With promises of boosting health and digestion, re-balancing hormones, reducing food cravings, and losing weight, it’s no wonder The Whole 30 diet has sparked interest. But before you feel tempted to clear out the fridge and devote a month to the diet, read on for our thoughts…
What is it?
Developed in 2009 by a husband and wife team, the idea behind this diet is that a variety of foods may be causing us health problems through inflammation – whether or not we realise it. Rather than a long-term eating pattern, the Whole 30 is a 30-day ‘reset,’ that eliminates multiple food groups, in a bid to improve general health and wellbeing, and possibly lose weight in the process (though this isn’t the ultimate goal).
Which foods are allowed?
- Some fruit
- Plenty of vegetables
- Moderate amounts of meat, seafood, eggs
- Plenty of healthy fats, herbs, spices, seasonings
Which foods are excluded?
- Added sugar (including honey, maple syrup, dates, artificial sweeteners)
- Grains (breads, cereals, rice, pasta)
- Dairy foods (milk, cheese, yoghurt)
- Additives like MSG or sulphites
- ‘Junk foods’ like ice cream, chocolate, pizza, cakes etc.
The menu of allowed foods resembles a Paleo or low-carb, high-fat style of eating.
On top of its highly restrictive nature, Whole 30 takes a tough stance on ‘cheating.’ If any of the excluded foods are eaten during the 30 days, the plan advises starting from day 1 again.
The idea is that 30 days is enough time to break food habits and cravings, and undo any damage certain foods may be causing to our bodies.
Following the 30-day elimination, foods are slowly reintroduced, with any reactions then signifying that the offending food should be eliminated more permanently.
If at any point during the 30 days you ‘cheat’ and eat food from the restricted groups, the rules state you must start from day 1 again.
Whole 30 is centred on whole, unprocessed food, and eliminates discretionary foods that offer very little nutritional value. We know most Australians fall short of their recommended ‘2 and 5’ serves of fruit and vegetables, and more than one-third of our energy comes from ‘junk’ foods, so the focus on whole foods is a good thing.
The firm instructions to steer clear of packaged or processed foods also means followers are likely to prepare and cook food at home – a valuable skill that is proven to be linked with healthier eating.
Whole 30 focuses on eating whole foods, while excluding junk foods.
The word ‘diet’ comes from the Greek word ‘dieta,’ meaning ‘way of life.’ While taking a strict approach to eating may lead to weight loss, it’s neither sustainable long-term, nor enjoyable. The Whole 30 diet is a short-term ‘cleanse’ that would likely make socialising, eating out, and enjoying food near impossible. While the program rejects the idea that Whole 30 is hard (by comparing it to cancer, or losing a parent), there is no doubt that eliminating three core food groups and many other commonly eaten foods makes the diet difficult to follow.
But ease aside, The Whole 30 diet is not based on any reliable science and is at odds with national dietary guidelines, so its credibility as a springboard to healthy eating is questionable.
While those with medically-diagnosed allergies or intolerances may need to eliminate certain food groups, the broad-brush approach to cutting out foods is unnecessary, and could mean followers miss out on healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
Cutting out whole food groups may lead to followers falling short on some essential nutrients.
Where do grains and legumes fit in?
Grain foods for example, are packed with fibre, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that keep us healthy. Rather than causing inflammation, as the diet suggests, a ten-year cohort study found whole grains had the strongest anti-inflammatory effects of all 37 foods studied!
It’s a similar story for legumes, which have been linked with lower inflammatory markers in our blood. As they’re packed with resistant starch, a kind of fibre that feeds our healthy gut bacteria, legumes are also an excellent choice to support a healthy microbiome – which we know is key for overall good health.
Following the diet for 30 days is unlikely to lead to long-term deficiencies, but cutting out grains, legumes, and dairy foods means followers may fall short on bone-strengthening calcium, gut-boosting fibre, and important B vitamins like folate.
Whole grains and legumes provide essential nutrients which can help to promote overall good health.
The bottom line
While thousands of people worldwide have tried, and praised their results from enduring The Whole 30 diet, health professionals are unlikely to be recommending it anytime soon. Overly restrictive, non-evidence based, and unsustainable – it’s no wonder the diet was ranked in the bottom five of 40 diets by the US News & World Report. Rather than experimenting with The Whole 30 diet to alleviate the health complaints it promises to cure, we suggest seeking guidance from your GP or an Accredited Practising Dietitian – advice that stands the test of time!
Seek advice from a healthcare professional before cutting out any foods or food groups.
1. Ozawa, M., et al., Dietary pattern, inflammation and cognitive decline: The Whitehall II prospective cohort study. Clinical Nutrition, 2016.
2. Salehi-Abargouei, A., et al., Effects of non-soy legume consumption on C- reactive protein: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition, 2015.
3. Gong L, C.W., Chi H, Wang J, Zhang H, Liu J, Sun B, Whole cereal grains and potential health effects: Involvement of the gut microbiota. Food Research International, 2017. 103: p. 19.