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What Is Whole30? What To Eat, Benefits, Food List For Beginners – Women’s Health

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Whether you’re trying to lose weight, eat more produce, or figure out what foods are causing you discomfort, you might be considering the Whole30 diet. The trendy meal plan encourages you to incorporate more fruits, veggies, and protein into your meals while eliminating sugar and processed foods. But what is the Whole30 diet, exactly, and is it worth trying?

Whole30 started in 2009 when co-founder and CEO Melissa Urban embarked on dietary experiment, eliminating sugar, alcohol, and processed foods for 30 days (hence the name) to see if it would help her perform better in the gym. Her results? More energy, better sleep, and a healthier relationship with food. Today, the Whole30 diet can supposedly help you “boost your metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and calm your immune system,” per the official website.

Although Whole30 wasn’t originally intended for weight loss, over 95 percent of participants lose weight and improve their body composition on Whole30 without counting or restricting calories, the website claims. People also report improved focus, reduced bloating, clearer skin, and positive mood changes, among other benefits—and you can still enjoy some of your favorite meals on the diet (fast food included).

Ahead, dietitians share a list of foods you can (and can’t) eat on the Whole30 diet, along with the potential benefits and risks of the 30-day meal plan.

Meet the experts: Jordan Hill, RD, CSSD, is a nutritionist and certified specialist in sports dietetics at Top Nutrition Coaching. Bianca Tamburello, RDN, is a nutritionist at Fresh Communications. Alix Turoff, RDN, is a dietitian and certified personal trainer at Alix Turoff Nutrition.

What is the Whole30 diet?

The Whole30 diet is essentially an elimination diet, according to the program’s website. Following Whole30 means stripping certain food groups from your meals—like sugar, grains, and dairy—to see if they’ve been having a negative impact on your health.

The idea, per Whole30’s website, is that by eliminating “blood sugar-disrupting, gut-damaging, inflammatory food groups” for 30 days, you can let your body heal and recover from whatever effects those food groups may have had on you (low energy or chronic pain, for example). Once the 30 days are up, you’re encouraged to reintroduce certain foods back into your diet—then, see how you feel, and use that data to inform your future eating habits.

Whole30 wasn’t designed as a weight loss plan, according to Urban—in fact, she calls it the “anti-diet” since there’s no counting, tracking, or restricting calories. The diet also urges you not to step on the scale for 30 days.

Whole30 Diet Food List

Here’s what you can eat on Whole30, according to Bianca Tamburello, RDN, a dietitian at Fresh Communications and Jordan Hill, RD, CSSD, of Top Nutrition Coaching.

Meat: All unprocessed meat is Whole30-approved (you can also eat eggs).

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef
  • Pork
  • Lamb
  • Duck

Seafood: All unprocessed fish and shellfish work with Whole30.

  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Scallops
  • Shrimp
  • Canned tuna

Vegetables: All veggies are Whole30-approved (except for corn and lima beans).

  • Spinach
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Lettuce
  • Sweet potatoes and squash
  • Bell peppers
  • Asparagus
  • Squash

Fruits: All fruits are okay to consume on this diet.

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Grapes
  • Pineapple

Natural fats:

For cooking:

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Ghee
  • Clarified butter
  • Lard or tallow
  • Coconut milk or coconut oil

In foods and as a dressing:

  • Coconut milk
  • Avocado or avocado oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Light olive oil

Nuts and seeds:

  • Almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios
  • Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
  • Almond, cashew, and sunflower seed butters

Herbs, spices, and seasonings:

  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic powder and onion powder
  • Cinnamon
  • Paprika, sage, rosemary

Pantry items and condiments:

  • Almond flour
  • Cocoa
  • Mustard
  • Pickles
  • Kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
  • Hot sauce

Beverages:

  • Coffee and tea
  • Club soda and seltzer water
  • Vegetable and fruit juices
  • Kombucha

For more details, download the Whole30 program PDF.

Foods To Avoid (Or Limit) On Whole30

To reap the benefits of Whole30, try to steer clear of the following items:

  • Added sugars (maple syrup, honey, stevia)
  • Grains (wheat, oats, quinoa)
  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils)
  • Dairy (cow, goat, and sheep’s milk)
  • Meat alternatives (tofu, tempeh)
  • Alcohol
  • Other processed food additives (MSG, sulfies)

For the full Whole30 experience, you’ll also have to stay away from desserts and sweet treats—even if they’re made with “approved” ingredients. However, you can try these Whole30 dessert swaps instead.

Benefits Of Whole30

Whole30 may not be sustainable as a long-term diet plan, but it’s a no-brainer that 30 days of eating unprocessed, fresh, high-quality foods has major benefits.

“We know that a diet full of heavily processed foods is linked to chronic diseases and poor health outcomes, so limiting these foods, as Whole30 encourages, is good for overall health,” says Tamburello.

If weight loss is your goal, Whole30 might also help you drop pounds, says dietitian Alix Turoff, RD, CPT. “If you’re consuming fewer calories than you usually do while following Whole30—as well as cutting out a lot of processed foods, alcohol, and added sugars and instead eating lean protein, fruits, and veggies—it’s very likely that you will lose weight,” she says. However, there’s always a chance the weight returns after the diet is over.

To reap the full benefits of Whole30, focus on building healthy habits around sleep, stress management, movement, and hydration in addition to lowering consumption of processed foods, sugars, and alcohol, says Hill. This can lead to positive health changes and sustainable weight loss over time, she says.

Risks And Side Effects Of Whole30

The most common side effects of Whole30 include low energy, irritability, and headaches, but most of these issues clear up in the second week of the diet, per the website.

Of course, it’s always best to check in with a doctor before trying any diet plan, especially if you’re taking certain prescriptions or have a health condition. You may want to steer clear of Whole30 if you’ve been diagnosed with an eating disorder and/or have a history of disordered eating—making entire food groups off-limits could trigger it again, says Turoff. The plan may also be tough for vegans and vegetarians because dietary staples like legumes and grains aren’t permitted—however, Whole30 does offer plant-based plans.

“When we eliminate grains and legumes from our diet, we are also eliminating nutrients like fiber, B vitamins, iron, folate, potassium, and magnesium,” says Hill. “These nutrients are important for a variety of reasons, like digestive health, heart health, metabolism, muscle and nerve function.” Eliminating dairy may also prevent you from getting nutrients like protein, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, Hill adds.

Depending on your goals, the Whole30 diet could work out great for your body—but you may want to take a modified approach. “I would recommend folks adopt a Whole30-esque approach that promotes the consumption of whole foods such as lean protein sources, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats but one that also incorporates whole grains, legumes, and dairy (assuming the individual has no allergy or medical contraindications),” Hill recommends.

Headshot of Emily J. Shiffer

Emily Shiffer is a freelance health and wellness writer living in Pennsylvania. 

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Maria Serra is a freelance writer at Women’s Health. With a never-ending curiosity about all things sex, relationships, and wellness, she is always on the hunt for the latest studies and even sexy tech advancements. When not reading or writing *spicy* articles, she can be found performing comedy in Cleveland or chilling with her old pug-chihuahua Bobbie—who is definitely a source of joke material. Follow her on Twitter/X.

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