The Whole30 Diet is a month-long plan during which you avoid eating certain foods in order to find out if any of them is negatively affecting your health. It requires you to abstain for a month from sugar, grains, alcoholic beverages, soy and other legumes, and all dairy products. The plan was devised by sports nutritionists Dallas and Melissa Hartwig who contend that eating this way will reduce systemic inflammation and help you identify foods that are adversely impacting your health, fitness and quality of life.
The Whole30 Diet isn’t supposed to be about weight loss, but many people who try it do lose some weight. That’s bound to happen if you eliminate sugar in all its forms, along with grains, dairy products, legumes and alcohol. Instead, you are encouraged to eat fish, meat, nuts, eggs, fruits and vegetables.
As far as safety, eliminating alcoholic beverages certainly can’t hurt you. On the other hand, I believe that whole grains and legumes are generally healthy foods. Unless you’re allergic to soy (which is unusual in adults), I recommend consuming one to two daily servings of whole soy foods to reduce risks of hormonally driven cancers.
Other foods eliminated on the Whole30 diet can be inherently problematic. Cow’s milk, for example, in all of its forms can trigger allergies, aggravate symptoms of autoimmune conditions and exacerbate chronic sinus problems, chronic bronchitis, ear infections and eczema. I frequently advise eliminating milk for four to six weeks to see if these conditions improve.
I’ve written a lot on this site about sugar and the fact that Americans consume far too much of it. I recommend cutting down or eliminating intake of all sweeteners if you experience mood swings, fluctuating energy levels, suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, are overweight or obese, have a family history of heart disease, or have frequent vaginal yeast infections.
If you have celiac disease, you must avoid gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley that damages the small intestine. In addition, studies suggest that some people who do not have celiac disease can develop a systemic immune reaction and intestinal cell damage after eating wheat. And reportedly eliminating grains containing gluten can lead to an improvement of inflammation-related arthritis symptoms. (If you have arthritis, it’s not a good idea to try a gluten-free diet before being tested for celiac disease – the change may render the test results inaccurate.) Here’s where you can learn about grain consumption recommended on my anti-inflammatory diet.
A search of the medical literature turned up no actual studies evaluating the Whole30 Diet. It is very strict and may be difficult to stick to, even for 30 days, although it certainly has plenty of enthusiastic fans online. However, if you have a health problem you believe to be food related (or not), I urge you to seek medical advice before going the diet-cure route.
Andrew Weil, M.D.