Debating Diets: What is the Whole30 diet?

Exploring the idea of starting a new diet? While the amount of information available can be overwhelming, it’s possible to find a diet that is safe, suitable and effective for your lifestyle.

Rachel Dudley, registered dietitian and nutritionist with the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine, discusses what you need to know about the Whole30 diet.

How does the Whole30 diet work?

The Whole30 diet is a 30-day nutrition challenge. It’s an elimination diet that emphasizes whole, unprocessed foods. It’s not intended to be used long term. However, the creators of the Whole30 diet say that once you complete the 30 days, you can do it as many times as you like.

The idea is that after you complete the elimination phase after 30 days, there is a reintroduction phase. This is when you add back those foods you eliminated one at a time to see which ones you should keep eliminating and which ones you should keep eating.

Why did this diet become popularized?
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Rachel Dudley

I think it has become popular because the creators of the diet make a lot of health claims about its benefits – such as eliminating inflammation, restoring metabolism, and curing diseases like celiac disease, Lyme disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol. However, there isn’t any evidence-based research to support this.

If your diet is high in alcohol or refined sugars, which this diet eliminates, you will likely lose some weight since those foods are calorie dense.

Who should avoid this diet?

People who have a history of eating disorders should probably not try this diet. It’s very restrictive and doesn’t allow for any kind of wiggle room. If you slip up once, you have to start the 30 days all over again.

Vegetarians and vegans should also avoid this diet as the creators of the diet state that animal protein must be included, and is needed for a complete diet. By prohibiting grains, most legumes, and dairy, the Whole30 diet makes it difficult to consume adequate sources of plant-based protein, calcium, and vitamin D.

What are recommended foods? Discouraged foods?

The rules state that you are allowed to eat meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits and juices. Only a few legumes are allowed, including green beans, sugar snap peas and snow peas. You can also have salt and non-malted vinegar. You are strongly encouraged to purchase only organic or free-range foods.

You should completely avoid dairy, grains, junk foods, soda, added sugar, and baked goods or anything that resembles a dessert, even if the ingredients are Whole30 approved.

What else should people know before considering the Whole30 diet?

You should be careful with any diet that eliminates entire food groups. You likely won’t see any long-term health benefits from dieting for 30 days. Many people gain back weight they’ve lost during the 30-day period as they return to their normal eating habits. In addition, there is no evidence-based research to support any of the health claims made by the Whole30 diet.

Rather than eliminating foods completely, consider making gradual lifestyle changes, such as cutting back on calorie-dense foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Additional Resources

What is the ketogenic diet?

See dietitian-approved recipes.

-By Nicole Blanton

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