The Lowdown on Popular Diets: Whole 30Ⓡ Edition

The Whole 30 Program has become a popular way to “reset” or kick-start a wellness journey — whether it’s to gain more energy or finally kick your sugar-after-every-meal habit. What started as an experiment among the two founders, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, has grown into a diet empire with cookbooks, dedicated food blogs, and an entire Whole 30  approved food partnership program. Whole 30  advocates believe that the program helps uncover food sensitivities while boosting metabolism and energy and improving digestion.

If you’re thinking of giving this diet a try, here’s what you’ll want to know. 

What is the Whole 30 Program?
Whole 30 is, at its core, a 30-day elimination diet. For 30 days, you remove grains, dairy, legumes (with a few exceptions), sugar, alcohol, and any processed foods from your diet. The program says that these foods are problematic for four target areas: cravings, metabolism, digestion, and immune system. After the 30-day elimination, you slowly reintroduce the foods you eliminated while paying close attention to how they make you feel. The goal is to identify foods that may be problematic for you, but not to eliminate all of these food groups long term. 

What can I eat on the Whole 30 program?
The program emphasizes whole foods, specifically: vegetables (both starchy and non-starchy), fruits, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts (except peanuts, which are legumes), and seeds. 

What is off limits?
You’re not allowed to eat any added sugar (including any natural sweeteners like honey or maple syrup), artificial sweeteners, alcohol (even for cooking), grains, legumes, dairy, carrageenan, MSG, sulfites, commercially prepared chips, and french fries. It’s also against the rules to recreate any “treat” foods like baked goods or other desserts even if they include only approved ingredients. According to the Whole 30 website, “these are the foods that got you into health and craving trouble in the first place — a pancake is still a pancake, even if it’s made with coconut flour.” 

The program also discourages weighing yourself or taking any body measurements for 30 days as it’s not designed to be a weight loss plan (though measurements are allowed on day 0 and 31). 

What happens after the 30 days?
It’s recommended that you slowly reintroduce foods that you eliminated, while paying close attention to any symptoms that may have improved during the program. 

Is there anything else to consider?
Following an elimination diet like the Whole 30 Program is a commitment. There are no “cheat days” and it requires time to plan and cook meals. Eliminating a long list of foods can be challenging for many, especially in social situations. If you have a history of an eating disorder, elimination diets are not recommended. 

Because of the restrictive nature of the diet, it’s important to eat as wide a variety of foods as possible within what’s allowed to meet your vitamin and mineral needs. Calcium and vitamin D are two nutrients that may be more challenging to get on the Whole 30 plan. 

After the 30 days are up, reintroduction should be done strategically to help identify which, if any, of the foods may be problematic for you. The Whole 30 Program is not meant to be followed forever (though many people do it more than once), but going back to your old eating habits on day 31 is a recipe to reverse any benefits you may have realized. 

If you want to know the science…
To date, there has been no research published on the Whole 30 Program. That said, diets that prioritize whole foods and limit processed foods, added sugar, and alcohol have been shown to improve many health concerns, from reducing risk of chronic disease and inflammation to better sleep.  

More research is needed on any benefits and concerns with eliminating entire food groups; however, because of the short-term nature of this diet, there is likely little health risk.

 

Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to be medical advice and if you are considering starting a new diet, work with your healthcare team to find the best approach for you. 

 

Read about other popular diets in this series:

The Mediterranean Diet

The Paleo Diet

If It Fits Your Macros

The Ketogenic Diet