Welcome to everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the Whole30 diet. This is a diet system that has been kicking around since 2009 when it was first created by Melissa Hartwig Urban and her then-husband. After experimenting with different ways to have a cleaner diet and posting about it on her blog, the Whole30 was born.
The idea behind the Whole30 diet is that it is 30 days of clean eating, with the focus being on whole foods and eliminating inflammatory foods and beverages that contain things like sugar, alcohol, dairy, soy, grains, legumes, all processed foods and junk foods, including baked goods. The similarities to Paleo are obvious however, the goal of the Whole30 is to complete this diet without any exceptions for a full 30 days. It is also more restrictive than Paleo because of its avoidance of natural sweeteners like maple syrup and honey.
It’s better to think of the Whole30 as a nutritional program more than a diet. The founders and coaches of this plan are focused on getting participants to change the way they feel and eat over the 30 days. The goal is to eat three clean meals a day that is comprised of Whole30 approved foods only. The majority of Whole30 approved foods fall into the categories of meats, seafood, vegetables, and eggs.
So, some of the first questions you’ll want to ask are the following: Is the Whole30 diet a proven method for weight loss and health improvement. As well, if it’s only for 30 days, then what do I do afterward?
Well, the creators of Whole30 say that although you will probably see weight loss on this diet, that is not the goal. In fact, they recommend that you don’t weigh yourself at all during the day elimination diet. This program is designed to include more whole foods in your diet, and then once you have completed the 30 days, reintroduce foods one by one slowly. The purpose is to see what sensitivities you have and how your body is affected by each of those initially eliminated foods.
Just from this description, it’s easy to see how this is not a sustainable system for the long term. And that’s exactly what many nutritionists and health professionals say. In fact, in one report that included a panel of doctors, dietitians, and academic researchers, all concluded that the Whole30 program was not sustainable and potential even unhealthy. Their findings were due to the extreme restrictions and the fact the recommended foods are actually very high in sodium and cholesterol. However, the founders of the program refute this claim because they say that their guidelines, although strict, are still within government recommendations. They also list the many health improvements that are a result of the Whole30 diet. They say that the Whole30 is designed to reset your health and your habits around your relationship with food.
With the above in mind, it’s essential to consider that the Whole30 is mostly not a diet but more of a program to identify sensitivities that are common across many people, and it is not geared for weight loss. It does require a lot of meal prep and extreme discipline due to its restrictive nature. This is also not a program that is conducive to vegetarians or vegans. Despite all this, it is a program that has grown steadily in popularity since its beginnings in 2009. It is said that by removing the foods on the Whole30 “no-fly” list, you can see drastic changes and differences in things like your sleeping habits, your energy levels, mood swings, and even cravings. If you enjoy a challenge and you’re looking to have a better understanding of how food affects you as well as establish any sensitivities that you might have, then trying the Whole30 might be the right choice for you.
Let’s begin by mapping out exactly what foods are recommended; which ones are acceptable and which ones are an absolute no-go while on the Whole30 diet.
As mentioned, the idea behind the Whole30 is to eliminate “trigger” foods completely. These are foods that are, for many people, foods that trigger unwell symptoms. For some of us, we may not even realize that certain foods are making us bloated, causing our skin to break out, bringing down our energy, or causing poor sleep. It’s only when they have all been eliminated, and the body has flushed out any remaining vestiges during the 30 days; that we can truly see their effects when reintroduced. If certain foods don’t seem to affect you once they are reintroduced, then you’re free to continue eating them. So really, it’s only a 30day restriction. Anyone can do anything for just 30 days!
Restricted Foods on the Whole30 Diet
Dairy is comprised of all butter, cheese, milk, yogurt, sour cream, kefir, ice cream, and any and all derivatives of cow, goat, or sheep’s milk. There is only one exception, and that’s ghee. Ghee is actually clarified butter but without the milk solids in it.
Grains include corn, quinoa, rice, wheat, rye, millet, buckwheat, bulgur, amaranth, sorghum, and sprouted grains. Basically, this means no bread or baked good products, pasta, or any other grain you can think of. No exceptions here, sorry.
Alcohol and Tobacco
Although tobacco is not a food, technically it should be removed to cleanse the body. However, alcohol is definitely a no go. This means none to drink or to cook with during your month of Whole30. This goes as far as even removing vanilla extract and limiting kombucha intakes, providing your does not have any added sugars.
Say see ya to beans if you’re following the Whole30! No beans, tofu, miso, edamame, soy sauce, or soy of any kind, chickpeas, peas, lentils, and peanuts are all relegated to the back burner. Basically, avoiding Asian cuisine is the easiest choice!
Sugar is everywhere, in fact, it is often a hidden ingredient in foods that we are not even aware of. So, for starters, eliminate the sugar that you know of. No more adding white sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, Stevia, xylitol and Splenda to any of your foods or beverages. Then you’ll need to start reading labels. Because sugar is added into sauces, dressings, and so much more, things like ketchup, sriracha, and salad dressings, among many other things, will have to go.
Carrageenan, MSG and Sulfites
These are all ingredients that are found in processed foods. The easiest way to avoid them is to completely ban all processed foods from your diet while you complete the Whole30.
The same goes for junk food. No pizza, no pancakes, no fast food, no pre-packaged meals. No chips, no candy, no, no, no, no. Just say no.
Foods You Can and Should be Eating on the Whole30 Diet
Although the previous list may seem a little out there, make no mistake, there are still a ton of amazing and delicious foods that you can eat.
There are no restricted veggies. Even the starchy ones like potatoes are all acceptable on the Whole30 diet! This means that also though, you will be eliminating grains, which typically account for a lot of our carbs. You will still feel satiated due to being able to consume potatoes, sweet potatoes, and other root vegetables.
Fruits are healthy, whole-food; however, they do contain natural sugars. Whole30 eliminates added sugars, so fruits are okay, but don’t go crazy and eat tons of fruit either. Keep it reasonable because of those sugars.
The great thing about eggs is that they can be used for almost any meal. Sunnyside up or scrambled, omelets and cheese-free frittatas!
Steak, chicken, pork, lamb. You can even get a little more exotic and try venison or bison. However, all meats must be unprocessed. This removes traditional hot dogs & burgers, deli meats, smoked meat, etc…
Any and all shellfish are a tremendous Whole30 food source.
The same goes for seafood. So, head out to your favourite restaurant and enjoy that fresh catch of the day!
Nuts and Seeds
Any and all are a go, with the only exception being peanuts because they are not technically a nut. Peanuts are a legume, and all legumes are prohibited.
Oils and Ghee
Olive and coconut oil are excellent as is ghee-yes ghee is derived from cow’s milk, but it is clarified butter with all milk solids removed.
Whole 30 Approved Beverages
Your mornings are saved! No giving up your favourite cup of joe! Just be sure to drink your coffee black, or the only add-in that would work is homemade almond milk. Store-bought almond milk will have added sugars, which must be avoided.
The same goes for tea. It’s just a tea bag and water, so as long as there’s nothing added, it’s a great choice.
Water Plain or Infused
Obviously, water is fine, but feel free to jazz it up with a fruit infusion. Berries or citrus fruits make for delicious infused flavours. Even cucumber infusions can be delicious!
Seltzer or Sparkling Water
This is another way to enjoy the water, and it’s one that is reminiscent of sodas, sparkling wine, and champagne. If these are things you are afraid you will miss during your Whole30 challenge, then a seltzer could be right for you.
Fruit or Vegetable Juices
As long as your juice of choice is unsweetened and has no added sugar or artificially flavoured, feel free to indulge. Just not too much because it is better to eat your fruits and veggies rather than juice them.
Again, this one falls into the fruit and veggie juice category. The same rules apply.
Minimal but allowed! Just be sure that there are no added sugars. This stipulation is pretty much the mantra of Whole30!
Store-bought can have added sugars, so be careful about this, but making your own is easy and always an option.
The Whole30 diet is really not a diet. It’s an elimination challenge that helps you to discover what foods agree with you and which ones do not. It pinpoints nutritional sensitivities that you may not have previously noticed. By breaking down your diet to only whole, clean foods, it becomes easier for the body to flush out everything else and be ready to receive the reintroductions. During this period (after the 30 days) is when you will see how these foods truly affect you on an individual level. So, remember, this is not a weight loss plan. Although weight loss may happen, it is not the goal. The majority of people who try the Whole30 challenge do report feeling less bloated, more level and clear-headed, as well as more energetic. Think of it as a reboot for your health!