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​The Whole30 diet – what you can and can’t eat

Posted by James Eacott on

The Whole30 diet eliminates foods in a bid to reduce inflammation, balance gut health and regulate hormone production. Sounds good, but the list of what you can and can’t eat on the Whole30 diet might surprise you.

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What is the Whole30 diet?

The Whole30 diet is designed to change the way you eat over a 30 day period.

The diet aims to remove foods which imbalance hormones, disrupt the gut and create inflammation. Sounds like a good premise considering inflammation’s link to chronic disease and the gut’s ability to impact immunity.

The creator of the Whole30 diet - Melissa Hartwig – also wants us to “reset” our relationship with food, identifying and excluding those that damage health.

The time span of 30 days was chosen because not only does 30 days equal a convenient month-long commitment, but it’s also the duration considered necessary to change a habit.

After 30 days on this eating plan, you reintroduce food groups as you see fit with greater clarity about what you’re putting into your body.

What can’t you eat on the Whole30 diet?

The Whole30 diet removes entire food groups that most would recognise as unhealthy, including:

  • Sugar – neither artificial nor real, including honey, agave, coconut sugar and sweeteners
  • Alcohol – which we know impacts health and hinders sports performance
  • Junk food – baked goods, anything highly processed or deep fried
  • Dairy – milk, kefir, yoghurt, cream and cheese

It looks promising, but also on this list is:

  • Legumes – peas, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, hummus and even peanut butter
  • Grains – all are off-limits. Whole grains, rice, quinoa, buckwheat, rye, the lot

33fuel whole30 diet what you can and cant eat - oats are not allowed

This bowl of oats is off the menu on the Whole30 diet

What can you eat on the Whole30 diet?

Anything not listed above. That leaves you with:

  • Meat
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Vegetables and fruit
  • Fat and oils
  • Coffee and tea

Hang on a minute, isn’t this the Paleo diet?

The Whole30 does look like the Paleo diet, but there are subtle differences. The Whole30 is more rigid and excludes natural sugars such as honey and ingredients like almond or coconut flour.

33fuel whole30 diet what you can and cant eat - go nuts at the barbeque

Barbeque to your heart’s content on the Whole30 diet

The Whole30 also vaguely resembles the Ketogenic diet and Carnivore diet but is not quite as extreme.

Benefits of the Whole30 diet

We like the lack of calorie counting and portion-measuring and we’re definitely in favour of a diet focusing on whole, real food.

Taking stock of what you put into your body is also positive - it’s only when we step back that we see what we consume out of habit rather than choose with cognisance – and we can also align ourselves with the reduction in high sugar, processed items.

Having said that, we can’t pick and choose on the Whole30 so must address its limitations too.

Negatives of the Whole30 diet

Despite initially appearing to be a clean eating diet, the Whole30 diet has a lot of flaws.

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You can run all you want, but you won’t escape the downsides to the Whole30 diet

  1. A panel of dieticians, nutritionists and doctors ranked the Whole30 in 38th place out of 41 diets in an overall evaluation of its efficacy. Make what you will of these ranking systems (indeed, there are certainly some placings we’d disagree with) but it gives an idea of the Whole30’s shortcomings. Interestingly, the top ranked diet is the Mediterranean Diet – the cornerstone of many of the world’s Blue Zones – the healthiest places on earth.
  2. Legumes, grains and high fibre foods are imperative for gut health – which is at the heart of health and athletic performance – so if you cut them out, even for ‘just’ 30 days, you’ll rock natural hormone production and immunity. You’ll also be deficient in fibre, folate, vitamin E and iron to name a few.
  3. Prebiotics (the fibre that feeds good bacteria) and probiotic food sources are largely eliminated in the Whole30 diet.
  4. Increased meat consumption brings another downside to mind: plant protein sources are increasingly regarded as superior (sometimes contentiously, but the evidence is mounting).
  5. The Whole30 diet is a low carbohydrate diet. The premise being that many of the carbs we eat are highly processed, sugary and devoid of nutrients. But good carbs are necessary for optimal bodily functions.
  6. It’s too stringent. There is no flex in the time limits or food choices. Once on the diet, if you have one cheat day, you must start all over again.

The Whole30 Diet and athletic performance

The nutrient density of your food impacts athletic performance. Foods with the most vitamins, minerals and high quality macronutrients per calorie give your body the best bang for buck and removes empty calories that provide no nutritional value.

Of course, some of the food deemed acceptable on the Whole30 diet is nutrient dense – such as nuts, seeds and veggies – but many others are excluded.

The removal of healthy carb sources is also a big downside for athletes. All of us – even the fat adapted amongst us – need carbs for higher intensity training and racing so unless you’re planning on doing nothing but super low intensity exercise while on the plan, the Whole30 diet will not support your needs.

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The Whole30 Diet – conclusion

We’ve said before that we’re not in favour of any diet that restricts food groups so stringently. Added to that, the strict time limit signals not just a start, but also a definite finish to this way of eating…it directly recognises its unsustainability.

The word ‘diet’ implies short-term change. A quick fix. But it should be used to describe long term eating trends. The antithesis of this, the Whole30 diet fails here. It’s unsustainable, excludes many healthy foods and is certainly a poor choice for athletes.

More performance boosting content

From the Vlog – 7 things we learnt about marathon fuelling from Michelle Roux Jr

From the Podcast – Weight loss for athletes

From the Blog

Inflammation and food – what’s the deal?

Blue Zones – 7 lessons from the healthiest people on earth

Nutrient density and sports performance

Booze and your performance

Gut health and endurance

Prebiotic and probiotics for health and performance

Whey protein vs plant protein – which is best?

The Ketogenic diet – what, how, pros and cons

The good, the bad and the ugly of the carnivore diet


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