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Can the TLC Diet Help Lower Cholesterol Levels?


Updated September 30, 2012

Updated September 30, 2012

The TLC diet, or Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, is a low cholesterol diet designed by the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) and belongs to a group of recommendations set forth by the NCEP for living a heart-healthy lifestyle. Therapeutic lifestyle changes include modifying your diet, increasing your physical activity, and weight loss.

This diet contains recommendations on the daily intake of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Additionally, the diet also includes recommendations on fiber-containing products. This regimen basically focuses on the consumption of a balanced diet, emphasizing the difference between “good” fats and “bad” fats as well as the difference between “good” and “bad” carbohydrates.


The TLC diet recommends that total fat intake should be limited to 25 to 35 percent of your total calories each day. Two main types of fats found in foods: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are the “good” fats and can be divided into polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats. These fats are good because they are known to lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL, “bad” cholesterol) levels. Good sources of unsaturated fats include nuts and fish products. The TLC diet recommends that your polyunsaturated fat intake should consist of up to 20 percent of your total caloric intake, while monounsaturated fats should consist of up 10 percent of your total calories each day.

Saturated fats are the “bad” fats and are known to raise LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels. Foods high in saturated fats include fatty animal meats, whole milk dairy products, and fried foods. Although you need to avoid saturated fats as often as possible, the TLC diet recommends that you limit your consumption of saturated fats to less than 7 percent of your total intake.


Not only do we obtain cholesterol from the foods we eat, our liver also makes cholesterol. In fact, the liver makes the majority of the cholesterol needed by our bodies. In the TLC diet, cholesterol intake is limited to less than 200 milligrams a day.


This diet also emphasizes the intake of more complex, healthier carbohydrates instead of foods made from simple sugars (like cookies or pastries). Complex carbohydrates include vegetables, pasta, and whole wheat bread. In this diet, carbohydrates should comprise between 50 to 60 percent of your total calories each day.


Protein should consist of 15 percent of your total caloric intake.

Other Recommendations

The TLC diet also includes recommendations on soluble fiber and phytosterol, both of which are known to lower cholesterol levels. Soluble, or viscous, fiber includes oatmeal, psyllium, pectin, and bran. Phytosterols, also known for their ability to lower cholesterol, are included in a variety of spreads and dressings such as margarine and salad dressing. These items are included specifically because of their documented cholesterol-lowering ability. Current recommendations for soluble fiber consumption are 10 to 25 grams each day, whereas two grams a day of phytosterol intake is recommended. Additionally, the TLC diet recommends that salt intake be limited to 2400 milligrams a day.

This heart-healthy diet might seem complicated because of the many guidelines given for each main nutrient. However, it basically encourages eating a heart-healthy, balanced diet and lowering cholesterol through decreased fat intake and increased consumption of fiber.


Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (PDF), July 2004, The National Institutes of Heath: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

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