The Whole30 Diet

Whole30Instead of taking a total diet approach to eating, an approach recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, some people are obsessed with diets that prohibit specific foods or food groups. Much of the obsession with these diets seems to be fear-based. After all, it only takes a few quick strokes on the keyboard to access information about “inflammatory” foods that are “toxic” or harmful to our health. Many blame carbohydrates for a wide variety of health problems. One example is the Whole30 diet.

What do the authors say?

At its core, the Whole30 is based on the Paleo diet, which attempts to mimic the diet of early hunter-gatherers. The diet avoids foods from our modern agricultural and industrially-produced food supply while focusing on large and varied amounts of vegetables, moderate to large amounts of meat, poultry, fish and eggs, some seeds and nuts, some fruits, and healthy fats. The authors believe that when foods are eaten outside of this group, it can disrupt hormonal balance and emotional pathways, promote intestinal permeability, and negatively influence immune systems.

Foods to avoid:

  • All processed foods
  • Legumes (e.g. black beans, soy, peanuts)
  • All grains including whole grains, rice, corn, and oats
  • Starchy vegetables
  • All dairy products
  • Added sugars
  • Alcohol
  • And, limit fruits to 1-2 servings per day

The authors claim these high-carb foods contribute to terrible health problems, such as:

  • Insulin resistance/Type 1 and 2 diabetes
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure/stroke
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Osteoporosis
  • Asthma/Allergies
  • Depression, schizophrenia and ADHD
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Crohn’s disease, lupus, MS and rheumatoid arthritis

The authors refer to anecdotal evidence supporting what they call “magical” cures when following their diet for just 30 days. The authors highlight research that supports their claims while discrediting research that does not. When current scientific evidence is lacking, the authors point to their personal client experiences to support their claims.

After eliminating foods for a month, the low-carb diet allows followers to reintroduce eliminated foods one by one to evaluate how their bodies react. However, the authors remind readers that even if they do not notice pain or symptoms after consuming a certain food, it “doesn’t mean it isn’t causing physiological and psychological damage.” For this reason, the authors encourage the Whole45, Whole60 or to adopt the core principles of the diet indefinitely.

So, what do nutrition experts say?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and most other reputable health organizations recommend* a total diet approach to healthy eating. This encourages consumption of nutrient-dense foods and beverages in appropriate portions while allowing all types of foods if eaten in moderation and combined with physical activity. This means eating more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, while limiting processed foods, sugar, salt and unhealthy fats. Being active every day is also important.

Fad diets that label foods as “bad” can scare people into avoiding food groups, and nutrition experts warn about the potential for nutrient deficiencies when eliminating whole food groups from the diet. When a person avoids dairy, all grains and legumes, they may develop nutrient deficiencies in B vitamins, vitamin D, calcium, antioxidants, and fiber. The more foods that are avoided, the more challenging it becomes to eat the nutrients our bodies need each day.

Recent evidence is emerging in favor of low-carbohydrate diets for improving health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. However, the definition of “low-carb” is ambiguous and the Whole30 diet takes it to an extreme. While still taking a total diet approach, people can reduce their carb intake. The American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association recommend limiting processed foods high in refined simple sugars while focusing on complex carbohydrates from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

My Take on the Whole30

The diet promotes healthy eating behaviors like:

  • Being mindful of your food choices and eating habits
  • Eating more vegetables
  • Avoiding processed foods and added sugars
  • Preparing and cooking food at home

Concerning aspects of the diet include:

  • Avoidance of whole food groups such as dairy, grains and legumes makes it difficult to obtain the nutrients our bodies need.
  • The diet is unrealistic and difficult to follow. It requires careful meal planning to ensure adequate nutrition.
  • Food advice is fear-based rather than evidence-based.
  • Scare tactics may encourage restrictive eating disorders.

I don’t think food or eating is scary. And, I don’t think specific foods are “bad” or “toxic.” Evidence-based research has identified a number of healthy eating patterns that promote health and reduce chronic disease. These eating patterns include a variety of foods from multiple food groups. I choose to take a total diet approach to healthy eating, and not worry if I enjoy a cookie or piece of pizza once in a while.

*American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, and the USDA

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