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TLC Diet

Overview

The aim: Cutting high cholesterol.

The claim: You’ll lower your bad LDL cholesterol by 8 to 10 percent in six weeks.

The theory: Created by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program, the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet is endorsed by the American Heart Association as a heart-healthy regimen that can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. The key is cutting back sharply on fat, particularly saturated fat. Saturated fat (think fatty meat, whole-milk dairy and fried foods) bumps up bad cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. That, along with strictly limiting daily dietary cholesterol intake and getting more fiber, can help people manage high cholesterol, often without medication.

Rankings

TLC Diet ranked #4 in Best Diets Overall. 38 diets were evaluated with input from a panel of health experts. See how we rank diets here.

TLC Diet is ranked:

3.9

Overall

Scorecard

  • Weight Loss Short-Term
    3.4
  • Weight Loss Long-Term
    2.9
  • Easy to Follow
    3.3
  • Healthy
    4.5

Scores are based on experts’ reviews.

How does TLC Diet work?

Start by choosing your target calorie level. If your only concern is lowering LDL, the goal is 2,500 per day for men and 1,800 for women. Need to shed pounds, too? Shoot for 1,600 (men) or 1,200 (women). Then cut saturated fat to less than 7 percent of daily calories, which means eating less high-fat dairy, like butter, and ditching fatty meats like salami. And consume no more than 200 milligrams of dietary cholesterol a day – the amount in about 2 ounces of cheese. If after six weeks your LDL cholesterol hasn’t dropped by about 8 to 10 percent, add in 2 grams of plant stanols or sterols and 10 to 25 grams of soluble fiber each day. (Soluble fiber and plant stanols and sterols help block the absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract, which helps lower LDL. Stanols and sterols are found in vegetable oils and certain types of margarine, and are available as supplements, too.) On TLC, you’ll be eating lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, fish and skin-off poultry. Exactly how you meet these guidelines is up to you, though sample meal plans are available.

[Also consider the Ornish diet, which ranks #1 in Best Heart-Healthy Diets.]

Each day, you’ll keep meat to a minimum (no more than 5 ounces, and stick to skinless chicken and turkey or fish); eat two to three servings of low-fat or nonfat dairy; enjoy fruits (up to four servings) and vegetable (three to five); and have six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice, pasta or other grains.

What Can I Eat?

|

Roast beef sandwich
Meat lovers can craft a roast beef sandwich with leafy greens and a tomato. Add a half cup of pasta salad with a quarter cup of mixed vegetables and an apple for a balanced lunch.
(Getty Images)

How much does it cost?

Other than your grocery bill, which should be no higher than usual, there are no expenses.

Will you lose weight?

Unclear, since the TLC diet was designed to improve cholesterol levels, not for weight loss. But research suggests that in general, low-fat diets tend to promote weight loss.

  • In one study, 120 overweight people followed either the Atkins diet or the TLC diet for six months. At the end of that period, Atkins dieters had lost an average of 31 pounds, compared with 20 for TLC dieters, according to findings published in 2004 in the Annals of Internal Medicine. (If you’re overweight, losing just 5 to 10 percent of your current weight can help stave off some diseases.)
  • In an analysis of 19 clinical trials, researchers found that participants following low-fat diets lost significantly more weight than those in control groups – typically about 7 additional pounds per year, according to findings published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2000. On average, reducing daily fat calories by 10 percent was associated with a loss of 6 3/10 pounds over six months.

How easy is it to follow?

Depends on your knack for tracking what you eat. It’s up to you, for example, to ensure that no more than 7 percent of your daily calories come from saturated fat, and that you don’t exceed 200 milligrams of daily cholesterol from food.

Convenience: The TLC diet takes work and a certain aptitude for reading nutrition labels. And aside from an 80-page manual available online – called “Your Guide To Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC” – there are few resources to help you along.

Recipes: The manual contains a few suggested meal plans, but no recipes.

Eating out: Allowed, but you’ll have to decipher which menu choices are lowest in saturated fat and cholesterol. Smartest are steamed, broiled, baked, roasted or poached entrees. Don’t be afraid to make special requests; for example, swap fries for a salad, and get the dressing on the side.


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Alcohol: Because alcohol can raise triglycerides – a fatty substance that’s been linked to heart disease – moderation is key. That means a drink a day max for women and two for men.

Timesavers: None.

Extras: Included in the NCEP’s “Your Guide To Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC” are dining-out tips, a few sample menus and primers on why cholesterol matters.

Fullness: Nutrition experts emphasize the importance of satiety, the satisfied feeling that you’ve had enough. Hunger shouldn’t be a problem on the TLC diet. You’ll be eating lots of fiber-packed fruits and veggies, which quell hunger.

Taste: How much will you miss butter, fast food and creamy sauce? If you like your food greasy or have a sweet tooth, the TLC diet may not make you salivate. But a little lemon and spices can make a seemingly bland chicken breast delicious. For dessert, nonfat frozen yogurt, low-fat sorbet and frozen pops are all in-bounds.

Health & Nutrition

Developed by the National Institutes of Health, the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet is a healthy choice, panelists agreed. Experts approved of the fiber and calcium it generously provides as well as the saturated fat it doesn’t.


See all Health & Nutrition »

What is the role of exercise?

The program calls for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise – like brisk walking – most or all days of the week. Being physically active lowers your risk of heart disease and diabetes, helps keep weight off and increases your energy level.

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