Whole30-style diets: The good, the bad and the healthy

As the new year begins, many consumers look to improve their diets. This dietitian discusses how to use restrictive diets and transition to long-term eating plans.

January 2, 2019

4 Min Read
Whole30-style diets: The good, the bad and the healthy

Restrictive, whole-foods diets like Whole30 are popular choices for those looking to “reset” their food choices, especially as New Year’s resolutions.

It’s important, though, to recognize that highly restrictive diets can have more risks than benefits—and healthy compromises do exist, says Lori Chong, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator with Family Medicine & Integrative Medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

The Whole30 program, designed to be used for just 30 days, requires dieters to cut out added sugar (real or artificial), alcohol, grains (including quinoa, corn and rice), legumes, dairy and carrageenan, MSG and sulfites, which are found in many processed foods.


“Eating whole, unprocessed foods and making an effort to consume plenty of fruits and vegetables is a great goal for anyone. And sugar is a big problem with the average American’s diet, so cutting back is important. Programs like Whole30 can be helpful in showing you just how much sugar is in the food most of us eat every day,” Chong said.

Many people will lose weight on a diet like Whole30, but weight loss isn’t the only potential goal. It may be a good choice for someone with a weight issue or a person who has prediabetes. Elimination diets like Whole30 can help those with gastrointestinal problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, figure out which foods may be triggering symptoms.

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There’s a high likelihood of regaining weight after 30 days of restrictive dieting if you don’t keep up with some of the diet’s rules. Sustaining weight loss after a diet like this can be done—it’s simply a matter of adding foods back into your diet with moderation and balance.

“However, in my experience as a dietitian, most people have difficulty maintaining that balance when they go off  a restrictive diet. The restrictive phase is often so restrictive that rebound overeating occurs,” Chong said.

Diets like these aren’t recommended for people who have a history of an eating disorder, for women who are pregnant or for frail persons such as the elderly or someone recovering from an extensive surgery.

Restrictive, whole-foods diets are ideal for those willing to put in the time and effort to shop and cook and make better food choices.

Chong offers these to help sustain the benefits after 30 days:

  • Reintroduce foods one at a time and in small amounts. For example, don’t go crazy with sugar. Reintroduce it slowly and keep it to minimal amounts. The World Health Organization’s recommendation is that no more than 5 percent of your total calories come from sugar. “When I meet with someone to create a meal plan, we’ll turn that into an individualized number for their diet, such as 20 to 25 grams of added sugar per day,” Chong said.

  • When reintroducing grains, stick to whole grains. Don’t reintroduce white flour products to your diet, because these foods are nutrient-poor.

  • Reintroduce dairy slowly, with foods like unsweetened or plain yogurt. Keep cheese to a minimum—an ounce of cheese per day or less is optimal for most people.

  • Stick to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations for alcohol—up to one drink a day for women, up to two drinks for men.

  • Definitely add legumes (beans, lentils, peas, etc.) back to your usual diet, even if you didn’t eat them regularly before. Legumes are nutrient-dense and high in fiber. They should be consumed daily or at least in several servings per week. If you experience gas or bloating with beans or lentils, try small amounts daily to help your body get used to them.

Related:Survey: More than one-third of Americans follow a special diet

“Some aspects of Whole30 aren’t recommended by most dietitians for long-term eating. Cutting out refined grains like white flour is great, but whole grains offer plenty of nutrients that we need. Legumes also offer health benefits, so there’s rarely a reason to cut back on them. Even unsweetened dairy can be a healthy component of our diets,” Chong said.

She recommends trying a version of Whole30 that incorporates whole grains, legumes and small amounts of unsweetened dairy.

Also, if you’re looking to “reset” to a diet that has defined rules but isn’t as restrictive, Chong routinely recommends the DASH diet, which is easier to continue long-term, has shown to lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol, and is appropriate for most people regardless of health issues.

Even sticking to the relatively loose guidelines of the “plate method” can bring you many of the health benefits you might be seeking. Fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables; one-quarter with whole-grain or starchy foods; and one-quarter with lean protein.

“Every small step toward eating more vegetables and other whole foods—as well as fewer sugary and processed foods—is a step in the right direction,” Chong said.


Source: Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

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