To suggest that a diet can change your life is a pretty bold claim. But choosing to eat healthy foods is one of the most influential tools you can use to guarantee a lasting impact on your health and well being. Pairing a healthy diet with an exercise program- well, that makes you almost unstoppable!
The TLC diet was created especially for people with high cholesterol by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, but it can also be used to help you lose weight, control your blood sugar levels, and possibly more. It works by limiting the number of calories you eat from sodium, cholesterol, and fat. Here are some tips for applying it to your lifestyle without feeling completely overwhelmed.
What is the TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes) Diet?
Heart disease affects 65 million Americans with no symptoms at all. In fact, most people don’t even realize they have high cholesterol until their doctor tells them. Reversing or stopping the buildup of plaque in your arteries can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease or a heart attack.
The TLC diet, also known as the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet, is an eating plan that embraces low-fat foods. Its goal is to reduce high LDL or “bad” cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. The TLC diet also aims to lower the risk of stroke and high blood pressure associated with eating a high-fat diet.
The initial steps of the program are broken up into two periods of six weeks. After that, you’re encouraged to check in with your doctor every four to six months. The program uses four different categories to classify your LDL goals. Level one is the highest risk category. It means that you already have heart disease or diabetes and are at risk of a heart attack. All other groups are based on a health questionnaire that your doctor may have you fill out to determine your goals.
Here are some of the guidelines on the TLC diet:
- Reduce the intake of foods that are high in cholesterol, trans and saturated fats, and sodium
- Moderately increase physical exercise
- Increase the amount of fiber-rich foods
- Reduce calories if overweight
- Eat more plant stanols/sterols
The creators of the TLC diet estimate that the longer you stay on the diet, the more your cholesterol levels will go down. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, making the following dietary changes may result in a decrease of total LDL cholesterol by up to 30 percent:
- Decreasing saturated fat to less than 7 percent of calories
- Limiting dietary cholesterol to less than 200 mg per day
- Losing ten pounds if you are overweight
- Adding five to ten grams of soluble fiber to your diet each day
- Eating two grams of plant stanols/sterols each day
- Get 30 minutes of exercise each day, such as brisk walking
Health Benefits of the TLC Diet
Research shows that the TLC diet is effective at helping patients lower their LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels. LDL or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol is considered the “bad” cholesterol that increases your risk of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On the other hand, HDL or high-density lipoprotein is the “good” cholesterol that absorbs cholesterol and takes it back to the liver where it is flushed out from the body. The goal of the TLC diet is to lower LDL cholesterol and keep your heart healthy.
Losing a few pounds can also help protect your heart. This is why the TLC diet aims to reduce your calorie intake if you’re overweight. Studies show that even a moderate weight loss of 15 pounds can reduce your risk of developing hypertension by 28 percent. Losing weight has also been linked to reduced triglyceride levels, serum glucose, total cholesterol, and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Trans fats especially hurt the heart. In the United States, most trans fats are formed during the partial hydrogenation process of vegetable oils.
Hydrogenation is a process that occurs when a hydrogen atom is added to a fat molecule. The more hydrogenated a fat molecule becomes, the more solid it is. Trans fats are produced when a fat molecule is partially-hydrogenated, or not entirely hydrogenated. While a few trans fats are naturally found in dairy products and meats, they don’t appear to affect cholesterol in the same way as partially-hydrogenated products. Saturated fats are also believed to hurt LDL cholesterol. In fact, one study found that saturated fat is the primary dietary factor for raising LDL cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that accumulates in the blood vessels and arteries when there is too much of it. This puts a strain on the heart because it has to work harder to pump blood throughout the body. By reducing cholesterol, trans fat, and saturated fat, the TLC diet aims to improve heart function and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. For every one percent decrease in total calories from saturated fat, there is a two percent decrease in LDL cholesterol. One study even found that patients who followed a TLC diet by reducing their saturated fat content to less than seven percent of their total calories lowered their LDL levels by eight percent.
TLC Diet Sample Menu Plan
If you’re interested in the TLC diet but not sure where to start, it might be helpful to check out a sample menu of the food’s you’d be eating as well as some of the ones you’ll need to avoid. You’ll also want to keep in mind that calorie control is an integral part of the diet if you need to lose weight.
Your doctor or nutritionist can help you come up with an exact number, but most men (4) require around 2,500 calories a day while women need 1,800. If you’re looking to lose weight, the TLC diet recommends considering dropping these numbers to 1,600 for men and 1,200 for women. Some research shows that losing weight can significantly help reduce LDL cholesterol, which is the primary goal of the TLC diet.
Consider these tips when picking out which foods to eat:
- Six or more servings a day of whole-grain bread and cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes, low-fat crackers, and low-fat cookies
- Three to five servings a day of vegetables, dry beans, and peas
- Two to four servings a day of fruits
- Two to three servings a day of low-fat or fat-free milk, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, and cheese (no more than three grams of fat per ounce)
- Two or fewer egg yolks per week (substitute egg whites in recipes)
- Five or fewer ounces a day of meats and seafood (limit shrimp and organ meats; focus on skinless poultry and low-fat cuts of meat)
- Eat nuts and oils in moderation
- Focus on foods high in plant sterols/stanols such as margarine and orange juices
- Eat lots of foods that are high in soluble fiber: Barley, oats, psyllium, apples, bananas, berries, citrus fruits, nectarines, peaches, pears, plums, prunes, broccoli, brussels sprouts, carrots, dry beans, peas, and soy products (tofu, miso)
Here is a sample menu plan of a day on the TLC diet:
- Shredded wheat cereal with one percent milk
- One medium slice of whole wheat toast and jelly
- Orange juice
- Regular coffee with fat-free or low-fat milk (optional)
- A roast beef sandwich made with two slices of whole wheat bread, two ounces of lean and unseasoned roast beef, one slice of low-fat and low-sodium American cheese, one leaf of lettuce, three medium slices of tomatoes, one to two tablespoons of low-calorie mayonnaise
- One apple
- Two to three ounces of salmon made with one and one-half teaspoon of vegetable oil
- One medium baked potato topped with one teaspoon of margarine
- One-half cup seasoned green beans with one teaspoon of margarine
- One-half cup carrots seasoned and cooked in margarine
- One white dinner roll
- One-half cup cold milk
- One cup unsweetened tea
- Two and a half cups of popcorn made with ¾ to ½ teaspoon of margarine
Low-Fat Vs. Low-Carb: Which is Better?
Paleo and keto dieters might have a problem with the TLC diet mostly due to the difference in opinion on whether or not fat is really bad for you. Plenty of publications have backed the claims that eating a low-carb diet is better for weight loss and heart health than eating a low-fat diet. There was even some backlash on the health benefits of coconut oil a while back from the American Heart Association, which was met with counterclaims from health enthusiasts all around the world who were appalled that canola oil was considered healthier than coconut oil.
Still, the one thing both sides seem to agree on is that eating more fiber-rich foods in their whole form is better than consuming processed foods that are high in sugar. This includes swapping pre-packaged foods such as granola bars and baked goods for lots of fruits and vegetables, such as berries and leafy greens. Raw is usually best if you can swing it, but many people find that vegetables are more enjoyable when cooked in oil and seasoned with their favorite spices. If you’re watching your calorie or fat count, cooking vegetables in vegetable stock is another tasty option.
Tips For Making It Work
Making extreme dietary changes can be overwhelming. The trick is to go slow. You don’t have to dive right into the TLC diet right away. You might find it easier to make small changes. If you’re excited and want to jump right in, just remember that you might have setbacks and that’s OK! The key is not to quit. You’ll be surprised how well your body responds to a new way of eating if you haven’t been feeding it well for years.
1. Set small goals
The longer you stay on the TLC diet, the better. This means that you’ll want to create a plan that you won’t want to deviate from. Start small by changing one meal a day. In two weeks time, aim for a complete conversion to the TLC diet. Add a cheat day or snack if you need, but don’t give up.
2. Focus on fiber
Fiber helps you lose weight in several ways. First, it fills you up so that you remain full for more extended periods and don’t eat more than you should. It also naturally detoxes the body and pushes waste through the digestive tract. A ½ cup serving of barley, oatmeal or oat bran contains one gram of soluble fiber and up to six grams of total fiber. A medium piece of fruit such as an apple or banana includes three to four grams of fiber, and ½ cup of cooked brussels sprouts contains 4.5 grams.
You’ll see better results in your weight loss quest and cholesterol levels if you add some exercise to your program. It doesn’t have to be intense- walking briskly for 30 minutes a day will do the trick. Waking up 30 minutes earlier in the morning or going for a 30-minute walk after dinner should do the trick. If your doctor agrees, try adding some resistance training to your routine to build some lean muscle and support your weight loss goals. Grab a friend to help keep you accountable.
4. Drink lots of water
Water helps keep you full and helps flush toxins through the body. Aim for eight glasses a day.
5. Follow up with your doctor
It’s a good idea to follow up with your doctor every few months to have your cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and weight checked. Your doctor may also reevaluate your risk category to determine how well your heart is doing. Seeing your progress will help you stay on track and may even motivate you to keep going. Plus, your doctor may also have some tips to help you further protect your heart.