A Beginner’s Guide to Whole30 and Plant-Based Whole30


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Since 2009, Whole30 has been a popular eating plan, and it has had a strong following among people hoping for a nutritional reset. Whole30 is a 30-day elimination plan and not a diet in the traditional sense. There are no calorie restrictions or tracking of your intake, and it is not intended for weight loss. Although the plan does eliminate certain foods and food groups including sugar, alcohol, grains, legumes and dairy, similar to a paleo philosophy of eating, it does so only for a short amount of time (30 days).

The program was created by Whole30 cofounder and CEO Melissa Urban and Dallas Hartwig, certified sports nutritionists and New York Times bestselling authors. The plan started in part as an experiment by Urban, who was hoping she could change her relationship with food. It was designed as an elimination plan to find out how certain foods can affect things like energy levels, aches and pains, digestive issues and allergies. Although this program is not intended to treat or diagnose any diseases, according to research studies, elimination diets can be an effective tool to help some patients with various gastrointestinal conditions. If you’re interested in trying the Whole30 plan, here is everything you’ll need to know to get started including whether or not this plan is right for you.

What is the Whole30 plan?

Whole30 is an elimination plan but it is also very much a learning experiment to figure out what works best for you, your digestion and your overall wellness.

 

Whole30 begins by eliminating certain foods for 30 days. At the end of those 30 days, you reintroduce the eliminated foods over a 10-day period, one food group at a time, and watch for any changes that can help you better navigate your diet as it relates to your overall health. For example, some people discover improved energy levels and better sleep when not consuming certain foods, while others might see a reduction in gas or bloating.

Foods allowed on Whole30

  • Meat: Unprocessed meat including beef, chicken, turkey, pork
  • Seafood: All seafood including fish, shrimp, mussels, lobster, oysters
  • Vegetables: All vegetables including potatoes, green peas and green beans
  • Fruits: All fruits including watermelon, bananas, grapes, berries and 100% fruit juices
  • Nut butter, nuts and seeds
  • Fats: Olive oil, coconut oil, avocado oil, clarified butter and ghee
  • Vinegars and botanical extracts, with the exception of malt vinegars that contain gluten
  • Coconut aminos, which can be used as a replacement for soy sauce
  • Iodized salt
  • Herbs and spices
  • Black coffee

Foods not allowed on Whole30

  • Sugar: No white or brown sugar and no real or artificial sweeteners including maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, monk fruit extract, stevia, Splenda, etc.
  • Alcohol, including for cooking
  • Gluten, including whole wheat pasta and bread
  • Grains, including barley, oats, corn, quinoa, buckwheat, etc.
  • Legumes: Most legumes are off-limits except for green beans and most peas (including sugar snap peas, greens peas, split peas, etc.)
  • Dairy, including cow, goat and sheep’s milk
  • Carrageenan and sulfites
  • Treats, even those created with Whole30 ingredients
pattern of healthy organic food with vegetables on summer background

Amax Photo

What is plant-based Whole30?

In 2022, Whole30 introduced a plant-based plan because the original Whole30 program was designed for people who consume animal proteins. “While we’ve always had vegetarians and vegans in our community, we recognized a few years ago that we could be — and wanted to be — supportive of them even more than we already were,” says Urban.

While there is a lot of overlap between the two programs, the main difference is that plant-based Whole30 excludes all animal products. It incorporates plant-based proteins and fats, including legumes, lentils and peas, whole or minimally processed forms of soy and whole forms of plant-based protein powders.

According to Stephanie Greunke, MS, RDN and co-creator of Plant-Based Whole30, a team of medical professionals including dietitians, nutritionists, functional medical doctors, nurses and a psychologist helped to create the plant-based program.

avocado burger with cucumber, tomato, onion, greens and seeds on wooden plate

Anna Blazhuk

Sample Whole30 meal plan

The following is a snapshot of what three days can look like on the original Whole30 and the plant-based version. Take note that the plant-based version recommends four meals instead of three because, according to Urban, eating “four meals a day (compared to three on the Original Whole30) helps to ensure adequate protein intake.” Urban also emphasizes the importance of specific supplements like vitamin B12 when following the plant-based version, given their lack of abundance in plant-based foods.

Original Whole30 sample menu

Day 1

  • Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with spinach and sliced avocado
  • Lunch: Turkey lettuce wraps
  • Dinner: Sautéed shrimp over cauliflower rice veggie stir-fry

Day 2

  • Breakfast: Chia pudding with berries and almond butter
  • Lunch: Kale Caesar salad with chicken
  • Dinner: Baked salmon with paleo pesto over spaghetti squash

Day 3

  • Breakfast: Veggie and egg scramble
  • Lunch: Chopped salad with avocado, veggies and grilled chicken
  • Dinner: Turkey meatballs over zucchini noodles with tomato sauce

Plant-based Whole30 sample menu

Day 1

  • Meal 1: Chia pudding with a scoop of plant-based protein powder
  • Meal 2: Lentil Bolognese over zucchini or Palmini noodles
  • Meal 3: Smoothie made with plant-based protein powder, unsweetened nut milk or coconut milk or water, chia seeds, berries and spinach
  • Meal 4: Cauliflower rice stir-fry with tofu

Day 2

  • Meal 1: Plant-based yogurt parfait with berries, nuts, seeds and plant-based protein powder
  • Meal 2: Chopped salad with tempeh and avocado
  • Meal 3: Minestrone soup
  • Meal 4: Vegan chili

Day 3

  • Meal 1: Sweet potato stack with tofu and avocado
  • Meal 2: Chickpea lettuce wraps
  • Meal 3: Chia pudding with fruit and plant-based protein powder
  • Meal 4: Jackfruit curry with cauliflower rice
marinated grilled tofu strips with a sweet and zesty salad of mango and cucumber with a little pickled red onion and lime

Enrique Díaz / 7cero

Tips for those who want to try Whole30

Urban says that planning and preparation are keys to success. Trying to “wing it” will likely lead to struggling, she adds. If you’re interested in eliminating and reintroducing foods according to the Whole30 plan, these recommendations can help:

✔️ Establish a social support system before starting. This will help you stay the course. As allows, doing it with a friend makes it that much easier. If you can’t find a friend to do it with you, consider joining a Whole30 community forum.

✔️ Set expectations — for yourself and others — around social activities like dinners with friends or date nights. Commit to the plan and make it an important part of your life, but make it work for you and make it fun so that it doesn’t feel overly restrictive.

✔️ Stock up on snacks that fit the Whole30 program (for example, nuts such as GH Nutritionist Approved Wonderful Pistachios, Chomps Grass Fed Beef Jerky and fruit).

✔️ Keep it simple. Cook a protein, then add some veggies and healthy fats and tie it all together with a dressing or sauce. Try new foods and recipes, and be open to new ways of cooking.

✔️ Become an intuitive label reader. Whole30 makes reading labels easy, look for the Whole30 logo on products when grocery shopping as a guide for dietary compliance. Paying greater attention to ingredients may be one of the biggest takeaways from this plan. Ninety-six percent of Whole30 followers reported they continue using this skill after the plan’s completion, according to the company.

Advantages of Whole30

One of the advantages of the Whole30 approach, is that you have an opportunity to experiment with how your body reacts to the removal, and then the re-addition of certain foods. From this experimentation, you can begin, in a sense, to personalize your own dietary response. In addition, you will likely become a more effective ingredient label reader, as a result and determine how food affects your overall digestion and wellness. You may even discover a sensitivity you didn’t know you had and find better health by eliminating that food beyond the 30-day program.

Whole30’s website suggests that following its approach could lead to improved blood sugar levels, weight loss, lowered blood pressure and improved cholesterol levels based on a study conducted in 2018 by Catherine Moring, Ph.D., RDN, BC-ADM, CDES. There is no indication of peer review or the role of corporate sponsorship in this study so while the results may show promising benefits, more clinically reviewed studies are needed to support these claims.

Possible challenges when following Whole30

The plan was designed to be followed for 30 consecutive days. The official guidelines state that “any off-plan choices during your Whole30 calls for a restart.” This means that straying from the plan and, for example, using sugar in your coffee, could lead to starting completely over from day one, which could feel overly restrictive to some people and lead to frustration and discouragement. Additionally, since the plan requests that you not weigh yourself for 30 days, this could be disconcerting for individuals that feel more comfortable when progress is measured frequently.

Your grocery budget could be another factor to consider before embarking on Whole30. Grocery prices are currently sky-high, and buying mostly premium or organic produce, meats and wild-caught fish will undoubtedly be more expensive than the average grocery haul. We recommend planning ahead when possible by creating a grocery list and comparing prices before shopping.

The bottom line

Trying Whole30 might be an interesting way to learn more about what works and doesn’t work in your personal diet. The nutrition pros in the Good Housekeeping Institute point out that this program is meant to be temporary and is not designed for weight loss. Eliminated foods can be reintroduced after the 30 days are over to help you determine which foods best support your health goals. If you find a food is causing you distress upon reintroduction, you should consider eliminating it from your everyday diet.

Our experts note that there is still a lot of trial and error in the approach, and it is not the right approach for everyone. It is especially not recommended for individuals who are pregnant or have a past history of eating disorders or disordered eating. Plus, each individual will likely have a unique experience on the program, so outcomes shouldn’t be generalized.

Headshot of Amy Fischer M.S., R.D., C.D.N.

Contributing Writer

Amy (she/her) is a registered dietitian with the Nutrition Lab at the Good Housekeeping Institute, covering nutrition- and health-related content and product testing. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Miami University of Ohio and a master’s degree in clinical nutrition from NYU. Prior to Good Housekeeping, she worked at one of the largest teaching hospitals in New York City as a cardiac transplant dietitian. She has authored numerous chapters in clinical nutrition textbooks and has also worked in PR and marketing for food company start-ups.



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