The Whole30 diet is a fad diet that has become a very popular among Americans in the past decade. I chose to evaluate The Whole30 diet because I have always thought it to be an incredibly restrictive and difficult diet that is extremely challenging for most people to stick with, even if it’s only for 30 days.
My interest started when parents attempted this diet at the recommendation of some other family members, and while they did lose weight, the weight they did lost did not stay off, and was not sustainable after they resumed normal eating habits. According to the Whole30 website, this diet was created by Melissa Hartwig Urban in 2009, her diet creation and journey started with Melissa blogging about her examination and analysis of her own eating habits (Urban, 2019).
The Whole30 diet is an elimination diet which claims to be able to completely change one’s body, their food cravings, their negative relationship with food, as well as helping identify which foods have a negative consequence for each individual person. Whole30 website alleges to have many benefits like better sleep, improved immune system, digestion, energy and metabolism, and decreased anxiety and pain, just to name a few.
The official Whole30 website also lists multiple attestations from its participants that claim it has decreased and/or improved multiple diseases, with hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and Diabetes at the top of their list (Urban, 2019). The diet encourages eating fresh fruits and vegetables along with lean proteins and nuts but has several strict rules. The first restriction is to cut out all added sugar (both real and artificial), the diet also prohibits consumption of any grains, legumes, and dairy products for the first thirty days.
Whole30 also discourages taking any measurements for the entirety of the 30-day trial and there is no mention of incorporating any exercise during this 30-day time period. One red flag I see immediately with this fad diet is that it does not have any peer reviewed studies or publications that back their health claims. Whole30 also has listed good and bad foods, some of these restricted foods clearly goes against the dietary guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics by encouraging the elimination of dairy, whole grains, and legumes.
Research and Results
While there are no peer reviewed evidence-based publications either in favor of or against the Whole30 diet specifically, there are peer reviewed journals in relation to fad diets, which is exactly what the Whole30 diet is when you break it down and look at its claims. The article Fad Diets: Slim on nutrition in the Health Matters Journal discusses how fad diets like ‘The Sugar Busters diet’ which restricts refined sugars and carbohydrates seem to work because people are eating less calories but it also “restricts many foods containing essential vitamins and minerals.
Also, dieters are less likely to stick with a diet that permits very little sugar” (Daniels, 2004). While not addressing Whole30 specifically one can see the correlation between the two diets, both restrict eating sugars and carbohydrates which in turn decreases essential nutrient intake and is not sustainable in a long-term eating plan.
Dietician Andrea Giancoli discusses The Whole30 diet in the Environmental Nutrition periodical stating “there is no evidence that whole grains and legumes are proinflammatory—these foods are actually linked with reduced risks of chronic diseases and obesity. Further, there is no evidence that this 30-day plan will restore, heal or balance anything in the body” (Giancoli, 2018). Its widely known that whole grains and legumes both have their individual health benefits and currently there is no evidence that you can rehabilitate malfunctions within the body’s system by excluding them.
In the article Should you try the Whole30 diet? Salge Blake, a registered dietitian in Boston and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics comments on how there are undeniable benefits to Whole30’s idea of prioritizing proteins and vegetables and avoiding unprocessed foods, but that the problem is once the 30 day plan is over the weight comes back on because they are no longer rejecting those specific food groups and the calories that come with them (Medaris Miller, 2014).
The Whole30 diet does promote good unprocessed food choices like vegetables and proteins which are healthy, nutritional and have many benefits, but the failing of this diet is in its restrictions. The restriction of dairy products means a decrease in intake of calcium and vitamin D, and the restriction of legumes is excluding a wonderful source of protein that many vegetarians may rely on. The Whole30 plan also encourages a dangerous all-or-nothing mind set towards food.
This all-or-nothing outlook is alarming and commonly seen in people with binge eating disorders. It appears Whole30 encourages this by having its participants start the entire 30-day plan over, starting again at day one, if the participant slips up and eat something not on the plan. This could mean a complete start over for consuming something as little as one drop of honey, this seems extreme and unnecessarily punitive.
Compare and Contrast
The recommendation for grain consumption on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website Choose My Plate states that “each person needs can vary between 3 and 8 ounce-equivalents each day — at least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains.” My Plate also recommends variation in protein choices by not only incorporating meats such as chicken and fish, but also protein sources like various kinds of beans, peas and soy. They also recommend between 1 to 3 cups of dairy per day (My Plate, n.d.).
Whole30 recommends not eating any dairy, grains or legumes while on this diet plan. By eliminating all dairy the amount of calcium and vitamin D consumed are drastically decreased. Eliminating grains also eliminates a good source of fiber, iron, and B vitamins. Excluding legumes is excluding an alternate source of good protein that is low in fat and high in essential amino acids. It’s is clear that this Whole30 fad diet has multiple things in direct opposition to the daily recommended nutritional values for grains, dairy, and legumes.
Conclusion and Summary
I could not find any peer reviewed journals backing Whole30 diet claims of health benefits. Whole30 does have valid claims when it comes to weight loss, yet it is widely known that high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet plans can aid in weight loss. Whole30’s weight loss is not sustainable because when the plan stops, and the participant returns to eating carbohydrates the weight will return.
The weight loss seems to be in direct correlation with the difficult restrictions equaling a drastically reduced caloric intake. Whole30 does have some valuable ideas with promoting consumption of fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, lean protein, nuts, and healthy fats and eliminating processed and sugary foods. The best recommendation for a healthy diet is to decrease amount processed foods, sugars and alcohols and to eat more fruits, vegetables, nuts and proteins while also incorporating USDAs recommendations for whole grains, dairy and legumes in your diet.
It is important to have variety of foods to help fight sickness, disease and keep the right amount of essential minerals, vitamins, and amino acids in our system.
- Choose My Plate . (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.choosemyplate.gov/
- Daniels J. (2004). Health matters: promoting health and wellness. Fad diets: slim on good nutrition. Nursing, 34(12), 22–23.
- Giancoli, A. N. (2018, February 1). Diet Review: The Whole30 Diet. Environmental Nutrition, 41(2), 3.
- Medaris Miller, A. (2014, December 14). Should You Try the Whole30 Diet? Retrieved March 10, 2020, from https://health.usnews.com/healthnews/healthwellness/articles/2014/12/15/should-you-try-the-whole30-diet
- Urban, M. H. (2019). Whole30. Retrieved March 10, 2020, from https://whole30.com/