TLC Diet – High Cholesterol-Lowering Diet For Better Heart Health

Medically reviewed by Alexandra Dusenberry, MS, RDN Alexandra Dusenberry Alexandra DusenberryMS, RDN twitter_iconlinkedin_iconinsta_icon
Written by , MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Charushila Biswas MSc (Biotechnology), ISSA Certified Fitness Nutritionist Experience: 6 years
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There are some things in life that you are better off without. Like high cholesterol. 95 million Americans over 20 years of age and 7% of children and young adults between 6-19 years have high cholesterol (1). This has made heart disease so common, and CVD the number one cause of deaths worldwide (2), (3). But the TLC diet or Therapeutic Lifestyle Change diet can help reverse this fatal condition. This article covers all details about this doctor-approved diet program that will help you and your loved ones. Read on!

Highlights Of The Article

What Is Cholesterol And Why Is It Important?

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance found in your body and in foods. It is the structural component of your cells, and it also helps produce certain hormones, bile acids, vitamin D, etc. Cholesterol is produced in the liver and is carried in the blood in small packets called lipoproteins.

There are two types of lipoproteins – High-Density Lipoprotein (HDL) and Low-Density Lipoprotein (LDL). HDL cholesterol is known as “good” cholesterol as it removes cholesterol from the tissues and transports them to the liver for disposal. LDL cholesterol is known as “bad” cholesterol as it carries cholesterol to the tissues and arteries (4).

So, the higher the level of HDL cholesterol in the blood, the better it is. And the higher the level of LDL cholesterol, the more dangerous it is. But why? Let’s find out what happens when LDL cholesterol levels are high in the blood.

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What Happens When LDL Cholesterol Levels Are High?

What Happens When LDL Cholesterol Levels Are High
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When LDL cholesterol levels are high (more than 150mg/dL ) in the blood, the possibility of plaque formation, arterial blockage, and arterial stiffening (atherosclerosis) increases.

There are many reasons – like weight gain, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and diabetes – that cause the LDL cholesterol to shoot up.

LDL cholesterol gets deposited on the arterial walls, which leads to plaque build-up, causes narrowing of the arteries, and restricts blood flow.

This can happen to any artery in the body, but it is dangerous when it happens to the coronary artery (the artery that supplies blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the heart). Plaque build-up restricts the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle, leading to chest pain (angina) (5).

Some plaques are unstable. Meaning, they can burst open at any time, releasing cholesterol and fat into the bloodstream. This can cause arterial blockage, resulting in a heart attack (6).

Hence, it is necessary that you be extra careful about the foods you eat and the kind of lifestyle you lead. The TLC diet helps you rebuild a better diet and lifestyle and lower the risk of heart disease. Let’s get to know more about it.

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What Is The TLC Diet And How Does It Work?

What Is The TLC Diet And How Does It Work
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TLC stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes. It is a step-by-step program to reduce LDL cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. It encourages you to consume healthy foods and work out and control other factors that add to high LDL cholesterol levels, like smoking.

Changing bad eating habits(like reducing saturated fats intake, avoiding trans fats, and cholesterol from animal sources of food), being active, and giving up bad habits over a period has shown to decrease LDL cholesterol (7). The TLC program can also help lower high blood pressure, obesity, and boost immunity (8), (9), (10), (11).

Here’s how the TLC program will be conducted by health professionals with your help.

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The TLC Path To Reducing LDL Cholesterol

The TLC Path To Reducing LDL Cholesterol
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1. 1st Step – Start Making Lifestyle Changes

  • Reduce dietary intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and animal sources of cholesterol.
  • Do moderate physical activity. Get at least 3 hours of exercise per week.
  • If you are overweight, talk to a dietitian and get a reduced calorie, high nutrition diet chart that’s customized for you. Do not follow fad diets.

The results will take at least 5-6 weeks to show. After 6 weeks, here’s what you’ve got to do.

2. 2nd Step – Check LDL, Incorporate More Dietary Changes

  • Reduce dietary intake of saturated fats, trans fats, and animal sources of cholesterol.
  • Add plant stanols and sterols to your diet.
  • Increase soluble fiber consumption.

Again, wait for 6 weeks and then move on to the 3rd step. Here’s what you have to do.

3. 3rd Step – Check LDL, Add More Drug Therapy

  • Consult your doctor and start drug therapy for lowering LDL.
  • Reinforce physical activity and weight management under the supervision of professionals.
  • Allow your doctor to check and provide treatment for metabolic syndrome.

4. 4th Step – Keep Checking Your Progress

You have to keep checking your progress every 4-6 months. Continue being on a healthy diet, work out regularly, discard bad habits, and remain stress-free.

The TLC diet will change your relationship with food – for good! Here’s what your doctor would recommend.

The TLC Diet

  • Less than 200 mg cholesterol from food sources.
  • Less than 7% of total calories from saturated fats per day.
  • 2 grams of plant stanols and sterols per day.
  • 10-25 gm soluble fiber per day.
  • 25-35 % of daily calories from total fat (this includes saturated fats).
  • Enough calories to maintain a healthy weight.

NOTE: You must talk to your doctor and dietitian to know what you should consume. Get a diet chart and follow it.

In general, you may consume these foods mentioned below.

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Foods To Eat

Foods To Eat
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Consume these foods after consulting your doctor/dietitian.

  • Veggies – Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, scallion, purple cabbage, carrot, beetroot, lettuce, Chinese cabbage, red bell pepper, green bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, baby corn, chard, radish greens, kale, spinach, celery, fennel, radish, turnip, parsnip, zucchini, tomato, onion, garlic, and squash.
  • Fruits – Apple, banana, pear, plum, pineapple, lime, lemon, tangerine, orange, grapefruit, kiwi, pomegranate, strawberries, cranberries, blueberries, and blackberries.
  • Proteins – Fish, skinless chicken breast, egg whites, legumes, tofu, soybeans, soy milk, and mushrooms.
  • Whole Grains – Brown rice, oats, quinoa, red rice, black rice, buckwheat, amaranth, and barley.
  • Dairy – Buttermilk, yogurt, and skim milk.
  • Nuts And Seeds – Almonds, walnuts, pistachios, flax seeds, melon seeds, and sunflower seeds.
  • Healthy Fats – Olive oil, avocado oil, rice bran oil, avocado, and fish oil.
  • Herbs And Spices – Cilantro, fennel, dill, rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, chili flakes, basil, black pepper, cumin, coriander, turmeric, tamarind, garlic powder, ginger powder, onion powder, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and saffron.
  • Beverages – Water, buttermilk, coconut water, and freshly pressed fruit juice.

Here’s the list of foods you must avoid consuming.

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Foods To Avoid

Foods To Avoid
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  • Deep fried foods
  • High-calorie and high-cholesterol foods
  • Ready-to-eat foods
  • Packaged fruit juices
  • Diet soda
  • Fried chicken
  • Pizza and burger
  • Sugary and salty foods
  • Biscuits
  • Potato wafers
  • Chopped and packaged veggies and fruits
  • Coconut oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, and hemp seed oil.
  • Butter, cheese, cream cheese, margarine, and lard.
  • Nut butter
  • Red meat, sausage, and salami.

In addition to this, you also have to workout. Here’s what you have to do.

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TLC Workout

  • Get at least 3 hours of workout per week.
  • Start slow. Maintain good posture and learn the techniques.
  • Do cardio and strength training. Avoid vigorous workouts.
  • Breathe in and breathe out properly.
  • Use the pursed lip breathing technique.
  • If you are obese, start by walking slowly for at least 10 minutes per day under the supervision of a trainer.

Apart from diet and exercise, one very important aspect of reducing cholesterol is to take care of your lifestyle. Here are the recommended lifestyle changes.

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Lifestyle Changes

  • Quit smoking.
  • Consume 30 mL of wine once a week (talk to your doctor before you do this).
  • Sleep early and get up early.
  • Get at least 6-7 hours of sleep.
  • No late-night snacking.
  • Practice meditation to remain stress-free.
  • Walk your pet to reduce anxiety and alleviate depression.
  • Choose a restaurant that serves healthy food when eating out.
  • Consume home-cooked food most of the times.
  • Have at least 20 minutes of your “me time” every day.
  • Learn a new skill.

By following the TLC diet program, you will also reap other health benefits. They are listed below.

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TLC Diet Benefits

TLC Diet Benefits
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  • Eating good and exercising regularly will help you shed the excess pounds.
  • Your blood triglyceride levels will decrease.
  • You will start to feel more active and energetic.
  • You will be proactive in everything you do.
  • Your mental health will improve.
  • You will start to look refreshed and young.
  • You will have stronger immunity than before.
  • Your blood pressure will be in control.
  • You will start to have better lung health.
  • All your health problems will start to diminish.

But you might experience a few side effects.

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Are There Any Side Effects?

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Abnormally low blood pressure
  • Irritability

Note: If you experience these symptoms constantly for more than 10 minutes, you must call a doctor and let your family know about your uneasiness.

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The TLC diet is a highly effective and science-backed approach to help people with high cholesterol to reduce their LDL levels and lead a healthy life. If you (or any of your loved ones) are diagnosed with high LDL levels, it is best to be on the TLC program. Talk to your doctor and get on the best therapy for high LDL levels. Live a happy and long life. Take care!

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I lose weight with the TLC diet?

Yes, you may lose weight with the TLC diet, but this diet is strictly for those with high blood LDL cholesterol levels. We do not recommend following this diet without your doctor’s permission and only for weight loss.

Can I do this alone?

No. You must keep your doctor and trainer in the loop. This diet needs to be supervised by a team of professionals.

Can the TLC diet control diabetes?

TLC is not specifically for controlling diabetes. But one of its pros is that it will help you control your blood sugar levels.


  1. High Cholesterol Facts” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
  2. Global variation in the prevalence of elevated cholesterol…” Circulation, US National Library of Medicine.
  3. Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs)” World Health Organization.
  4. What is cholesterol?” HealthDirect
  5. LDL: The “Bad” Cholesterol” MedlinePlus, US National Library of Medicine.
  6. YOUR GUIDE TO Lowering Your Cholesterol With TLC” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
  7. Effects of Therapeutic Lifestyle Change diets…” Journal of Lipid Research, US National Library of Medicine.
  8. Therapeutic lifestyle changes…” Journal of Clinical Hypertension, US National Library of Medicine
  9. Diet and Exercise in the Management…” American Academy of Family Physicians.
  10. Therapeutic lifestyle change diet…” European journal of clinical nutrition, US National Library of Medicine.
  11. Effect of a therapeutic lifestyle change…”Journal of Lipid Research, US National Library of Medicine.
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Alexandra Dusenberry is a registered dietitian nutritionist and a certified personal trainer based in San Diego, California. She has 6 years of experience and works with clients around the world to help them reach their health and fitness goals.

Read full bio of Alexandra Dusenberry
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