What Is the Whole30 Diet?

Whole30 Diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The Whole30 diet is a month-long elimination diet to support overall health. The central premise of the diet is that food you eat should make you healthier, but the creators of the program say that many common foods found in Western diets—including sugar, alcohol, grains, dairy, legumes, and certain food additives—can be harmful to your overall health, well-being, and energy levels.

The Whole30 program was created in 2009 by sports nutritionists Melissa Hartwig Urban and Dallas Hartwig, who co-wrote the New York Times bestseller, "It Starts With Food." The co-founders have said that the diet was “born of science and experience.” In practice, it is not a diet, but a short-term nutritional reset that claims to eliminate several food groups that could adversely affect the body, allowing the body to heal and repair itself.

During the 30 days, you eat whole, unprocessed foods, like fruits, vegetables, animal protein, nuts, and healthy fats. After 30 days, you slowly reintroduce off-limits food groups to check for reactions. The program is not a weight-loss plan, but many people find they lose weight on the Whole30 diet. Since the goal of the program is improved health, it is recommended that you don't weigh yourself or take body measurements for the 30 days.

In order for the Whole30 diet to be effective, you must stick to the eating plan for the 30-day duration. This means that just one taste of any off-limits food can disrupt the healing cycle, according to the co-founders.

Proponents following the Whole30 diet believe the plan can help:

  • Heal the digestive tract
  • Balance the immune system
  • Eliminate food cravings
  • Improve medical conditions
  • Boost energy and metabolism
  • Promote weight loss
  • Change how you think about food

The U.S. News and World Report Best Diets ranks the Whole30 diet number 35 in Best Diets Overall and gives it an overall score of 2/5. Learn more about the Whole30 diet and how it works to decide whether this is the right eating plan for you.

What Experts Say

"While the Whole30 diet focuses on eating whole, less-processed foods (think vegetables, fish, and nuts, etc.), it also restricts healthy food groups such as grains and legumes. These foods are packed with fiber, protein, B-vitamins, and many other nutrients."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

When following the Whole30 plan, you focus on eating whole, unprocessed foods including animal protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and healthy fats. At the same time, you avoid grains, legumes, dairy, added sugar, artificial sugar, alcohol, and certain additives.

The rules are simple but strict. Eat moderate portions of meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables; fruit; plenty of natural fats; and herbs, spices, and seasonings. Eat foods with very few, pronounceable ingredients or no ingredients because they’re whole and unprocessed. Do not eat the foods to be avoided, even in small amounts, for 30 days.

After 30 days of following the Whole30 eating plan, the off-limits foods are slowly reintroduced one at a time to see if anything triggers a reaction. 

What You Need to Know

The program is based on research on how different nutrients can affect the body. Foods allowed on the plan must meet the diet's four so-called "Good Food" standards. On the Whole30 diet, the food you eat should:

  1. Promote a healthy psychological response
  2. Promote a healthy hormonal response
  3. Support a healthy gut
  4. Support immune functions and minimize inflammation

The Whole30 plan does not restrict the timing of meals, however, it recommends eating three meals a day and not snacking in between.

While the initial program lasts for 30 days, the reintroduction period can take time. During this period, it is recommended that you add one food group back in at a time, eating several servings of a variety of foods in the group over the course of three days while still remaining true to the rest of the Whole30 plan.

Food groups can be added back in any order, however, some people choose to do legumes first, then non-gluten grains, followed by dairy, and then gluten-containing grains. In evaluating food upon reintroduction, it is important to pay attention to any symptoms, including gastric problems, rashes, body pain, or energy dips, that occur.

The Whole30 website contains plenty of useful information, including the program rules, a free newsletter, a support forum, recipes, and a subscription meal planning service. In addition, Urban has also written several books that explain the guidelines and provide helpful recipes that fit this plan, including "Cooking Whole30: Over 150 Delicious Recipes for the Whole30 and Beyond."

There are no required recipes to embark on a Whole30 diet, but there are many resources for Whole30-compliant meals. In addition to looking for recipes marketed as Whole30-approved, you can simply look for recipes that don't include any dairy, grains, sugar, alcohol, or legumes.

What to Eat
  • Meat

  • Poultry

  • Seafood

  • Eggs

  • Vegetables

  • Fruit

  • Natural fats

  • Nuts

  • Vinegar (except for malt vinegar)

  • Coconut aminos

  • Herbs, spices, and seasonings

What Not to Eat
  • Sugar and artificial sweeteners

  • Alcohol

  • Grains

  • Legumes, including soy and peanuts

  • Dairy

  • Additives, including carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites

  • Certain seed and vegetable oils

On the Whole30 diet, all animal proteins (except dairy), vegetables, fruits, natural fats, most nuts, and most herbs, spices, and seasonings are allowed, which offers a lot more variety than what appears at first glance. The restrictions are clear-cut and require reading labels to ensure you don't inadvertently eat off-limit foods:

  • No added sugar—real or artificial. This includes maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, stevia, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, and sugar alcohols. Small amounts of fruit juice used as a sweetener in recipes, however, is allowed, and whole fruits are not restricted.
  • No alcohol. Do not drink alcoholic beverages or eat foods prepared with alcohol, even if it is cooked out.
  • No grains. This includes wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat.
  • Avoid most legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, peanut butter, and soy and soy products (including soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and soy lecithin). Foods like green beans and sugar snap peas are not legumes and can be enjoyed on Whole30.
  • No dairy. This includes cow, goat, or sheep’s milk products like milk, cream, cheese, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt. The only exceptions are ghee and clarified butter, in which the milk proteins have been removed.
  • Avoid certain seed and vegetable oils. This includes canola (rapeseed), chia, corn, cottonseed, flax (linseed), grapeseed, hemp, palm kernel, peanut, rice bran, safflower, sesame, soybean, and sunflower.
  • No carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites. If these additives appear in any form on food labels, don't consume them.
  • No baked goods, "junk foods," or treats with “unapproved” ingredients. 

While the list of restricted foods on the Whole30 makes up a large portion of the standard American diet and removing them may seem overwhelming, the foods allowed on the plan are plentiful and healthy.

Sample Shopping List

The Whole30 diet eliminates dairy, grains, legumes, sugar, artificial sweeteners, other additives, and alcohol for 30 days. The following shopping list offers suggestions for getting started on this plan. Note that this is not a definitive shopping list and you may find other foods that work better for you.

  • Dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, Swiss chard, bok choy)
  • Veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, carrots, cucumbers)
  • Fruits (avocado, grapefruit, oranges, berries, bananas, apples)
  • Lean animal protein sources (chicken breast, lean cuts of beef, pork tenderloin)
  • Fresh or frozen fish (halibut, cod, salmon, snapper, sea bass, shrimp)
  • Nuts (walnuts, almonds, cashews)
  • Oils (olive oil, coconut oil)
  • Organic non-dairy plant milk (carrageenan-free)
  • Compliant seasonings (amino acids, malt vinegar, turmeric)
  • Eggs

Sample Meal Plan

The Whole30 plan advises three meals a day with no snacks in between. While Whole30 cookbooks and the program's website provide recipes for Whole30-approved meals, the following three-day meal plan offers additional suggestions for following the diet. Note that this plan is not all-inclusive, and if you choose to follow the Whole30 diet there may be other meals that are more appropriate for your tastes, preferences, and budget.

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Pros and Cons

  • Emphasizes wholesome, real food

  • No weighing or measuring

  • No fasting or complicated meal timing

  • No essential special products or supplements to buy

  • Coffee is allowed

  • Very restrictive diet

  • Meal planning and preparation required

  • Difficult to follow in social settings

  • No "wiggle room" for 30 days

  • Must read food labels

  • No sugar or alcohol may lead to physical withdrawal symptoms

The Whole30 Program isn't right for everyone, but those who have completed the program praise its effectiveness in improving energy, mental clarity, and overall wellness. Review the pros and cons before trying this eating plan.



The Whole30 plan is filled with healthy, nutritionally dense whole foods, including protein, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats. Most people report feeling better physically, mentally, and emotionally on this healthy-eating plan.

May Reveal Food Sensitivities

As an elimination diet, it allows you to identify foods that may trigger allergies or sensitivities. This is a clinical, time-honored approach and can work for the purpose of identifying trigger foods in order to minimize symptoms.

Restricts Added Sugar and Processed Foods

Nutrition experts also agree that removing added sugars and processed foods from our diet, like Whole30 recommends, is a good thing. Reducing added sugar intake decreases inflammation, reduces illness, and improves overall health.

No Restriction on Compliant Foods

While several foods are not allowed during the Whole30 diet, there is no restriction on the amount of compliant foods allowed, meaning calories are not restricted and you can eat to fullness. The plan does not require fruits and vegetables to be organic or animal protein to be grass-fed or cage-free.

There is no need to weigh or measure portion sizes, no special timing of meals or snacks, and no essential supplements or special products you must buy to start the program.


Very Restrictive

The Whole30 plan eliminates several foods that are commonly found in the standard American diet and in most processed and pre-prepared foods.

Meal Planning Required

When following the Whole30 diet plan, you need to carefully read food labels, avoid most restaurants and takeout, plan ahead, and prepare most of your meals from scratch. This can be time-consuming and many people find this to be the most challenging part of the plan.

Difficult to Socialize

The strict diet and no alcohol policy can make socializing difficult. Dining in restaurants and at other people's homes can be challenging. In addition, the program removes many foods that are physically addictive, like sugar and alcohol, and stopping these foods cold turkey could result in physical withdrawal symptoms. It is recommended to slowly wean yourself off sugar and alcohol prior to officially starting the 30-day plan.

Strict and Regimented

Because Whole30 is an elimination diet, there is no deviation allowed for 30 days. Just one bite of an off-limit food can disrupt the healing cycle and require the clock to be reset back to day one, according to the diet's co-founders. Because the program was created by sports nutritionists with a tough-love coaching approach, some people may find it off-putting and insensitive instead of motivational.

While the Whole30 diet claims to be scientifically sound, the overall plan has not been studied in clinical trials and there are no current peer-reviewed studies indicating that Whole30 supports sustainable weight loss. Additionally, nutritionists say the restrictive program is unsustainable, can deprive your body of essential nutrients, and can create an unhealthy relationship with food.

Is the Whole30 Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

Whole30 has some nutritional benefits, but it does not meet the recommended dietary guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) due to the elimination of dairy and grains.

Eating healthy is a lifestyle, not a diet. When you consume a wide variety of nutritious foods, it helps to maintain mental and physical well-being and a healthy weight. The USDA recommends choosing the following nutrient-dense foods as part of a healthy, balanced diet:

  • Vegetables and dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, green beans) 
  • Fruits (apples, berries, melon)
  • Grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)
  • Lean meats (chicken breast, fish, turkey breast)
  • Beans and legumes (all beans, lentils, peas)
  • Nuts and seeds (e.g., walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds)
  • Dairy (reduced-fat milk, cheese, yogurt) 
  • Oils (olive oil, avocado oil

The USDA indicates that the number of calories a person needs daily varies based on age, sex, and level of physical activity. If you're interested in determining your daily calorie guidelines to meet your goals, use this calculator tool.

The greatest concern of the Whole30 diet aside from its restrictive nature is the elimination of dairy, grains, and legumes, which does not adhere to USDA guidelines. The plan can be very difficult to follow and doesn’t necessarily support long-term weight loss since it is only a short-term diet.

Health Benefits

Doctors commonly prescribe elimination diets to patients with potential allergies, digestive problems, rashes, or difficult-to-diagnose symptoms. The Whole30 eliminates some potentially problematic food groups for a month, then the foods are slowly reintroduced one at a time.

Most people who follow a Whole30 diet discover some of these foods cause stomach upset, body aches, headaches, fatigue, rashes, or other uncomfortable symptoms upon reintroduction.

The main health benefits of an elimination diet plan like Whole30 come from avoiding potentially unhealthy or problematic foods and identifying those to avoid long-term. The following is a summary of why certain foods may cause problems, according to peer-reviewed studies and additional research compiled in the Whole30 co-founders' book, "It Starts With Food."

Added Sugar and Artificial Sweeteners

Few people would argue that sugar and artificial sweeteners are good for you. Foods with lots of added sugar are addictive and full of empty calories.

Artificial sweeteners mimic sugar and are linked to various health conditions including cancer, bowel disease, migraines, autoimmune disorders, and more. But studies investigating the link between these conditions and artificial sweeteners have yielded inconsistent results.

A research review published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2018 confirms that sugar is addictive due to natural opioids released by sugar consumption. In addition, a 2017 review published in the journal Current Gastroenterology Reports found that artificial sweeteners contribute to metabolic syndrome and obesity by disrupting satiety signals, leading to increased calorie consumption.

Research shows that added sugar does not promote a healthy psychological response, can lead to mood swings, and contributes to inflammation in the body. In addition, sugar and artificial sweeteners are added to many seemingly healthy products, including canned tomatoes and fruit, bread, almond milk, yogurt, and more.


Alcohol does not have any redeeming health benefits, according to the Whole30 co-founders. It is a neurotoxin, addictive, and provides empty calories.

Alcohol also inhibits decision-making—so it's harder to stick to your diet—and interferes with hormones, glucose metabolism, and gut health. A 2015 study in the journal Appetite found moderate alcohol consumption before a meal increases calorie consumption by 11%.

According to Whole30's co-founders, any purported health claim of alcohol is canceled out by its negative effects and can be found in other foods. For instance, red wine is touted as heart-healthy, but a 2009 study suggests the same benefits can also be achieved by eating red grapes.

Seed Oils

Some industrial seed and vegetable oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids, including sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, and corn oils, and are generally considered healthy. But a 2016 study published in Nutrients reports that the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids has increased from 1:1 to 20:1, leading to obesity, brain-gut problems, and systemic inflammation.

Minimizing omega-6 intake and increasing omega-3 consumption (as recommended during the Whole30 diet) can help to balance out the ratio and is "important for health and in the prevention and management of obesity," the study authors conclude.

On their own, omega-6s are not inherently harmful, however, when the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids becomes unbalanced, it can have negative health consequences.


Grains make up a large portion of the American diet and the elimination of grains, as recommended in the Whole30, sparks controversy with nutrition and medical experts. However, this is just a temporary elimination to give your body time to reset and determine if certain grains affect your health.

According to some research, grains can be problematic for some people for a number of reasons. They are easy to overconsume, promote inflammation, and the proteins found in grains—both in gluten and gluten-free grains—can be difficult to digest for many people. Grains are also calorie-dense.

For instance, a 2013 study in Nutrients found anti-nutrients in wheat and other cereal grains may contribute to chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases. The study authors note eating grains can increase intestinal permeability and initiate a pro-inflammatory immune response.

Grains are typically touted as a heart-healthy source of fiber and nutrients, but the Whole30 creators suggest that grains—and refined grains in particular—are not as good of a source of nutrition as vegetables and fruits. All of the fiber, protein, and vitamins in grains can be found in fruits and vegetables.

Eliminating grains and eating more whole plant material is not necessarily harmful and may actually pack more nutrients for fewer calories. For example, replacing one cup of regular spaghetti with one cup of spaghetti squash saves 190 calories, boosts intake of vitamins A, C, and B6, and contains almost the same amount of fiber.


Like grains, beans, peas, lentils, soy, and peanuts are often touted as healthy foods, but many people have problems digesting legumes. Legumes contain lectins and phytate, which may inhibit some of their nutrients from being absorbed during digestion.

In addition, soy contains phytoestrogens (plant-based estrogen) which can have a hormonal response in the body. Soy-based ingredients are very prevalent in processed foods, often found on labels as soybean oil, soy protein isolates, and soy lecithin.

While the Whole30 co-founders admit the scientific case against legumes may not be strong, they recommend abstaining from legumes for 30 days and then deciding for yourself whether to include them in your diet once you reintroduce them.

Though there is limited evidence to back the Whole30 diet's claims that certain food groups like grains and legumes may be unhealthy for some people, it's important to note that research has also shown these foods provide a number of health benefits, too.


Despite milk's reputation as nature's perfect food—it has protein, carbohydrates, fat, and many nutrients—dairy products do not agree with everyone.

Milk contains the sugar lactose that many people lack an enzyme to digest (lactase, the active ingredient in Lactaid tablets), resulting in gas and bloating. Milk also contains the proteins casein and whey, to which some people react poorly.

According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 65% of adults have difficulty digesting lactose. Rates of milk protein allergies are much lower and estimated to be less than 5% of adults.

Milk and dairy products can also contain hormones that may disrupt the endocrine system and lead to weight gain. According to a 2015 research review, certain hormones in dairy products may potentially provoke breast, prostate, and endometrial tumors.

As with other foods prohibited on the plan, personal reactions vary. Taking a 30-day break from dairy products will give your body a chance to clear all the dairy from your system so you can determine if you are sensitive to it upon reintroduction.


Carrageenan is a seaweed extract used to thicken processed foods. It's often found in almond milk, yogurt, deli meat, and other unsuspecting places.

Some people have an inflammatory response to carrageenan, so it is recommended to avoid it for the duration of a Whole30 diet.

A 2018 review published in the journal Food and Function reports that carrageenan may be linked to inflammation and digestive problems. In addition, its use as a food additive is on the rise, with increasing levels found in our diet. The study authors recommend additional research to determine if carrageenan may compromise human health and well-being.


Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer used in processed foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that MSG is safe. And new research shows that not only is MSG safe, but swapping salt with MSG can help reduce sodium in your diet, which may improve overall health.

However, scientists have also studied the effects of MSG as there have been reports of adverse reactions including headaches, rashes, hives, and nasal congestion. There have also been concerns about the link between MSG and other health conditions including low-grade inflammation and obesity.

While there is a large body of MSG research available, study results have been mixed and methodology is often called into question. For example, some studies may test quantities of MSG not typically consumed in the human diet. Authors of a large independent research review published in 2019 suggested that more high-quality studies are needed to fully understand the impact of MSG on human health.

MSG is hidden in foods under many names, including maltodextrin, modified food starch, hydrolyzed proteins, dried meat (i.e., dried beef), meat extract (i.e., pork extract), and poultry stock (i.e., chicken stock).

To find out if you are sensitive to MSG, avoid it during the Whole30, then reintroduce it after the 30 days.

Added Sulfites

Sulfites are a byproduct of fermentation and occur naturally in many foods. They are also added to processed foods. People who are sensitive to sulfites can suffer from skin rashes, gastrointestinal problems, and cardio and pulmonary issues.

Avoiding added sulfites during your Whole30, then reintroducing them can help you determine if they impact your health.

Health Risks

Though there are no common health risks associated with a Whole30 diet, restricting healthy food groups can lead to nutrient deficiencies. Restrictive diets are also not recommended for those who've had or are at risk of developing an eating disorder since they can create an unhealthy obsession with food.

A Word From Verywell

The Whole30 plan promotes eating healthy, nutrient-dense whole foods, while temporarily eliminating foods that may cause health problems. It is not a weight-loss plan, but a nutritional reset that can help eliminate unhealthy eating habits—at least temporarily—and potentially leave you feeling better and more energized.

But the Whole30 diet is not right for everyone. The plan is very restrictive and can be difficult to follow. It requires a high degree of meal planning, which can be great for people who love to cook and have ample time to prepare meals but can be a struggle for some. In addition, experts say restrictive diets are unsustainable and can foster an unhealthy relationship with food.

If you choose to give Whole30 a try, familiarize yourself with the rules of the program before you begin. Start reading food labels to recognize off-limits foods and slowly wean yourself off some of these foods—sugar and alcohol, in particular—to make the transition easier. It's also helpful to test out some Whole30-approved meals in advance, or you may find yourself trying out several new recipes in a row, which some people find overwhelming.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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