommended daily amount, which helps maximize results.
Summary The TLC diet involves combining weight control, physical activity and dietary changes to optimize heart health.
The TLC diet is designed to help lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
In one 32-day study in 36 people with high cholesterol, the TLC diet was able to decrease levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol by an average of 11% (4).
The TLC diet also recommends consuming plant sterols and stanols.
In addition to helping lower cholesterol levels, the TLC diet has been associated with a number of other health benefits, including:
- Improving immune function: One small study in 18 people showed that following a TLC diet improved immune function in older adults with high cholesterol (1).
- Promoting weight loss: Getting regular exercise, keeping calorie intake in check and increasing your soluble fiber intake can all be effective strategies to help promote sustainable weight loss (12, 13).
- Stabilizing blood sugar: The TLC diet includes upping your intake of soluble fiber, which can slow the absorption of sugar in the blood to help manage blood sugar levels (14, 15).
- Reducing oxidative stress: A study in 31 adults with diabetes showed that following a TLC diet high in legumes reduced oxidative stress, which is believed to be linked to the development of chronic disease (2, 16).
- Lowering blood pressure: Studies show that increasing your intake of soluble fiber can lower levels of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure (17, 18).
Summary The TLC diet can help lower cholesterol levels and has been linked to benefits like increased weight loss, lower blood pressure, reduced oxidative stress and enhanced immune function.
Although the TLC diet can be a useful tool to help improve heart health, it may be associated with some potential downsides.
It can be a bit tricky to follow and may require you to track your intake carefully to ensure you’re staying within the strict guidelines set for dietary cholesterol, saturated fat and soluble fiber.
Additionally, several guidelines included in the diet may be based on outdated research, calling their necessity into question.
For example, the TLC diet recommends limiting dietary cholesterol intake to less than 200 mg per day.
Plus, the TLC diet also recommends minimizing saturated fat in the diet.
While saturated fat can potentially raise levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, research shows that it can raise “good” HDL cholesterol in the blood as well, which can be beneficial to heart health (21).
Summary The TLC diet can be tricky to follow, and several components of the diet may not be necessary for most people.
The TLC diet should include a good amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
These foods are not only rich in many nutrients but also high in fiber to help you meet your daily needs.
The diet should also include moderate amounts of lean protein like fish, poultry and low-fat cuts of meat.
Here are some foods to include in the diet:
- Fruits: Apples, bananas, melons, oranges, pears, peaches, etc.
- Vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, spinach, kale, etc.
- Whole grains: Barley, brown rice, couscous, oats, quinoa, etc.
- Legumes: Beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas.
- Nuts: Almonds, cashews, chestnuts, macadamia nuts, walnuts, etc.
- Seeds: Chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, etc.
- Red meat: Lean cuts of beef, pork, lamb, etc.
- Poultry: Skinless turkey, chicken, etc.
- Fish and seafood: Salmon, codfish, flounder, pollock, etc.
Summary The TLC diet should include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
People on the TLC diet are advised to limit foods that are high in saturated fat and cholesterol like fatty cuts of meat, processed meat products, egg yolks and dairy products.
Processed and fried foods should also be avoided to keep your fat intake and calorie consumption within the recommended range.
- Red meat: Fatty cuts of beef, pork, lamb, etc.
- Processed meat: Bacon, sausage, hot dogs, etc.
- Poultry with skin: Turkey, chicken, etc.
- Full-fat dairy products: Milk, yogurt, cheese, butter, etc.
- Processed foods: Baked goods, cookies, crackers, potato chips, etc.
- Fried foods: French fries, doughnuts, egg rolls, etc.
- Egg yolks
Summary Foods high in fat and cholesterol should be avoided on the TLC diet, including high-fat animal products and processed foods.
The TLC diet combines diet and exercise to achieve long-term lifestyle changes that help lower cholesterol levels and boost heart health.
It may also improve immunity, oxidative stress and blood sugar levels.
The diet focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, while limiting high-fat and high-cholesterol foods.
When used as a lifestyle modification rather than a quick-fix or fad diet, the TLC diet has the potential to make a powerful impact on health in the long run.