Whole 30 Diet - Does it Live Up to Claims?
Whole 30 Diet - Does it Live Up to Claims?

Not a month goes by that some new fad diet doesn’t burst onto the scene and dominate the headlines for a few weeks. Pay attention to the news cycle with any regularity, and you’ve probably seen many of the recent fad diets including the Grapefruit Diet, the Military (3-day) diet, or the Cabbage Soup Diet.

Much like modern man’s attention span, the popularity of these diets, and there usefulness, is short-lived.

Today, we’re not covering another fad diet, but a new way of eating. This eating lifestyle will help instill good eating habits, improve your well-being, and as an added bonus - lose weight.

Related - 15 Ways to Become a Fat Burning Machine

The Whole 30 Diet aims to restore healthy eating habits, improve digestive health, and promote a long-lasting changes to your nutritional habits that are good for you and, most importantly, sustainable.

The Whole 30 Diet

Weight Scale

Created in 2009 by then husband and wife duo Dallas and Melissa Hartwig, the Whole 30 diet is a nutritional “reset” of sorts, described by the Hartwigs as: [1]

“Designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract and balance your immune system.”

Basically, everything in your life from energy to self-confidence to body composition will improve if you simply revamp the way you eat.

As you might have guessed, the Whole 30 diet program lasts only 30 days, but it’s incredibly restrictive. Foods prohibited while following the Whole 30 nutritional approach include:

  • Added sugar (real or artificial)
  • Alcohol
  • Grains
  • Legumes (including peanut butter)
  • Dairy

Healthy “cheats” are also off limits while following the Whole 30 diet. That means, there’s no sugar-free candies or gums, or even “mock” desserts (even if the ingredients are only Whole 30-approved ones) such as coconut milk ice cream, Paleo cupcakes etc. In fact, snacking in general isn’t allowed on the Whole 30 diet, and followers should only eat three meals per day to “keep your hormones in a healthy rhythm.” [2]

Following the Whole 30 diet means a just that - eat whole foods that are “good” for you according to the Hartwigs. Should you accidentally slip up at a party or restaurant and indulge even an iota on some free bread, cookie, or cake, your journey on the Whole 30 starts all over again at day one.

The bright side to all of these restrictions and rules is that there is no calorie counting or regularly weighing yourself. In fact, stepping on a scale during your time following Whole 30 is strictly forbidden.

The goal is to reshape your view of food and foster a healthy relationship with it. One that focuses on eating nutrient-dense foods to fuel health and vitality, and not about satisfying a craving.

The Claims of Whole 30

If you stay on track throughout the Whole 30 experiment, the creators promise it:

“Will change the way you think about food, it will change your tastes, it will change your habits and your cravings. It could, quite possibly, change the emotional relationship you have with food, and with your body. It has the potential to change the way you eat for the rest of your life.”

That’s some pretty strong hype for a diet. The Hartwigs also state that millions of people who have embraced the Whole 30 consistently report how much better their energy, performance, focus, mental clarity, and sleep are.

The reason all of these traits seem to improve according to the Hartwigs is that these assorted mental and physical issues are all rooted in your food selections. The only way to “cure” them is through complete elimination of sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy and legumes, because you don’t know what food is actually causing your affliction.

By day 31, you’ll be liberated from your previous food cravings and have a new outlook on life. After the 30 days, you’ll be able to reintroduce the previously banned food groups one at a time, and depending on how your body reacts, you will know whether to keep eating them or avoid them forever.

Whole 30 Analysis

We’ll start off the analysis of the Whole 30 diet by saying it does promote the right eating habits. Humans should be focused primarily on eating whole foods and getting away from a lot of the sugar, fat, and salt-laden hyper-processed foods that are a staple of many ’ diets. That being said, there are some issues that need to be addressed regarding the Whole 30 diet.

First, is the complete elimination of food groups (legumes, dairy, grains) for no other reason than that they “might” be causing you to have low energy levels. In reality, no single food is going to cause you to lose energy, experience brain fog, or make you feel downright disgusting, unless you have a medically diagnosed food allergy, i.e. from a doctor.

There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about these foods. Labeling them as “bad” or “not good” only instills an unhealthy relationship with food, and may very well lead to an eating disorder. On top of that, these “off limits” foods are actually pretty healthy and have loads of research behind them demonstrating their pro-health benefits.

Case in point grains. Read enough paleo, Whole 30, or keto articles and you’ll be convinced that even consuming a small piece of bread is enough to send your body spiraling down a pit of unhealthy doom and despair. The truth is grains are actually pretty healthy for you. They’ve been shown to decrease inflammation, increase “good” gut bacteria, and reduce cholesterol levels. [3][4][5]

And what about those pesky phytates (“anti-nutrients”) that there’s so much fear-mongering behind? While it is true these naturally-occurring plant defense compounds can block the uptake of certain nutrients in the body, the Whole 30 fails to realize or understand that numerous factors affect nutrient uptake in the body.

These factors include how food is processed, cooked, stored, or what other foods are eating in conjunction with the phytate-containing foods.

Analyzing micrograms of nutrients you may or may not be missing out on when consuming phytates on occasion ignores the bigger picture - if you eat a well rounded, whole foods-based diet, you won’t be lacking in micronutrients. Furthermore, phytates actually do offer some potential benefit to the body in that they act as natural antioxidants and may protect against certain inflammatory bowel diseases. [6][7]

Whole 30 also bans any and all forms of dairy, this also includes whey protein powder and Greek yogurt, both of which are high protein and provide quality, nutrient-rich calories. This seems incredibly odd, as fermented dairy products (yogurt) is known to foster growth of good gut bacteria.

Moreover, whey protein isn’t only a quick, high protein snack that’s useful pre or post-workout, but also has research demonstrating it improves glucose levels/insulin response, supports cardiovascular health, and reduces symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome. [8][9]

Want to make a smoothie with just egg whites, fruit, and maybe some spinach post-workout instead? Sorry, even if the smoothie is nothing but Whole 30 approved foods, you’re out of luck as the diet includes smoothies on their banned list of foods.

Seems a bit odd to ban nearly half of the food pyramid when there’s substantial amounts of evidence backing their numerous and diverse health benefits. Don’t you think?

Moving onto the topic of “snacking,” the Whole 30 basically bans any and all snacking unless you’re hungry enough to essentially eat your fist.

No matter how good or “bad” the snack is (even if it’s plain broccoli), Whole 30 strongly advises that you only eat three meals per day. If you do get hungry in between meals, the suggest adding more protein and/or fat to your big meals before venturing down the road of snacking.

Honestly, this isn’t that terrible of a recommendation, but if you’re a person who gets full easily, it might help you to hit your daily macros/calories if you break three larger meals up into 5 or 6 smaller ones. Additionally, if you’re performing high-intensity exercise, chances are you’ll want some form of pre or post-workout snack to fuel your muscles until you have time to cook/eat your next full meal.

Just remember, if you’re following Whole 30, that pre or post-workout snack CANNOT include protein powder in all likelihood.

Takeaway

The Whole 30 diet sets out with noble intentions - get people back to eating more whole foods, and away from the overly processed junk. And let’s face it, most people would stand to benefit from avoiding excess sugar and alcohol intake for a solid month, but then things start to go sideways.

Creating a list of good and bad foods, banning entire food groups, advising against snacking, along with the rest of the bad advice that Whole 30 promotes makes it a diet we simply can’t get behind 100%. At the end of the day, if you want to clean up your diet for 30 days, have at it, but don’t feel the need to eliminate nutritious foods like beans, whole grains, or dairy.

References
1) The Whole30® Program - As Featured in the New York Times Bestselling Book, The Whole30, www.whole30.com/.
2) "Whole30 101: Rules Vs Recommendations | The Whole30® Program." The Whole30® Program - As Featured in the New York Times Bestselling Book, The Whole30, www.whole30.com/2015/01/rules-recommendations/.
3) Walter J, Martínez I, Rose DJ. Holobiont nutrition: Considering the role of the gastrointestinal microbiota in the health benefits of whole grains. Gut Microbes. 2013;4(4):340-346. doi:10.4161/gmic.24707.
4) Hollaender PLB, Ross AB, Kristensen M. Whole-grain and blood lipid changes in apparently healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015;102(3):556-572. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.109165.
5) Pol K, Christensen R, Bartels EM, Raben A, Tetens I, Kristensen M. Whole grain and body weight changes in apparently healthy adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled studies. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013;98(4):872-884. doi:10.3945/ajcn.113.064659.
6) Graf E, Empson KL, Eaton JW. Phytic acid. A natural antioxidant. J Biol Chem. 1987;262(24):11647-11650.
7) Graf E, Eaton JW. Antioxidant functions of phytic acid. Free Radic Biol Med. 1990;8(1):61-69. h
8) Pal S, Radavelli-Bagatini S. The effects of whey protein on cardiometabolic risk factors. Obes Rev. 2013;14(4):324-343. doi:10.1111/obr.12005.
9) Pal S, Ellis V, Dhaliwal S. Effects of whey protein isolate on body composition, lipids, insulin and glucose in overweight and obese individuals. Br J Nutr. 2010;104(5):716-723. doi:10.1017/S0007114510000991.