If there is one thing I wish everyone could understand about nutrition, it’s that all foods can fit into a healthy diet (barring any sort of medical condition-I’m talking about in a pure weight loss/general health sense. This post is not about people who have genuine food sensitivities, but more for the majority of people who use the Whole 30 as a weight loss aid). The Whole 30, the latest diet trend that everyone is trying, is a strict elimination diet that puts all sorts of food off limit- even foods that most people consider healthy. To put this into the simplest terms- I do not recommend the Whole 30 diet and would caution people against it.
What is the Whole 30?
As I said before, the Whole 30 is an elimination diet that prohibits added sugar (including honey, maple syrup, etc.), artificial sweeteners, grains, legumes (including soy and peanuts), dairy, certain additive (such as carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites), or any baked goods or “junk food.” The creators claim that these food groups could be negatively impacting your health because they are “craving-inducing, blood sugar disrupting, gut-damaging, and inflammatory” foods. After 30 days, you will have “reset” your body and changed your eating habits for the better. Foods that are allowed include “moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; some fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings.”
Is the Whole 30 healthy?
Sure, there are a lot of things about the Whole 30 that are healthy. I like that the Whole 30 emphasizes vegetables, fruit and protein. I agree that most people could cut back a bit on sugar. I think it’s great that it encourages people to think about how their body feels instead of what the scale says. On the other hand, there is a lot wrong with the diet as well.
It eliminates food groups unnecessarily.
Any diet that eliminates an entire food group should raise a red flag, and this one eliminate multiple. Let’s take grains to start. I’ve searched the Whole 30 website, and couldn’t find any scientific evidence to why dieters should be eliminating them. Many people believe that gluten (found in many grains) causes inflammation. This is really only applicable to people with Celiac’s disease or gluten sensitivity, which only effects a very small portion of the population. Otherwise, whole grains are a great source of B vitamins, fiber, minerals, and phytonutrients and have been shown to decrease the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers. If you don’t believe me, check the peer reviewed studies here, here, and here.
The same goes for milk- in certain people, such as those with a dairy allergy or lactose intolerance, dairy does cause a severe allergic reaction, nausea, or bloating. Even people with lactose intolerance can tolerate a certain amount of dairy though, either in small amounts or in the form of hard cheese and yogurt. On top of to being a great source of protein, dairy products are rich in calcium which is crucial for bone health. It is commonly believed that dairy intake can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and inflammation, however studies have shown that this is not the case, and may possible have the opposite effect.
In regards to legumes, the Whole 30 eliminates them because of their lectin content (a protein found in most plants) which supposedly causes inflammation. Lectins may cause an inflammatory response if eaten raw, but foods highest in lectin (like beans and legumes) are cooked before eaten which significantly reduces the lectin and eliminating the risk. On the other side, legumes are a high source of fiber and vegetarian protein and may also lower the risk of high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
It creates guilt around food
Food is not inherently good or bad. There is no food that is the complete nutritional package just as there is no food that will give you cancer overnight. Labeling foods are “good” and “bad” only leads to all-or-nothing thinking. All-or-nothing thinking is when we think in extremes without considering anything in between. Consider this, one day you are sipping on green smoothies and ordering garden salads with grilled chicken. You’re feeling great, but you go to a friend’s birthday party and have a slice of cake. Immediately think you’ve blown your diet, so you say “what the heck” and have another slice, plus some ice cream, and a few more drinks. The next morning you feel so guilty that you vow to start your diet again on Monday, and the cycle continues. It’s this binge-restrict cycle that leads to disordered eating and sometimes full-blown eating disorders.
It shames people into change
Some direct quotes from the Whole 30 website:
“This is not hard. Don’t you dare tell us this is hard. Beating cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black. Is. Not. Hard.”
“Don’t even consider the possibility of a ‘slip.’ Unless you physically tripped and your face landed in a pizza, there is no ‘slip.’”
“Just because it’s your sister’s birthday, or your best friend’s wedding, or your company picnic does not mean you have to eat anything. It’s always a choice, and we would hope that you stopped succumbing to peer pressure in 7th grade.”
WHAT!!?? This is supposed to encourage people? Instead of trying to tear my clients down and shame them into losing weight, I’m a firm believer in building up their confidence. I understand there is a time and place for tough-love, but this seems harsh.
There is no evidence to back it up
As I said earlier, I looked all over the Whole 30 website and the internet for evidence that supports this diet and its claims, but couldn’t find anything. Melissa Hartwig, the diet’s co-creator (Dallas Hartwig, the other founder is no longer list on the website), is a “certified sports nutritionist.” There is no standard for who can call themselves a nutritionist, so theoretically a person could take a 2 hour online course and call themselves a nutritionist. A dietitian, on the other hand, had to earn a bachelor’s degree in an approved program, complete 1,200 hours in a supervised internship, pass the Commission on Dietetic Registration’s exam, and maintain continuing education credits. In other words, trust a dietitian for your nutrition advice.