It may not be as well known as Atkins or The Zone, but the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes diet, or TLC, is making waves in the health world. But it has experts on the fence.
Ranked fourth in the “best diet rankings” of 2017, after the DASH, Mediterranean and MIND diets, TLC has a simple goal: to boost heart health by lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — in other words, the “bad” kind of cholesterol.
The diet requires counting calories, staying active and reducing fat intake, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in the U.S. notes, and recommends it for people with high blood cholesterol, as well as those looking to reduce saturated and trans fats overall.
How the diet works
The NHLBI breaks down the TLC diet as follows:
- Less than seven per cent of your daily calories should come from saturated fat
- You should consume less than 200 mg a day of cholesterol
- 25 to 35 per cent of daily calories should come from total fat (including saturated fat)
- You should consume two grams per day of plant stanols or sterols (can be found in everything from juice to cooking oil)
- You should consume 10 to 25 grams per day of soluble fibre
- Consume only enough calories to reach or maintain a healthy weight
In addition, you should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity daily.
When it comes to food, aim for:
- Six or more servings of grains
- Three to five servings of vegetables/dry beans
- Two to four servings of fruit
- Two to three servings of dairy products (fat-free or low fat)
- Two or fewer egg yolks per week
WATCH: Learn more about spring cleanses, detoxes and the keto diet
The diet also says to limit meat, fish and poultry to five ounces or less per day, and consume fats and oils made with unsaturated fat (like nuts and olive oil).
For snacks, the diet encourages everything from pretzels to air-popped popcorn and bagels. And for dessert, it allows for low-fat or fat-free ice cream or yogurt, sherbet, angel food cake and Jell-O.
But is it for everyone?
While the diet has good intentions, registered dietitian Abby Langer says, it can also be faulty.
“I don’t recommend margarine, fat-free dairy and limited egg yolks,” she tells Global News. “I was also surprised that the diet recommends pretzels and things like low-fat frozen yogurt.”
“I was shocked that there was little to no mention of sugar — the entire focus is just on cutting fat, but to what detriment? Recommending that people replace the fat in their diet with refined carbohydrate and fat-free dairy isn’t OK,” she says.
Registered dietitian Anar Allidina says one of the biggest drawbacks of the TLC diet is figuring out how to count calories and grams. To help with this, she recommends using an app like My Fitness Pal.
Langer points out that lowering cholesterol isn’t easy and a lot of it comes down to genes.
“Some people’s livers just make too much cholesterol, and with those people, even if their diet is healthy, their cholesterol will still trend high,” she says. “If you take steps to lower your cholesterol, you should be able to see some results in your blood work after about three months.”
READ MORE: Do weight loss supplements work?
There are also factors related to age and sex that come into play, according to the NHLBI.
“Blood cholesterol begins to rise around age 20 and continues to go up until about age 60 or 65,” the organization notes in the TLC diet guidelines. “Before age 50, men’s total cholesterol levels tend to be higher than those of women of the same age — after age 50, the opposite happens. That’s because with menopause, women’s LDL levels often rise.”
Langer says other ways to reduce “bad” cholesterol include eating a plant-heavy diet, cutting out processed food, increasing fibre intake, quitting smoking and being more active in general.
Registered dietitian and author Maggie Moon told Women’s Health, because the diet allows you to lower cholesterol, it could also lead to weight loss — even if that’s not the main goal.
“If you’re eating a lot of fast food or ultra-processed foods that contain saturated fat, and you stop while following this diet, then yes, you would probably lose weight,” Langer says.
Allidina agrees and also points out that aside from changing up food intake, the diet’s conservative caloric guidelines — women are limited to 1,200 calories a day — will inevitably lead to weight loss.
“The diet is focused on healthy foods that are low in fat and plant-based. Eating this way can help with weight loss,” she says.
But don’t expect a quick fix or that you can do it for a couple of weeks without making long term lifestyle changes, Langer says. Instead, read food labels carefully, exercise regularly and cut back on fatty processed foods.
“I want people to choose a way of eating that’s sustainable for the long-term,” she says. “This means nothing super restrictive.”