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Is the Whole30 Diet Healthy?

Here's Why Dietitians Don't Recommend the Whole30 Diet or Even Consider It Safe

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Chances are you know someone who has tried the Whole30 diet, whether it's your friend who posted photos of her weight loss on Instagram or your coworkers who swapped recipes and ideas in the break room, while the rest of you swarmed over the last everything bagel. But just because a diet is popular doesn't mean it's healthy or right for you. We asked dietitians some of the most common questions about Whole30, and their answers might surprise you.

Back Up, What Exactly Is Whole30?

While many people lose weight on Whole30, that's not the purpose of the diet. "Whole30 is a dietary plan designed to help you reset eating habits and change your health," Kaley Todd, MS, RD, a nutritionist for Sun Basket, told POPSUGAR. To accomplish those goals, you follow a strict elimination-style diet that doesn't allow for any grains, dairy, legumes, soy, added sugars, or sweeteners. This lasts for — you guessed it — 30 days.

"The elimination period is followed by a reintroduction process in which the eliminated foods are gradually added back into your diet, paying close attention to how they impact mood, cravings, energy, sleep, digestion, body composition, athletic performance, and any other symptoms," Kaley explained.

Is Whole30 Actually Good For You?

In theory, it would be. One of the goals is to eliminate foods that cause inflammation in the body, which over time can lead to diseases such as diabetes and obesity. But not all the foods that are restricted on the diet are considered pro-inflammatory foods, Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, owner of Maya Feller Nutrition, told POPSUGAR. For example, peas are eliminated because they're considered a legume, but there's no research to support the idea that they cause inflammation in the body. In fact, the opposite is true. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that the magnesium in peas can help with inflammation and disease, and the antioxidants in peas have a prebiotic effect in the large intestine.

Many of the other restricted foods (like whole grains) have high amounts of fibre, protein, vitamin E, iron, and folate, and these are all nutrients we should have in our diet, Kaley explained. "Unless you have a specific allergy, there is no reason to exclude these foods from your diet, and in doing so you may be robbing your body of essential nutrients," she said. Maya agreed, stressing that there should be symptoms present before you start removing healthy foods from your diet. "For patients of mine with food sensitivities, I never blindly recommend eliminating foods without evidence," she said.

And that may be the most important point of all. While Whole30 is similar to an elimination diet your doctor might recommend — both last about a month before you slowly reintroduce foods in hopes of pinpointing which ones (if any) are causing symptoms like bloating — you shouldn't go it alone. "A proper elimination diet should always be monitored by a health professional," Kaley said.

So, Should You Try Whole30?

There are some positive aspects to Whole30 that you should incorporate into your diet whether you decide to do the full elimination plan or not. "Whole30 emphasizes eating whole foods without added sugar and avoiding processed foods," Kaley said. The plan also encourages reading labels so you have a better understanding of what you're eating, which is something you should aim to do even when you're not dieting.

But while Whole30 may help you "reset" your eating habits if you find yourself relying on processed foods and too much sugar, neither Maya nor Kaley believe that this is a nutrition plan for the masses. "If an individual does not have any food allergies, I think a reset does not have to eliminate whole grains, dairy, and legumes and can have a more balanced approach," Kaley said.

Image Source: Pexels / Wendy Wei
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