The Heart-Healthy TLC Diet

Getting Started With the TLC Diet

The first part of the TLC program is diet. The primary focus in this area is to reduce your intake of the biggest enemy -- saturated fats. Okay, so what are those? Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, such as butter, whole milk products, fatty meats, and poultry with the skin on it. Saturated fats raise your cholesterol more than anything else you eat in your diet.
Trans fats can similarly raise your cholesterol levels. They are found mainly in foods made with hydrogenated vegetable oils, such as hard margarines and shortening. Hydrogenated means that hydrogen is added to unsaturated fat (fat that is usually liquid at room temperature, such as vegetable oil) to make it more solid at room temperature.
However, trans fats make up far less of your overall diet than saturated fats. In general, the average person consumes approximately four to five times more saturated fats than trans fats.
The TLC diet recommends that 7 percent of your calories or less should come from saturated fats. This reduction in saturated fats is estimated to cause an 8 percent to 10 percent reduction in your LDL cholesterol levels.
The TLC diet also recommends that 25 percent to 35 percent of your daily calories should come from total fat, which includes saturated fat calories. Other guidelines include:
  • Decreasing dietary cholesterol to less than 200 mg/day, which can result in a 3 percent to 5 percent reduction in LDL cholesterol levels
  • Reducing weight by 10 pounds if you are overweight, which can result in a 5 percent to 8 percent reduction in LDL levels
  • Adding 5 to 10 grams per day of soluble fiber, which can lower LDL levels by 3 percent to 5 percent
  • Adding 2 grams per day of plant sterols/stanols, which can lower LDL levels by 5 percent to 15 percent.
If you haven't done the math yet, the TLC diet can help lower LDL cholesterol levels by approximately 20 percent to 30 percent. In short, the more you do with the program, the more you will benefit from it and the lower your LDL levels will go.
However, it is not usually recommended to dive right into all of this. The TLC diet is set up to be a step-by-step process. For example, in the first six weeks, you will be advised to reduce your saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, while also moderately increasing your physical activity (approximately 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activities, such as a brisk walk, on most days of the week). If you are overweight, you will need to reduce your caloric intake and increase your high-fiber foods. You should follow these steps for six weeks.
After the first six weeks of the program, your LDL levels will be tested and your healthcare provider may recommend more dietary approaches. This may include adding plant stanols/sterols and increasing soluble fiber. This regimen is followed for another six weeks before your LDL levels are tested again. After this six-week period is up, your LDL levels will be checked and, if needed, you may be prescribed a cholesterol-lowering medication.
Your progress will then be regularly checked, usually every four to six months thereafter. The goal of the TLC diet is to help you eat healthier foods that are cooked and prepared in healthier ways. It is not meant to be a temporary diet; it is meant to be a long-term lifestyle change.
The TLC diet is not meant to be a deprivation diet, but one that can include a variety of foods that are also good for your heart. The breakdown of the servings of food groups you can eat include:
  • Breads, such as whole-grain breads, pasta, rice, and potatoes -- Six or more servings a day
  • Vegetables -- Three to five servings a day
  • Fruits -- Two to four servings a day
  • Dairy products -- Two to three servings a day
  • No more than two eggs a week, including eggs in baked goods
  • Meat/poultry/fish -- Five ounces or less a day
  • Fats/oils -- Depends on daily calorie level.
Also, if you haven't paid much attention to those food labels in the past, that's about to change. Food labels will become an important part of your daily life. Food labels are one of the best tools for succeeding with the TLC diet. They help give you the nutritional value of the product, as well as the numbers for saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and calories. This will help you keep better track of how many fats (and which ones) you are eating.
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