Whole30 Diet: Is this the ‘whole’-y grail of a disease-free body? Read more to find out the truth behind this dangerously restrictive diet.
A platter full of malaise
Did you know that in the USA alone, food-borne agents cause approximately 48 million cases of illness, 128,000 hospitalizations, and over 3,000 deaths every year?
Were you aware of the fact that in many western countries, an average adult consumes over 60kg of refined sugar on a yearly basis?
If no, then the following science-backed facts are going to shock you even more.
Firstly, obesity and cardiovascular diseases have skyrocketed in the past few decades.
You know what else has observed to grow exponentially at the same time?
Our overall consumption of sugary beverages, hydrogenated oils, and daily calories intake (an increase of extra 400 calories each day, to be precise).
Secondly, an individual is 200% more likely to die from cardiac complications, if he/she gets more than 21% of daily calorie intake through sugar than someone for whom this figure is less than 7%.
Thirdly, all your favorite supermarket meats and cold cuts – ham, sausage, salami, pastrami, and pepperoni are dangerously laced with toxins responsible for diseases such as heart issues, diabetes, and even cancer.
What does it all mean?
Overall, it can be unanimously agreed upon that we are literally eating our way to an abyss of chronic diseases and untimely deaths. The cult of engineered and processed foods has exposed us to over 5,000 “permitted” chemicals and additives through our diets.
And there are more than 170 comprehensive studies to prove that virtually all chronic diseases are at least partially rooted in the consumption of these synthetic foods.
Perhaps it was the realization of such bitter truths that led Melissa Hartwig, a certified sports nutritionist, and a New York bestseller author, to start a strict 30 day ritual of clean-eating more popularly known as the Whole30 diet.
Getting acquainted with the Whole30 Diet
To put it in simple words, the Whole30 Diet is a strict 30-day long practice of eating “clean-foods” exclusively.
This diet fixates on completely eliminating certain food groups such as sugars, alcohols, legumes, grains, and dairy products (not to mention processed foods and artificial additives).
So what do you eat?
You load your plate with seafood, eggs, meats, fruits, and vegetables, along with healthy fats such as nuts and olive oil.
In fact, the Whole30 diet bears a high resemblance to the Paleolithic diet and a low FODMAP diet.
What do you after the 30 day period is over?
Once the 30-day period is over, you gradually re-introduce those foods in your diet. And then you closely monitor how your body reacts to each of these to identify the true culprit/s behind your chronically ill-health (and weight gain too).
Why the elimination of those specific food groups?
The reason why Hartwig swears by this novel and experimental approach to eating is that it supposedly removes all the disease-bearing and inflammation-causing items from the daily menu for a month.
According to her, the Whole30 diet holds the power to help you put an end to all those unhealthy food cravings and emotional attachment to food.
It will restore an efficient bodily metabolism, boost your immune system, and heal your digestion.
What does that mean for your body?
It means a complete and wholesome transformation of your body. This translates to a healthy weight loss, better sleep, higher energy levels, improved mental clarity, and an overall happy and content disposition.
What are the must-follow practices of a Whole30 diet?
In addition to following the complete elimination of the above-mentioned foods, one must maintain the utmost care that none of these are consumed, even in the bare-minimum amounts, for even one meal. There isn’t any scope of adding ‘cheat days’ during this diet.
The moment you consume the banned items, the entire diet plan is broken and you have to again start from day 1.
Whole30 Diet – What to eat and what not to eat?
What to eat?
A lot of vegetables, natural fats, moderate portions of eggs, seafood, and meat. You should also include herbs, spices, and fruits in your diet. Other food items to include in your diet are:
- Clarified butter or ghee
Plain old butter is to be avoided since it contains milk proteins which can affect the results of the Whole30 diet.
- Specific legumes
Snow peas, sugar snap peas, and green peas are allowed.
All forms of it (like apple cider, white vinegar, etc.) apart from malt vinegar as it contains gluten.
- Coconut aminos
All brands are acceptable, even if the ingredient list has the words – coconut nectar.
You might not be aware but, iodized salt contains sugar. Sugar (which is in dextrose form) is added in salt so as to prevent oxidization of potassium iodide. Such oxidization eventually results in loss of potassium iodide from salt.
What not to eat?
- Skip the sugar, both artificial and real
If you are seriously committed to the Whole30 Diet program then you will have to forget sugar and sugary things. Thus, there should be no honey, date syrup, Nutrasweet, maple syrup, coconut sugar, agave nectar, xylitol, Splenda, etc.
- Stop alcohol consumption
You will have to stop alcohol consumption for these 30 days. That means you should not use alcohol even for cooking.
- Avoid eating grains
Grains should not be part of your diet when you are following the Whole30 program. As such, grains like oats, wheat, millet, sprouted grains, rice, rye, corn, etc. are to be avoided. You should also not consume pseudo-cereals such as buckwheat, amaranth, and quinoa.
- Stop eating legumes
As part of the Whole30 diet program, you should stop eating beans (like kidney beans), peanuts, chickpeas, and lentils. There should be no peanut butter, either. All the different forms of soy are to be avoided as well as tofu, soy sauce, tempeh, etc.
- Do not consume dairy products
Dairy products such as cheese, sour cream, frozen yogurt, milk, kefir, and ice cream should not be part of your diet.
- Avoid sulfites, MSG, or carrageenan
Avoid if any beverage or processed food contains these ingredients (you can find it out from the label).
- Skip junk foods, baked foods, or treats
The basic fact is that pancake will remain a pancake, even when it is made using coconut flour. The same is true for similar other food items and treats.
- Do not take body measurements
Whole 30 diet is not just about weight loss, this program plans to offer lifelong health benefits. So, if you just focus on body weight then you will be overlooking other benefits.
What do experts have to say about the Whole30 Diet?
When it comes to following a “clean-diet” there is no dearth of advice available on the internet or otherwise. And most of them lack sturdy scientific research backing them.
While it cannot be argued that a quite a number of Whole30 diet followers have ended up achieving the said health targets, however, the core benefits provided by such a restrictive diet is highly based on anecdotal proof.
In simple words, you might see a ton of “I tried Whole30 Diet and its awesome!” posts circulating the internet but there is no recognized body of research that has spoken in favor of the Whole30 Diet till date.
A brief summary of the typical problems arising out of this (or any restrictive diet in particular) are listed below:
Issue #1 Whole30 days is actually too short a time period
“Practically, diet period of just 30 days will not make any sense,” says Dr. Alessio Fasano, director of CCRT at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“In clinical settings, patients are put on such restrictive diets for at least 3 months,” Dr. Fasano added. Such a time period is necessary since the immune system requires 3 months to shut off.
As such, 30 days is not considered enough time for turning off problems such as systemic inflammation.
It is true that food items to be avoided as per the program can result in inflammation and other issues. However, it is also true that people who might face such problems make up only a small subset of the population.“For everyone else, cutting off some of these food groups will provide no benefit,” Dr. Fasano added.
Issue #2 Unhealthy consequences
Not consuming certain food items may well have unhealthy consequences. As for instance, people may suffer from foggy thinking, fatigue, or other health issues.
Eliminating important food groups such as legumes and dairy may result in nutritional deficiencies, leading to more serious consequences.
The health issues Whole30 Diet aims to solve may well have underlying diseases or nutritional shortfalls. These issues can worsen if someone adopts such an unstructured elimination diet.
Issue #3 It’s really a paradox
“This type of diet program is for healthy people,” says Dr. Gerard Mullin, director of Celiac Disease Clinic at Johns Hopkins.
“It is likely that a person having some pre-existing condition may well crash on this diet program and become very sick or weak,” Dr. Gerard added.
This obviously creates a paradox. If someone is healthy then this diet program will be of little help. While, if a person is not healthy then the Whole 30 diet can make the person feel worse.
Issue #4 Unstructured agenda
The main concern for health experts is that the program does not properly explain what a person should eat after diet program ends. There is no clear information about when or how a person should start eating things he stopped during the program.
There is very little guidance on how diet is to be structured after the program completes so that nutritional shortfalls can be avoided.
Issue #5 Highly restrictive
It is pretty hard to follow restrictive diets and as such, can easily backfire. Whole30 Diet also has a zero-tolerance policy which means a single failure and you will have to start it all over again.
Thus, the chances are high that many people may well give up the diet program from frustration that they will have to start again.
All the mental safety nets have been removed in Whole30 Diet that usually allows us to recover gracefully when we make a mistake.
Whole30 – The truth of it all…
As you may have successfully inferred, Whole30 is not a sustainable diet neither is it a long-term solution to chronic ailments and weight gain.
The severe nutritional gaps created by the complete removal of essential food groups may introduce new illnesses and /or exacerbate existing health conditions.
Many accuse the rigid policies of this diet to be an over-simplification of eating habits and nutrition.
The philosophy of Whole30 that is founded on the “good food”- “bad food” duality is highly misleading. In reality, it is impossible to assign these titles to most foods and extrapolate their effect on each individual.
The stark contradictions inherent in the restrictive norms have brought into limelight the key issue which such diets which over-generalization.
Few of the eliminations in the Whole30 diet, such as giving up refined sugars, are necessary to boost health.
However, the key ideology at play that views food in a binary context and tends to over-generalize health and nutrition depicts nothing but major flaws within this practice.
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