Is The Whole30 diet healthy?
All involve eating whole foods (as opposed to packaged and processed) and filling your plate with quality sources of protein, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-rich vegetables. (Again, we’re talking about the ones that fall somewhere on the healthy spectrum, not unhealthy fad diets like, ahem, the Grapefruit Diet.)
However, each proposes a slightly different path that leads to fulfilling those principles.
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In this column, we’ll be breaking them down for you one by one so you can figure out which (if any!) is right for you. We’ll quickly explain the facts and then provide quick, actionable tips on how to follow the diet as part of a Nutritious Life.
The Whole30: What It Is
The Whole30 is not just a diet, it’s an online phenomenon.
Originally developed as a 30-day clean eating reset—think Paleo meets the Elimination Diet—its popularity has since spawned multiple books, cookbooks, and a global, passionate virtual community of people who swear by its power to change your life and post frenetically about how it’s changed their bodies.
The basic premise is that many people are sensitive to certain foods often considered “healthy,” like grains and beans. You cut those food groups out for a while and then take stock of how you feel.
When the 30 days are up, you can continue eating this way or gradually add some of the foods back in one by one to see which may have been causing your issues. Many people who become devotees of the lifestyle stick to a Paleo diet afterward (The Paleo diet is interpreted differently by different people, but in general, it’s a less strict, long-term lifestyle version of the Whole30).
What You Eat
You can see a complete list, here, but it’s basically lots vegetables, meat, seafood, eggs, some fruit, herbs, and spices, all in the form of whole, unprocessed foods.
What You Don’t Eat
This list is going to be a little longer than the last. You cut out all sugar (both real and all substitutes whether natural or artificial, like honey, maple syrup, Splenda, etc.). No grains, legumes (including all forms of soy), dairy, or alcohol. You’re also told to avoid additives like MSG and carrageenan, although that should happen naturally if you’re sticking to whole foods.
Pros and Cons
The idea of a reset is a good one, which is why we’re longtime advocates of cleansing with healthy foods (not juice!). Cleanses can refocus your eating habits and set you up to continue with healthier patterns in the future.
And the foods you eat on Whole30 are all great for you: whole, clean foods like loads of veggies, high-quality meats, and spices.
The biggest downside of this diet is how restrictive it is. A month is a pretty long stretch to make it without taking bite of quinoa, popping a chickpea, or sneaking a sip of wine (especially if you’re a busy, social person), and the protocol does not allow for even the smallest of slip-ups. From the manual: “One bite of pizza, one spoonful of ice cream, one lick of the spoon mixing the batter within the 30-day period and you’ve broken the “reset” button, requiring you to start over again on Day 1.” (Yikes!)
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a major diet overhaul and the idea of engaging with a passionate online community while you reset appeals for you, Whole30 may be worth trying.
Just know that you can also do a food cleanse that’s shorter or not quite as restrictive if your lifestyle doesn’t quite allow for this kind of month-long protocol or you find it too challenging to stick to. Healthy diets don’t work unless they fit into your life, period.