What is the Whole30 Diet?
Unless you’ve spent the past few years living under a rock, you’ve probably seen your social media feed exploding with all things Whole30. The 30-day diet centers on eating whole foods, free from added sugar, nitrates, grains, and dairy, in order to “reset” and determine which parts of your diet are triggering your health issues.
The Whole30 diet might elicit some eye rolls from your waiter and some confusion over which bacon brands are “compliant” with the lifestyle. But, what exactly is this restrictive diet all about, and is it worth the constant label-checking?
To give you a sense of why your sister no longer eats salad dressing—or why it’s impossible for you to eat out with friends—we’ve broken down the key components of this very divisive diet.
What is the Whole30 Diet?
The Whole30 is a complete reboot for your body created by then-husband and wife duo Melissa and Dallas Hartwig. The Whole30 is designed to cleanse your system by eliminating packaged and processed foods from your diet, plus sugar, grains, dairy, and alcohol.
The idea is that when you stop eating or drinking these things for 30 days, you’ll reduce cravings and get your body back to a “reset” state. Then, when you do reintroduce these items into your diet, you’ll know immediately which foods trigger negative reactions in your body and should be avoided forevermore.
At a glance, the “eat whole foods” concept is pretty straightforward. But the challenge lies in weeding out legumes, grains and the added sugars you’ll find in items like bacon and salad dressing. And because the Whole30 is designed to make you change your relationship with food, it also doesn’t permit paleo or vegan versions of cupcakes and other unhealthy items.
Sorry, vegan dessert bloggers.
What can you eat during the Whole30 diet?
Whole30 is a whole food-only experience. But the challenge extends beyond cutting out processed and packaged foods for 30 days. In a nutshell, here’s what you can and can’t eat during your month-long challenge.
Ok to eat:
- Unprocessed Meats: All meats are okay, including sausage and bacon; just check the package for preservatives.
- Oils: Olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and ghee (a clarified butter used in Indian cooking but now gaining popularity)
- Nuts and seeds: These get the green light, but avoid peanuts (they’re a legume, not a nut)
What to Avoid:
This list can look a bit daunting. A general rule of thumb is to stick to the outer aisles of the grocery store.
- Legumes: No beans, peas, lentils, peanuts or soy products (miso, soy sauce, edamame)
- Grains: No corn, rice, wheat, quinoa, sprouted grains, bulgur or millet…the list goes on and on.
- Sugars: Added sugars include maple syrup, honey, Splenda, stevia and, of course, basic cane sugar. The challenge here is that many condiments and sauces contain added sugar, so you’ll need to read the label on everything.
- Alcohol: This is pretty self-explanatory; however, the “no alcohol” rule extends to cooking wines and vanilla extract.
- Processed additives: Carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites are three big ones to avoid.
Is the Whole diet safe?
Whole30 doesn’t promise to help you lose “x” amount of weight over the course of 30 days. Instead, it’s designed to encourage whole food eating, where dieters primarily eat meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, nuts, and oils, plus a limited amount of fruit. In all, these goals are in line with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that you limit sugars, sodium, and processed foods.
But there’s a major downside: the complete elimination of dairy, grains, and legumes. This includes the full spectrum of grains—rye, bulgur, rice, millet, sorghum, wheat, barley, oats, buckwheat, quinoa and more. Depriving yourself of all these things means that you’re running the risk of reducing your fiber, vitamin B, magnesium, iron, folate and vitamin E intake. And if you’re not careful, that can cause some harmful deficiencies.
Legumes are a significant source of nutrients. According to the American Diabetes Association, chickpeas, lentils, tofu and other legumes are an essential part of a healthy diet. In fact, when combined with vegetables, whole grains, and fruits, legumes are linked to lower rates of pre-diabetes.
The bottom line on the Whole30 diet
In the end, there are some clear benefits to doing the Whole30 program. It’s hard to discuss the safety of the Whole30, as it’s a temporary meal plan that’s not meant to be permanent. The point is to reset your body by eliminating cravings and dependencies on certain foods, and uncovering any food sensitivities or allergies you might not be aware of otherwise. And the focus on eating “real” versus “processed” foods is something every dietician would sign off on.
Although we couldn’t find any credible studies that deemed the Whole30 program dangerous, keep a few things in mind if you’re about to start the program. For one, the Whole30 is not a diagnostic tool. If you uncover any possible allergies after bringing certain foods back into your diet, you still need to consult a doctor. It’s also important to talk with a doctor before starting the Whole30, especially if you have any medical conditions or unique dietary needs.
As for the nutrients issue, you might need to take some extra supplements to make up for what you lose during the 30 days. Calcium, B vitamins and iron are all likely to drop during your month on this plan. And if you’re exercising regularly while on the Whole30, make sure you’re getting enough to eat—including protein.