You may be wondering if there’s an ideal cholesterol diet to help you lower your levels. Dietary changes can help lower cholesterol for many people, but it’s best to think in terms of lasting changes rather than a quick fix. Of course, losing excess weight can also help lower your cholesterol.
Doctors often recommend a change in diet as a first step. They may suggest a sensible exercise program as well. This can be an effective way to moderate your cholesterol and lower your risk of developing heart disease. According to USDA research1, the typical American diet is much higher in refined grains, sodium, fats and sugars than it was 40 years ago. This is tied to an increase in obesity and other health problems. While there is no “ideal” cholesterol diet that works the same for everyone, you can take better care of yourself by making healthier food choices and lifestyle changes. These changes may help lower your LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) while raising your HDL (“good” cholesterol).
The TLC Diet
The Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) diet is part of a program created by the National Institutes of Health’s National Cholesterol Education Program to help lower cholesterol levels. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),2 this may to reduce LDL by 25%-30%compared to a typical diet in the US.
The main focus of the TLC cholesterol diet is lowering the amount of saturated fat you eat. Saturated fat is thought to raise your cholesterol more than anything else. It’s found in fatty meats, poultry (with the skin on), fried foods, baked goods like cookies & muffins, and whole milk products. Choosing low-fat milk products, lean cuts of meat, and using oils such as olive or canola can help reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet.
The TLC cholesterol diet also recommends these caloric benchmarks:
- 2,500 calories per day recommended for men (1,600 if you need to lose weight)
- 1,800 calories per day recommended for women (1,200 if you need to lose weight)
Although TLC was not designed as a weight-loss diet, lowering the amount of saturated fat and calories you consume usually results in losing excess weight. This is good for your overall wellbeing, including your heart health, and can also help lower your cholesterol levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, dropping just 5%-10% of your body weight—10 to 20 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds—can make a big difference.
In addition to maintaining a healthier weight, try making the following TLC-recommended dietary changes:
- Cut saturated fat to less than no more than 5%-6% of daily calories. Foods high in saturated fat include butter and other full-fat dairy products and red meat.
- Cut dietary cholesterol to no more than 200 mg a day – the amount in about two ounces of cheese.
- Eat foods that are have been proven to lower LDL cholesterol, such as tuna, salmon, and walnuts. They are a good source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
If your LDL hasn’t dropped by about 8%-10% after following this diet, try adding two grams of plant stanols or sterols and 10-25 grams of soluble fiber every day to help block absorption of cholesterol. Stanols and sterols can be found in beans and legumes, seeds and nuts, vegetable oils, some types of margarine, and are also offered in supplements. Foods such as apples, oats, and kidney beans are good sources of soluble fiber.
Check with your doctor
Dietary changes and exercise can often help lower cholesterol levels, but check with your doctor before making any significant changes. He or she can give you advice specific to your particular health condition and needs.
1 Guthrie, J., Lin, B., Okrent, A., Volpe R. “Americans’ Food Choices at Home and Away” Amber Waves. Feb. 21, 2013. http://www.ers.usda.gov/amber-waves/2013-february/americans-food-choices-at-home-and-away.aspx#.VO8BCvnF-r2. Accessed February 26, 2015.2 Dept. of Health and Human Services. CDC. “Can Lifestyle Modifications Using Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Reduce Weight and the Risk for Chronic Disease?” Research to Practice Series No. 7 http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/downloads/r2p_life_change.pdf. Accessed February 26, 2015.