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The Whole30 Diet: Brilliant or Bogus?

Check out these vegetables. There sure are a lot of them!

In the mid-20th century, the Western diet began to slowly shift from locally available, often homegrown foods to industrialized food products (Sustainable Table, 2015). The rise of processed foods, fast food restaurants, TV dinners, and industrialized agriculture has changed the way we eat.

At the same time, chronic medical conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, cancer, and diabetes continued to rise. The Whole30 diet claims that by eliminating foods promoted by the industrial food movement, you can correct these health problems (Whole30, 2016).

The Story Behind the Diet

Check out these hands making a sweet salad! Righteous!

Whole30 was created by Dallas Hartwig, a functional medicine practitioner, and Melissa Hartwig, a Certified Sports Nutritionist. Together, the couple created a program designed to change the way people eat. Through a best-selling book and related materials, the Hartwigs have promoted Whole30 as a method of losing weight, improving health, and reducing problems with allergies and chronic medical conditions (Whole30, 2016).

The rationale behind the Whole30 diet is that the foods promoted by our modern, industrialized food production system are causing widespread health problems. In particular, added sugars, grains, legumes, and dairy products contribute to systemic inflammation and digestive distress (Whole30, 2016). The Whole30 diet is similar to the Paleo Diet in that it recommends that adherents eat whole, fresh foods that are similar to the foods eaten by hunter-gatherer ancestors.

While this rationale seems agreeable, there’s still one looming question that’s likely on your mind: does it work?

Scientific Evidence about the Effectiveness of the Whole30 Diet

Microscopes are synonymous with the scientific method in today's day and age.

The Whole30 diet is based on anecdotal evidence about foods that help versus harm your health. To date, there are no evidence-based reports in scientific journals supporting the use of Whole30. Additionally, strict elimination diets such as Whole30 could cause you to become deficient in important vitamins and minerals, including calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins (Kern, 2015).

Meat and seafood also contain relatively high amounts of saturated fat, which could increase your cardiovascular risk (Kern, 2015). More research is needed to verify whether the Whole30 diet is actually safe and healthy. It is best to talk to your doctor to ensure it makes sense for your personal health.

Should you still decide to give this diet a try, we’ve outlined some of the basic tenets of the diet below.

Dietary Regulations of Whole 30

Salmon, eggs, and nuts can be eaten while on the Whole30 Diet. Cook the fish, though.

The Whole30 plan is an elimination diet, meaning that you must completely avoid any foods on its “bad” list. The following foods are expressly prohibited by the Whole30 diet plan (Whole30, 2016):

  • Added sugar. The Whole30 diet plan requires you to strictly avoid eating any source of added sugars, including real and artificial sugar. Thus, maple syrup, coconut sugar, agave nectar, honey, Nutrasweet, stevia, Splenda, xylitol, and other sources of sugar must be eliminated. In practice, this means that you should carefully read food labels to avoid ingesting any added sugars. Natural sugars from fruits are acceptable.
  • Grains. All grains must be eliminated, including wheat, oats, corn, barley, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, wheat bran, wheat germ, bulgur, and sorghum. Gluten-free grains such as quinoa or millet are also forbidden.
  • Legumes. All legumes must be eliminated from your diet, including black beans, kidney beans, fava beans, pinto beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and navy beans. As peanuts are a type of legume, peanut butter and other peanut products should also be eliminated.
  • Soy products. Because soy products are made from soybeans, a type of legume, they must be avoided. Edamame, tofu, miso, soy sauce, and tempeh are all soy products. Also watch out for sneaky soy-based additives such as lecithin.
  • Dairy. Any dairy products, whether derived from cow, sheep, goat’s milk or another type of milk must be eliminated. This includes kefir, cream, cheeses, yogurt, sour cream, and milk.
  • Certain additives. The Whole30 plan does not permit consumption of the additives monosodium glutamate (MSG), sulfites, or carrageenan.
  • Alcohol and tobacco products. All alcohol and tobacco products must be avoided on the Whole30 diet. This includes cooking or baking with alcohol.

Given the long list of foods that are eliminated by the Whole30 diet, it can be tough to know what you can enjoy. A good rule of thumb is to only eat whole foods that have not been processed or have undergone only minimal processing (Whole30, 2016). If you cannot pronounce the ingredients, a food is likely too highly processed. The following foods are acceptable on the Whole30 plan:

  • Vegetables. Vegetables form the bulk of foods eaten on the Whole30 diet plan. Focus on eating foods from across the color spectrum to obtain a wide variety of beneficial phytochemicals (Schaeffer, 2008).
  • Fruit. Fresh fruit is an important part of the Whole30 diet. However, the diet plan recommends that you eat fruit in moderation, as it can be high in sugar.
  • Meat. Meat forms a core protein source on the Whole30 diet. Look for natural, grass-fed beef and hormone-free chicken.
  • Seafood. Any form of seafood is acceptable to eat while doing Whole30.
  • Nuts and seeds. Nuts and seeds are valuable sources of vegetarian protein. Plus, they are full of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy type of fat that lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease. Eat a variety of nuts and seeds while doing the diet.
  • Oils. The Whole30 plan recommends olive oil and coconut oil for everyday cooking. Sesame oil should generally be avoided, although a small amount can be added for flavor (Whole30, 2016).
  • Ghee and clarified butter. Because clarified butter and ghee do not contain lactose, they are permitted on the Whole30 diet.

Recipes that Fit with the Whole30 Diet Plan

The Whole30 diet can feel restrictive, but with some practice you will be able to make a variety of meals that fit the plan. The diet is intended to last for 30 days as a sort of “detox” period, after which you can gradually reintroduce certain foods. Consider the following meal suggestions.

Protein Acai Bowl

Protein Acai Bowl Recipe

Blending frozen strawberries, almond milk, and a banana makes a delicious smoothie bowl that you can top with fruit or chia seeds. Try using sliced almonds instead of granola to make this recipe Whole30-friendly.
Ingredients: Frozen strawberries, almond milk, whey protein powder, acai powder, banana, fresh fruit toppings

Almond Butter

Almond Butter Recipe

Although peanut butter is off the list, other nut butters are an important part of the Whole30 diet. Dip celery sticks, apple slices, or pears into homemade almond butter for a midafternoon snack.
Ingredients: Almonds, coconut oil, maple syrup, salt
Total Time: 45 minutes | Yield: 2 cups

Protein-Packed Detox Smoothie {vegan}

Protein-Packed Detox Smoothie Recipe {vegan}

Smoothies are a great meal replacement, as long as they do not contain yogurt. Try a detox smoothie, which contains almond milk, banana, spirulina, hemp powder protein, and mint.
Ingredients: Almond milk, frozen banana, spirulina, hemp protein powder (optional), fresh mint, chia seeds, hemp hearts.
Total Time: 5 minutes | Yield: 2 servings

Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding

Pumpkin Chia Seed Pudding Recipe

This rich “pudding” is made with chia seeds soaked in a non-dairy milk of your choice. The addition of pumpkin puree and pumpkin spice makes it a tasty treat. Forego the maple syrup to comply with Whole30 guidelines.
Ingredients: Milk, pumpkin puree, chia seeds, maple syrup, pumpkin spice, sunflower seeds, sliced almonds, fresh blueberries.
Total Time: 10 minutes | Yield: 4 servings

Whole30 Ingredients

The following items are ideal staples to keep around the house while abiding by the Whole30 diet. Each has its place on multiple dishes and can be used to get creative in the kitchen.


Kerns, L. (2015). The whole picture behind the Whole30. Health and Fitness Magazine. Retrieved from

Medaris Miller, A. (2014). Should you try the Whole30 diet? U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from

Schaeffer, J. (2008). Color me healthy: eating for a rainbow of benefits. Today's Dietician, 10(11). Retrieved from

Sustainable Table (2015). How industrialized food affects your health. Retrieved from

Whole9 Life (2013). Whole9: our 9 factors. Retrieved from

Whole30. (2016). Welcome to Whole30. Retrieved from

Whole30 (2016). Whole30 pantry. Retrieved from