As a registered dietitian, I’ve got a healthy skepticism towards most diets. Being in private practice for almost a decade will do that to you. I’ve seen clients come in on just about every eating pattern imaginable, from raw-food to paleo and everything in between. With the growing popularity of Whole30, I set out to examine the basics of the diet and nutritional truths behind some of the claims.
What is Whole30?
Whole30 is an elimination diet, with shares a similar philosophy with the Paleo trend. Both recommend eating lots of fresh, high-quality foods while ditching anything processed. Specifically, you are removing all grains, dairy, soy, legumes, sugar, certain preservatives and artificial sweeteners from your diet. According to the authors, Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, these foods have been linked to hormonal imbalance, systemic inflammation, gut issues and more, though most of those claims aren’t backed by evidence-based research. Ideally, Whole30 is to be done strictly for 30 days; afterwards you can gently add back in said foods to see how your body responds.
In addition to the diet recommendations, Whole30 encourages no calorie counting, measuring or weighing yourself for the entire 30-day process. Instead, the program focuses on non-scale victories, like improved sleep, skin, energy and overall feeling. The program isn’t promoted to be a long-term diet, but instead a reset button to focus on whole-foods that nourish your body.
As a long-time student of intuitive eating, I’m a big fan of switching the focus to non-scale victories and removing the added pressure of specific numbers and goals. For most dieters, these are big detractors and can often feel like punishment rather than an empowered choice. However, one of the tenets of intuitiveness is allowing yourself to eat whatever you want, without any parameters in place. Whole30 can fit this mindset if you are truly enjoying the foods you are eating and don’t feel deprived, but it’s not an automatic switch to mindful eating.
Whole grains are not the enemy
Whole30 encourages the removal of all grains; whole, unprocessed grains included. While some people report feeling better after the removal of gluten from their diets, many grains are naturally gluten-free. But in fact, eating whole grains may be more beneficial than taking them out. Grains contain essential micronutrients and both soluble and insoluble fiber, and they are also inexpensive and may improve longevity. In a recent meta-analysis published in BMJ, whole grains can help you live longer by reducing your risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and infections diseases. The same report also states than consuming 90 grams of whole grains daily cuts risk for all mortality by 17 percent.
While you can get enough fiber from fruits and vegetables, there is likely not an additional need to cut out all grains. If you feel that you do better without gluten, check out gluten-free varieties like quinoa, millet, oats, sorghum and brown rice.
While the term processed-free gets thrown around often, there is some benefit in reducing intake of packages snacks, sugary treats and preservatives. For one, eliminating intake of these foods almost all but forces you to cook from scratch, which has big payoffs. Cooking your own meals, especially for novice chefs, reinforces life-long habits, improves kitchen confidence and helps you control exactly what goes into each meal. For those who have shied away from cooking before may find that they actually enjoy the process and will continue to do so well after Whole30 is complete.
It’s no secret that the Standard American Diet is high in refined grains, sugar, salt, processed meats and salt. An excess of any of these has been linked to both chronic disease and a lower mortality rate. Tackling the Whole30 plan allows you to check-in with your current diet to asses how much of these foods you currently eat and positive ways to cut back.
Alex Caspero MA, RD, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher. She is the founder of Delish Knowledge (delishknowledge.com), a resource for healthy, whole-food vegetarian recipes. In her private coaching practice, she helps individuals find their “Happy Weight.”