As the new year begins and people think about what they might want to change or improve in their lives, many are likely to take a closer look at how and what they eat. Some of these people may turn to the recently popular Whole30® program, which advocates claim can heal your body, help you lose weight and even change your life within 30 days.
The Whole30 program encourages you to eliminate certain food groups for a full 30 days, and claims this will increase your energy levels, relieve aches and pains, solve skin and digestive problems, and more. Weight loss, while not a primary goal of the plan, tends to be an additional benefit.
But is Whole30 truly a healthy way to approach weight loss, and can it live up to its additional health claims? Registered dietitian Tasnim El Mezain, RDN, CNSC, at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, and her colleagues Alex Zawilski, MS, RD, and Valerie Wright, RD, CNSC, took some time to explain the program, its pros and cons, and how you might approach a healthier lifestyle in the new year in a less-restrictive, more pleasing way.
According to these experts, the Whole30 program says not to consume any of the following items for 30 days:
- Added sugars
- Artificial sweeteners
- Legumes, including beans, soy and peanuts
- Baked goods
- Processed foods
Instead, the Whole30 diet calls for you to plan your meals and snacks around meat, eggs, fruit and vegetables. You are also allowed to have ghee (clarified butter), fruit juice, coconut aminos, salt and certain legumes, such as green beans, sugar snap peas and snow peas.
While El Mezain and colleagues don’t endorse the diet — noting there are no scientific references currently available to back the program’s claims — they do recognize some of its benefits. Unlike most diets, Whole30 does not call for measuring or counting calories. It can also point you in the right direction toward better eating habits, including:
- Eating more whole foods and fewer processed foods
- Avoiding added sugars
- Increasing daily servings of fruits and vegetables
- Cooking at home more often, rather than dining out at restaurants
Unfortunately, the positive attributes of the Whole30 plan may not outweigh its negatives. Experts worry that it is too restrictive and promotes rapid weight loss that is not likely sustainable once the 30 days are over. Following it can also lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and food choices so restrictive in both variety and calories that health begins to suffer. Furthermore, the program cuts out all dairy products, which have known health benefits. Dairy can help improve bone health, lower blood pressure and improve your gut health.
“While we certainly do not endorse this diet, we do encourage those who choose to follow it to take a multivitamin because the diet can be low in B vitamins and calcium,” says El Mezain. “However, overall, we suggest you can improve your diet and health by simply focusing on eating more whole foods — fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fermented foods, low-fat or nonfat dairy, and plant-based proteins — and eliminating added sugars.”
Talk with your Sharp-affiliated doctor or registered dietitian if you are considering the Whole30 program or any other diet and exercise plan.
For the news media: To talk with Tasnim El Mezain, RDN, about the Whole30 program for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.