The Whole30® Program: Dietitian’s Review
As we continue to review popular diets we find ourselves at Whole30®, one of the most popular programs on the internet. It has a large online community of devotees and the authors of the plan claim that it will create life-changing results. There’s even a Whole30® approved label, so you can easily find packaged foods that fit within the Whole30® guidelines. But don’t go running out to start this plan just yet. There’s a reason why it landed a spot as one of the worst diets of 2018 in U.S. News & World Report.
Read on to find out what following Whole30® entails, as well as our take as dietitians on this popular plan.
What it is.
Whole30® is a diet plan that you follow for, you guessed it, 30 days. It entails eliminating many foods/food groups that its creators have deemed inflammatory. The diet’s promise is to “put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.”
What you CAN eat:
Meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, certain starchy vegetables, some fruit, some fats, herbs, and spices
What you CANNOT eat:
Grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol, and any types of added sugar (including maple syrup, honey, cane sugar, etc.) or artificial sweeteners, MSG, carrageenan, sulfites
For more on the details and rules of following the plan, you can visit the Whole30® website.
While we don’t recommend this diet because of it’s restrictive nature, there are some positive attributes of the plan, as with most of the fad diets you’ll find.
- It encourages more cooking at home and less reliance on convenient packaged foods.
- It encourages eating more vegetables, which most Americans don’t get enough of.
- It eliminates the possibility of too much added sugar in your diet, since you aren’t eating ANY.
- Discourages calorie counting.
- Discourages weighing yourself during the 30 days.
- It follows a very black and white, good food / bad food philosophy. The authors, Dallas and Melissa Hartwig go so far as to say that ANY slip up means you need to start back at Day 1. They preach tough love and say “it’s not that hard”. This type of no slip-ups, punishment mentality can set you up for an unhealthy relationship with food, making you feel guilty for eating anything you crave. In our many years of experience working with individuals to help improve their eating habits, this is BAD NEWS. The authors however promote this diet as one to improve your relationship with food.
- It restricts healthful foods such as whole grains and beans, which have been shown in research to reduce inflammation and improve gut health via prebiotics, two things they say the diet is going to do by cutting these foods out. These foods also have a variety of important nutrients, such as fiber, B vitamins, as well as antioxidants.
- Thirty days is a LONG time to be on diet that restricts so many of the foods many people enjoy eating. Again, most people will not finish this plan never craving sweets.
- The rationale for completely eliminating these food groups is not backed by science. The authors have appeared to cherry pick certain food rules without much reasoning, or science, behind it. They also cite poorly conducted studies, or misinterpret the research.
- If you are experiencing what you think are food allergies or intolerances, this diet is not going to help you identify which foods, if any, are the causes of your issues. Instead, see a registered dietitian and/or a GI doctor to help you put together a plan based on your symptoms. Or, if you suspect one food group is causing you trouble, try eliminating that one group to see if it improves things.
The bottom line: This is not a plan we recommend, as it’s not backed by science nor does it provide a long-term strategy for healthful eating. If your diet needs a bit of a reset try smaller, less drastic steps, like reducing your added sugar intake, minimizing processed foods, cooking more at home, increasing your veggie intake, and lowering your alcohol consumption if it’s high. But please, do not feel guilty about drizzling some honey on your oatmeal, eating a piece of cake, or buy into the punishing aspect of this program, nor it’s hype.