Whole30 is a diet based on elimination of certain foods and food groups thought to cause inflammation and disrupt the body's natural processes. It is designed to be followed for 30 days.
Whole30 is basically an elimination diet. It does not require calorie restriction, calorie counting, or weighing or measuring of foods or one's body, but instead focuses on eliminating certain foods and food groups that are considered inflammatory or that cause cravings and disrupt digestive processes. According to the founders, the Whole30 program is intended to change one's relationship with food and emphasize the benefits of healthy eating habits rather than weight loss. The plan's motto is “Eat real food.”
sThe Whole30 diet is one of the more restrictive diets in terms of food choices; it excludes entire food groups and does not allow alcohol or sugar at all. In general, the diet allows moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs, lots of vegetables, some fruit, natural fats, and herbs, spices, and seasonings. The website advises, “Eat foods with very few ingredients, all pronounceable ingredients, or better yet, no ingredients listed at all because they're whole and unprocessed.” For 30 days, those on the Whole30 diet must avoid all of the following:
Unlike the Paleo diet, which allows baked goods and snacks made with foods and ingredients that are Paleo-approved, the Whole30 diet does not allow these types of snacks because of they view them as “psychologically unhealthy” and reinforce food cravings that the Whole30 plan tries to break. The key word in Whole30 is “whole”. So, although zucchini, eggs, and almonds are acceptable to eat on their own, baking zucchini and eggs with almond flour into a bread is not acceptable on the Whole30 plan.
The following are allowed on the Whole30 plan:
The Whole30 plan focuses on changing food-related habits and cravings, as well as changing food-related mindset away from weight loss only. Whole30 advises dieters to weigh and measure themselves before and after the 30 days, but not during the month, to move focus away from weight loss and onto lifelong health benefits associated with changing food selection habits.
The Whole30 website provides numerous resources on how to prepare and maintain the diet for 30 days. Resources are available on how to add foods back into one's diet after 30 days, and Whole30 rules are specifically geared toward a 30-day program only.
It should be noted that no scientific research has been conducted on the Whole30 diet, and website claims that the Whole30 plan improves the above medical conditions are based solely on testimonials from Whole30 dieters.
According to the U.S. News & World Report 2018 evaluation of diets, most Whole30 dieters lose between six and fifteen pounds in 30 days. For individuals with sensitivities to artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors, and other chemicals used in processing, the Whole30 diet eliminates all of these. The Whole30 is a gluten-free plan, and those who are already gluten free may find this diet easy to adopt. Whole30 excludes many foods that have been linked to inflammation and other health issues. After the 30-day-diet period, dieters are encouraged to add foods back in to their diet. Although Whole30 does not provide clear guidelines for this, nutritionists have suggested that adding foods and food groups back in the diet one at a time allows individuals to identify food sensitivities, allergies, and symptom triggers, and to modify their long-term diets accordingly to exclude those foods.
The Whole30 diet was not well-rated by U.S. News & World Report due to its extreme restrictions, difficulty in maintaining restrictions (even for 30 days), and excessive organizational, preparation, and adherence requirements. Nutrition experts also noted that excluding all of a certain food group, such as grains and legumes, may result in nutritional insufficiencies, especially for those with certain medical conditions or with undiagnosed medical conditions. Removing grains, legumes, and fermented foods may disrupt the gut flora and cause digestive and other adverse effects, some nutrition and medical professionals have noted. In addition, 30 days may not be long enough to affect the immune system and reduce inflammation, according to some medical professionals.
The Whole30 plan allows dieters to eat without restriction, but even if healthy foods are consumed, overconsumption can still lead to weight gain. Also, the restrictiveness of the diet may result in a “rebound” after the 30 days are over because dieters may over-consume the restricted foods, potentially causing weight gain and digestive upset.
The Whole30 plan does not provide clear guidance on how to proceed after the initial 30-day time period, and the restrictiveness of the diet makes it difficult to follow for the long-term. Also, nutrition and medical professionals question the health benefits of Whole30 because it is not based on clinical studies.
For those who follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, the Whole30 program may not have as many nonanimal protein sources when legumes are excluded as a food group. Because beans and other legumes are a major source of protein for vegans and vegetarians, the Whole30 program may not fully meet their nutritional needs if diet rules are not followed. Whole30 does offer program rules specifically for vegans and vegetarians to ensure nutritional needs are met.
Excluding food groups that hold nutritional value, such as grains, legumes, and dairy, may result in nutrient, vitamin, and mineral deficiencies. Physicians have warned that individuals with undiagnosed diseases or pre-existing nutritional deficiencies may have side effects from the Whole30 diet, ranging from mild to severe. These adverse effects include constipation, vision problems, joint or bone pain, and internal bleeding, if the Whole30 diet is followed without medical supervision.
The Whole30 diet is not appropriate or safe for children and adolescents because it may not provide key nutrients required during growth and development. Serious side effects may occur in this population.
Pregnant or breastfeeding women should consult with their physicians about the appropriateness and safety of the Whole30 diet for their nutritional needs before starting the diet.
According to the Whole30 website, more than 2 million unique individuals visit each month, from more than 100 different countries. Whole30 social media sites have more than 2 million followers. Although Whole30 has many dedicated followers, its restrictiveness, inconvenience, and difficulty in managing the diet around work and social engagements are not appealing to many dieters.
No scientific research has been conducted specifically on the Whole30 diet plan. Health benefits listed on the website and in marketing materials are derived from dieter testimonials and personal experiences, or from studies of low-carbohydrate and Paleo diets.
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Jennifer E. Van Pelt, MA