All About Diets Series: What is Whole30?
"Diet" fundamentally describes typical food intake. That's it! Somewhere, somehow though, "diet" came to represent rules and restrictions and evolved into "dieting". Our society framed a healthy way of eating as something that excludes rather than includes certain foods.
"Diet" and "dieting" are truly not the same though. We need to talk about our diets but should be looking at them from a place of abundance, not scarcity. It's also important to note that specific diets can be beneficial short-term tools for long-term health (think gut healing)!
In this mini-series, we're going to break the tie between "dieting" and "diet." We'll take a look at the core concepts behind some popular diets (Keto, Paleo, Raw Food, and Whole30) and we'll go through the major pros and cons of each.
As always, it's important to remember that we all have different nutritional needs. These blog posts aren't intended to promote a certain way of eating but rather shed some light on often-talked about diets! If you're interested in taking things further and learning more about what your specific needs are, working with a Registered Dietitian might be the right next step for you! Complete our 1:1 Dietitian Nutrition Coaching Application today -Gretchen will reach out to schedule your complimentary call after you complete the coaching application.
What is it?
Whole30 is often equated to the paleo diet and while they are quite similar, there are some fundamental differences in their approach. The paleo diet is a dietary pattern built around improving health by replacing modern, processed foods with minimally transformed and/or whole forms of food (read more here!) (1, 2). While Whole30 is based on the paleo diet, it is ultimately an elimination diet that calls for the removal of several ingredients and food groups for 30 days or more (3, 4).
There are various forms of elimination diets and Whole30 is just one of them. The purpose behind an elimination diet is to remove specific foods from someone's intake to identify potential food allergies or sensitivities, reduce inflammation, and improve overall health (5). While research on this topic is still relatively new in the grand scheme of nutrition, there is positive evidence that elimination diets can provide additional benefits like reducing symptoms related to IBS, migraines, asthma, and atopic dermatitis (5).
While elimination diets can have positive impacts on health, they are only meant to be short-term (5). The reintroduction of eliminated foods is key to the process: variety in what we eat allows us to get the full array of nutrients we need for optimal health (5). It's also important to note that food sensitivities that may be revealed through an elimination diet might be symptoms of a deeper issue. To successfully complete an elimination diet that prevents nutrient deficiencies, properly reintroduces foods, and truly identifies the root cause of any potential food sensitivities, it's important to work with a Registered Dietitian trained on the process (5, 6).
What is food intake like?
Whole30 has very defined guidelines as to which foods are "allowed" for the 30+ days, and which foods are to be eliminated. Overall, the program calls for participants to:
"Eat meat, seafood, and eggs; vegetables and fruit; natural fats; and herbs, spices,
and seasonings. Eat foods with a simple or recognizable list of ingredients, or no
ingredients at all because they're whole and unprocessed" (4).
Some other foods that are specifically called out as being "compliant" are salt, ghee or clarified butter, coconut aminos, fruit juice, only specific legumes (green beans and most peas), vinegar, and botanical extracts (4).
The foods and ingredients that are to be eliminated include added sugar (real or artificial), all grains, most legumes, alcohol in any form, all dairy, carrageenan, MSG and sulfites, baked goods, junk food, and any treats made out of "allowed" ingredients (4).
What are the pros?
· Attention is focused on health rather than size, weight, and body fat as the Whole30 rules specifically call out no weighing or body measurement during the elimination period (4).
· The removal of processed foods and added sugar means a larger percentage of your energy is most likely coming from nutrient-dense food sources.
· A focus is placed on the quality of foods consumed and making better food choices rather than restricting calories, weighing out food, counting calories, etc. (4).
· A potential food sensitivity may be revealed in the reintroduction process, which can help a Registered Dietitian focus on addressing the root cause in order to optimize your health.
What are the cons?
· This program is very restrictive, making it less likely to be a catalyst for long-term sustained change. It's also not really necessary for generally healthy individuals.
· Some high-fiber and nutritious foods are excluded, such as whole grains, lentils, beans, oats, quinoa, and more.
· Following Whole30 often requires major shifts in meal planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. These changes can be time-consuming, expensive, and not conducive to things like eating out with friends and family.
· Not enough emphasis is placed on the most critical step of this elimination diet, the reintroduction phase. It can be too tempting to unnecessarily eliminate certain foods, long-term, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies and potentially malnutrition (5).
Wrapping it up:
The pros and cons listed above are not an exhaustive list - they're just some of the major highlights of Whole30. This elimination diet may provide some health benefits and could highlight previously unknown food sensitivities that point to a deeper issue that needs addressing (5). However, Whole30 is restrictive by design, requires a lot of time and work, and may not always conclude with the proper reintroduction of eliminated foods. Overall, any elimination diet, including Whole30, should be done under the guidance of a qualified Registered Dietitian to ensure they are necessary, short-term, and properly completed with a reintroduction phase.
1. Challa HJ, Bandlamudi M, Uppaluri KR. Paleolithic Diet. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; July 10, 2020.
2. Whalen KA, McCullough ML, Flanders WD, Hartman TJ, Judd S, Bostick RM. Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Balance in Adults. J Nutr. 2016;146(6):1217-1226. doi:10.3945/jn.115.224048
3. Hartwig, D., & Hartwig, M. (2012). It Starts with Food: Victory Belt Publishing.
4. Whole30 Program. The Whole30 Program Rules. https://whole30.com/whole30-program-rules/. Accessed 02/24, 2021.
5.The Institute for Functional Medicine. Heal the Gut with the IFM Elimination Diet. Insights Web site. https://www.ifm.org/news-insights/toolkit-heal-microbiome-ifm-elimination-diet/. Accessed 02/24, 2021.
6. Wood RA. Diagnostic elimination diets and oral food provocation. Chem Immunol Allergy. 2015;101:87-95. doi:10.1159/000371680