Should I Try Whole30®? (and How Plant Milks Can Help)
What exactly is Whole30?
Since Dr. Atkins emerged with his low-carb revolution in 2003, there have been any number of fad diets. Most share a common character of subverting the old food pyramid, taped to the lunchroom wall of middle schools everywhere. Carbs, particularly grains (the base of the pyramid), have been a common victim – perhaps an easy target, especially if you’re trying to make a splash. Less common is a diet that promises to abolish not one but two food groups, and various subcategories herein.
This is Whole30. Only to even call it a “diet” is an oversimplification that we must clarify in helping you decide if this diet…er, lifestyle experiment…is right for you.
The Whole30 lifestyle
Whole30 was introduced in 2009 by certified sports nutritionists Melissa and Dallas Hartwig, accompanied by a bestselling book. The name combines two core ideas: 1.) eating whole rather than processed foods; and 2.) maintaining an unforgiving, spartan menu for 30 days.
You’ll see what foods you can and can’t eat below (there is a lot on the “can’t” list), but the overall effect is to root-out anything that might be depriving you sleep, sapping your energy, messing with your digestion, causing unmanageable cravings, and more. 1 At the end of the 30-days – a marathon with no margin for error – you can begin systematically reintroducing banned foods to discover what doesn’t work and form your own optimal diet. Ideally, for your efforts, you’ll also have greater self-control and be eating more whole foods.
What food can I eat on the Whole30 diet?
It might be easier to swap “can” with “can’t.” This isn’t an easy menu, but there are options.
- Vegetables, including potatoes
- Unprocessed meats (no deli, hot dogs, etc.)
- Nuts and seeds
- Olive oil and coconut oil
- Black coffee (no sugar, Splenda, or dairy creamer allowed)
- Grains (including corn and rice)
- Added sugar or artificial sweetener
- Legumes (beans, soy, peanuts, etc.)
- Baked goods
- Junk foods
- Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites
- Alcohol 1
What is the difference between Keto, Paleo, and Whole30?
To start, whereas Keto and Paleo are designed for permanence, Whole30 is built as a sort of temporary cleanse. Some might carry it beyond 30 days. Most won’t be able to wait to indulge in something they aren’t supposed to when it’s over, if more wisely than before.
Focusing on just the 30 days, you’ll notice lots of similarities and just a few differences between these three hot diets of our day.
Whole30 v. Keto
Atkins, fad diet or not, was prophetic about the “low-carb” thing. Both Keto and Whole30 are hostile to sugars and grains. As such, both are likely to spark ketosis – a process by which the carb-deprived body takes to breaking down fats for energy, except that in Whole30 this is an effect more than a goal. 2 For, by nature, Whole30 is a lifestyle rather than weight loss diet. In the way of food permissions, Keto is hostile to starchy potatoes and fruit and OK with dairy while Whole30 is opposite. This means Keto will generally be higher in fat and protein and lower in carbs than Whole30.
Whole30 v. Paleo
And the difference is…? True, they’re similar in their rules. Both encourage you to eat whole, unprocessed foods and effectively abolish the same food groups: legumes, grains, and dairy primarily. The differences are really a matter of degree. Whole30 leans toward lean meats. Paleo lets you go for the big old fatty steak. As such, Paleo’s optimal macronutrient ratio will be a bit higher in saturated fat and protein than cousin Whole 30’s. 3
Is Whole30 right for me?
It certainly isn’t for everyone, yet it might be for you.
Benefits of Whole30 diet plan
- It’s an accomplishment. Enduring 30 days of, by some accounts, misery might reveal a strength of will you never knew you had. Much as one having completed a half-marathon will not be daunted by a 5K, surviving dietary deprivation could very well result in smaller but entirely sustainable changes.
- Anti-inflammatory. The many bans of Whole30 have a common thread of fighting chronic inflammation, a common denominator in various forms of not feeling – or being – well. Added sugars, fried foods, refined carbohydrates, and vegetable oils may all play a role. 3 When you’re doing Whole30, the bulk of this is off the table.
- Defined reintroduction plan. Eternal Whole30 may be the stuff of Dante, and the founders don’t expect you to continue past the day and minute of expiration. Accordingly, the diet/lifestyle reset (whichever you prefer) provides guidance for returning to a less restrictive, personally tailored diet. Systematically reintroducing foods and assessing your body’s reaction from a “clean slate” helps identify and root out the problems.
- It can change the way you look at food. The average consumer will find him/herself reading labels more carefully, putting down things with weird ingredients, and ultimately eating more clean-label, minimally processed whole foods. If the Whole30 graduate takes one thing from the experience, we think it should be this.
- It drives beyond weight loss. The tendency for diets to be fixated on weight loss might be misleading. Weight management is good but not everything. “The pounds” are not always a perfect reflection of nutritional balance. Whole30’s founders will tell you again and again that their plan is not for people looking to lose weight as the top priority. For this, call Jenny Craig. If you’d rather feel better and correct eating habits that are keeping you from your best life, you might consider Whole30.
Shortcomings / Risks of Whole30 diet plan
- It’s difficult. The founders say on their website that “this is not hard” relative to other challenges of life. 4 But it certainly is relative to diets. While elimination diets are common practice for professionals, this one is intense. It’s zero tolerance, too. One moment of weakness, like grabbing an office cookie, and you must start over. Some experts also argue that cutting out entire food groups – and, by extension, their key nutrients – is not only harsh but suboptimal. 5
- It eliminates whole grains. Whole30, like Paleo and Keto, is not high on grains. Refined grains are one thing, but why whole grains? This contradicts both the USDA and American Heart Association’s nutritional recommendations while depriving the body of a good source of fiber, vitamin E, and more. 5 If it’s a bit excessive for you, Whole30 isn’t going to bend on the matter and you’ll have to look somewhere else.
- You may feel worse before you feel better. Justine Roth, a registered dietician who tested Whole30, describes a draining cycle. You may start with a period of “I’m really doing it” euphoria – as during the first week of your New Year’s resolution. Then it gets hard, with bouts of hunger, moodiness, sluggishness (as your body learns to live without carbs), stomach issues, and (if you cheat) guilt. In Jill Waldbieser’s words, it’s “dietary whiplash.” 2
- It takes preparation and time. Chances are you can’t start today, and it might not be the best idea if you’re driving four kids around to ten sports. Knowing this, the minds behind Whole30 built-in a prep period in which you set a start date, clear your kitchen of quick-and-easy cheat foods, arrange for your family and friends not to tempt you, make an emergency snack kit, and build a support network. It seems a bit…dramatic…for a diet, but the results may be a fair repayment. 4
Is there such a thing as vegan Whole30?
Technically, yes. Some things will even be easier for you than the average omnivore. For instance, you won’t have to eliminate dairy because you already have. You’re also probably already well-schooled in reading labels for hidden ingredients. However, there will also be additional restrictions that are hard to absorb when you already have limitations, particularly losing a few more food groups entirely: grains, legumes, and any baked goods. This leaves you with green vegetables, fruit, potatoes, tree nuts, and healthy oils.
What Elmhurst® products are best for Whole30?
As a brand of plant-based options, we are not afraid to “X” these off. You can’t have them on Whole30 no matter how much you want to. You’d have to keep starting over which is no fun.
- All original nut milks (added sugar)
- All barista plant milks (added sugar, grains)
- All oat milks (added sugar, grains)
- Lightly sweetened hemp creamers in vanilla, hazelnut, and golden milk (added sugar)
This leaves five Elmhurst products meeting the stringent Whole30 acceptability criteria, but they’re good ones. If you’re a dairy drinker trying it out, these will be especially perfect alternatives for cereal, coffee, and smoothies.
- Unsweetened Milked Almonds™
- Unsweetened Milked Cashews™
- Unsweetened Milked Walnuts™
- Unsweetened Milked Hazelnuts™
Whole30 is challenging, rewarding, and not for everyone. It has soared to popularity on a noble aspiration of changing lifestyles rather than waistlines. So, if losing weight comes first, move on. But for a complete “reset” of established patterns you suspect may be causing you trouble, it might be worth the efforts. We’ve provided some pros and cons. Now make your choice and know that Elmhurst unsweetened nut milks are here for you!
- Hiquera, Valencia. “What Is the Whole30 Program? A Detailed Review of the Diet for Weight Loss and Overall Health.” Everyday Health. September 17, 2019.
- Waldbieser, Jill. “6 Weird Things That Happen When You Go on the Whole30 Diet.” Women’s Health. December 14, 2017.
- Williams, Carolyn, PhD, RD. “Here’s What Our Dietician Really Thinks About Whole30.” Cooking Light. February 21, 2018.
- Swarecki, Beth. “The Good and Bad of the Whole30 Diet.” Lifehacker. September 22, 2016.
- Langer, Alyssa. “The Whole30 Diet: Pros & Cons, Plus What You Need to Know Before You Get Started.” Eating Well. Accessed October 7, 2019.