On occasion we take a break from dissecting and reviewing supplements when something catches our eye. Today is such a day, where we’ll discuss a new diet storming the social media airwaves.
Perhaps you’ve heard about the Whole 30 Diet Plan. This whole foods centered diet has been trending upwards for quite some time and you probably even know a person (or ten) who’s tried it out. It’s based upon a book by Melissa and Dallas Hartwig.
Let’s take a look at what it is, and see if it’s possibly the real deal or just some marketing hype to get you to buy a bunch of junk.
Whole 30 is a paleo-like diet plan where you remove grains, added sugars, legumes, dairy, alcohol, and pre-packaged foods from your diet.
It focuses on natural eating, yet ignores some of the known quantitative markers for dietary success due to lack of food measurement.
Organic food, pastured chicken, and grass-fed beef are not required with Whole30, making this a “less expensive paleo diet” in a way.
Before we get to the Whole30® Diet, we’re going to take a second to review the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) and see exactly where we’ve gone wrong as a nation over the past 20-30 years, thereby ushering in the need for all these “new” diets in recent years.
If we had to point out the elephant in the room, it’s the ever increasing consumption of nutritionally void, ultra-refined sugars. Take a look at the graph to the right, and you’ll see that within the last 20-30 years, the amount of sugar people are consuming has skyrocketed above what it was the previous 200 years.
While the easy road would be to blame everything on little, old sugar, that’s not the whole story. Our portion size is also out of whack, as, on average, we’re consuming roughly 200-500 more calories per day than our fellow human beings in the 1970s. Coupled with the decreased amount of physical activity of present day humans (due to work, technology, and laziness) has led to Americans in particular encountering ever expanding waistlines.
Still don’t believe us, a recent analysis of the Standard American Diet concluded that “Our present dietary pattern combined with inactivity may be the driving force behind many of the health challenges we face in the United States today.”
So what is the Standard American Diet really?
More or less what you see the vast majority of people eating on a daily basis, lots of ultra-processed, highly refined sugars and fats with virtually little to no protein, fruits, or vegetables. As we explained in full detail in our mega article: Want to Die Sooner? Then Don’t Eat Your Vegetables, fruits and veggies are basically a “fountain of youth” so to speak in their ability to prolong your life. Give that a read if you’re looking for even more reasons why you should be eating your fruits and vegetables!
The average person eats a bagel with coffee for breakfast, some kind of frozen entree or fast food haul for lunch, and in the age of ultra-convenience just swings through a drive through or picks up takeout on the way home. While there are a TON of problems with this example, we’ll point out the major ones.
- Little to no protein
- High amount of refined carbs
- Calorically dense, nutrient void food
- Lack of physical activity
You get the point, we don’t need to beat a dead horse.
So, obviously something needs to change, or we’ll be the catalyst of our own extinction through food (instead of one of the other hundreds of possibilities). This need for change has sparked a multi-billion dollar industry that is the weight-loss and diet book industry. And here’s where we circle back to today’s Diet du Jour…
The Whole 30 Diet
The premise of the Whole 30 Diet is relatively simple: eat REAL food. This means consuming meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, loads of vegetables and fruit along with some healthy fats from nuts, seeds, and oils.
While that may look simple from the outlook, here’s a list of what you cannot eat while doing the diet:
- No legumes (black beans, pinto beans, peanuts, etc.)
- No dairy (sorry whey protein…)
- No grains (yes, even the “good” ones)
- No added sugars or artificial sweeteners
- No alcohol
Last, but not least,
- Do not try to re-create baked goods, junk foods, or treats* with “approved” ingredients. (no faux-pancakes, burger buns, or cookies!)
Sounds simple at first, then when you start taking away things that have become engrained in daily diet, things get a little more complicated and frustrating. Oh, by the way, there is one small shining light, “You don’t need to weigh or measure, you don’t need to count calories, you don’t need to stress about organic, grass-fed, pastured or free range.”
Whole30® is about getting back to eating like our great-great grandparents did, a more holistic, natural form of eating. We can certainly embrace this idea of eating as much of the disease and illness in today’s world can be attributed to our complete lack of wholesome nutrition.
However, we do have a few gripes…
Our Issues with Whole 30
Namely, the stances of no legumes and no dairy. Paleo zealots and their kin seem to have this fixation of no legumes and no dairy for a myriad of reasons, when science has clearly shown that they are indeed nutritionally bountiful.[6,7]
Case in point, take whey protein (i.e. dairy). Countless studies have conclusively shown that whey and dairy products alike are beneficial in terms of body composition, muscle gain, and overall health.[8,9,10]
Do what works for you
We aren’t all cut from the same cloth. If you can handle dairy with no problems, then it’s a great way to get in some of your nutrition, and we’d still consider incorporating one of the best protein powders into your diet to help get your protein numbers up.
But if you cannot handle your dairy — ie you’re lactose intolerant or have a casein allergy — then don’t use dairy! It’s that simple! But to paint us all with the same brush is downright ludicrous and stifles everyone’s unique ability to achieve success.
So please, for the umpteenth time, STOP DEMONIZING dairy and legumes for all humans! They are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Quantity does matter
Furthermore, we feel that this diet skews a touch too far on the “quality” side of the unwritten “quantity vs. quality” diet debate.
While it doesn’t require organics or expensive grass-fed beef, the Whole 30 philosophy does ignore some of the known quantitative indicators for dietary success: consumption of enough fruits and vegetables for cardiovascular longevity, high protein intake for attractive body composition, and smart caloric monitoring for body weight goals. These points are all discussed towards the tail-end of our Fruits and Vegetables blog post, where we cite several sources discussing why quantitative numbers do matter.
Granted, when you’re removing so much from your diet, including sugar and grains, it’s far more difficult to go into a caloric surplus (which would cause you to gain weight), but it’s not impossible. You’ll likely move more calories into higher-protein meals, which is great, but that’s still not guaranteed.
Whole 30 is simply not fool-proof, because it’s not measurable, and you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
That’s not to say that we don’t agree with a lot of it and it won’t be successful for most people. To us, it simply isn’t good enough once you’ve hit certain moderate goals and need to take your health to the next level. But it’s a decent starting point for rookies who aren’t yet ready to get serious.
Eating should be about enjoyment, nourishment, and enrichment of quality of life through spending eating time with family and friends. In our constant state of go-go-go, we neglect the things often which are most important (our loved ones and nutrition!). Meanwhile, nature already has everything we really do need, although nature makes things difficult as well.
Whole 30 is a new spin on a decade-old plan that’s not completely bonkers and doesn’t get require you to buy endless amounts of prepackaged crappy faux-foods. It’s about getting back to your primal roots as a human and eating real foods, not something concocted in a lab or assembly line that has 36 different ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
Sure it has a few things we could nitpick about, but the overarching message is one we can definitely get behind: EAT REAL FOOD!
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- Johnson RJ, et al. Potential role of sugar (fructose) in the epidemic of hypertension, obesity and the metabolic syndrome, diabetes, kidney disease, and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007.
- Swinburn B, Sacks G, Ravussin E. Increased food energy supply is more than sufficient to explain the US epidemic of obesity. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009;90(6):1453-1456. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28595.
- Grotto D, Zied E. The Standard American Diet and Its Relationship to the Health Status of Americans. Nutrition in Clinical Practice. 2010;25(6):603-612. doi:10.1177/0884533610386234.