Whole30 Program Review

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The Whole30 is a dietary reset that was co-founded by Melissa Harwig Urban. It’s designed to improve your health and relationship with food. The foods to be eliminated in the first 30 days are those which Urban says are commonly problematic in one of four areas: cravings, immune system, hormonal balance and digestion. At the end of the 30 days, you carefully re-introduce foods back into your diet and see how you feel with the addition of each food. So let’s take a deep dive into the program.

Whole30 Rules

Rule 1: Eat real food. Quite simple I think. They tell you to eat meat; fruit and vegetables; seafood and eggs; natural fats; herbs, spices, and seasonings.

Rule 2: For 30 days, avoid the following:

  • Added sugar, real or artificial; alcohol (not even in cooking – I know what you’re thinking girl);
  • Grains, this includes wheat, rye, barley, oats, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, quinoa, amaranth and buckwheat (the last three are technically seeds);
  • Most forms of legumes including beans (black, red, pinto, navy, garbanzo/chickpeas, white, kidney, lima, fava, cannellini, lentils, adzuki, mung, cranberry, and black-eyes peas); and all types of soy (soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, soy protein, soy milk, or soy lecithin);
  • Dairy including cow, goat, or sheep’s milk products like milk, cream, cheese, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt;
  • Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites;
  • Baked goods, junk foods, or treats with approved ingredients;
  • AND… don’t weight yourself, measure body fat, ditch the measuring tape for 30 days and no pictures other than on Day 1 and Day 30.

Does the research support Whole30?

You know She So Healthy is all about advice that is backed by science. So is there research to support the program or at least parts of it? There sure is.

There are so many studies on the bad affects of added sugar – most people know that sugar is bad for the body. Still, here’s some research in case you need some more convincing.

Sugar – what can it do to your body?

Researchers have likened sugar to alcohol, saying that uncontrolled sugar consumption can lead to liver toxicity and other chronic diseases. The scientific name for table sugar is sucrose and sucrose is made of glucose and fructose – it’s a 50/50 split. Now over-consumption of fructose can be harmful to your health. I’m not talking about the kind you get from an apple – apples are your friend.

When refined sweets enter your body, the glucose is absorbed by the body into the bloodstream, but the fructose needs to get processed into glucose by your liver. Fructose may put a heavy burden on your liver and cause non-alcoholic fatty-liver disease, raise your uric acid levels which can lead to gout and high blood pressure; and cause insulin resistance which can lead to Type II Diabetes and obesity. Fructose can also cause dysregulation of fat which leads to weight gain. So there’s good reason to ditch the refined sugar.

Artificial sugar

OK let’s talk about artificial sugar. It may look harmless, it doesn’t contain glucose and fructose, so why are we cutting it out?

Research shows that when our brain registers the sweet taste on our tongue, our brain tells us that we’ve stumbled across a sweet bounty of healthy fruit and tells us to eat it. With natural sugar, our brain gets to the point where it sends signals to stop before too many calories are consumed. These come up from our gut. However, with artificial sweeteners, there is a calorie disconnect and the signal from our brain to tell us it’s time to stop eating is not activated as it would if we were consuming real sugar. So that diet drink may lead to you eating more than you would have without it.

Another reason that artificial sweeteners can cause you to overeat is that the brain registers the sweet taste as sugar and is expecting the calories to go with it. Studies show that when it doesn’t get those calories, it screams out ‘FEED ME’ and can cause you to keep searching for those calories until you find them. In one study, One study sought to measure the effects of artificial sugar on subsequent cravings for sugar. Three groups were formed; one group was given an artificial drink, the second a sweetened drink and the third an unsweetened drink. The group given an artificial drink were three times less likely to resist M&Ms after the drink compared to the other two groups.

Carrageenan – what on earth is it?

Carrageenan is a fat substitute and a thickener in dairy and non-dairy products. Carrageenan was known to have bad effects on laboratory animals for many years but in 2008, a study found that Carrageenan caused inflammation in human colon tissue samples. Enough said.

So where is it found? It’s used in a variety of products including whipping cream, chocolate milk, ice cream, sour cream, cottage cheese, and squeezable yogurt products. It’s also in some deli meats including sliced turkey, prepared chicken and other deli meats; frozen pizzas and microwavable meals, dairy alternatives such as coconut, soy, and almond milk. Even some chewable vitamins and supplements contain this ingredient. Did you know that? Pre-packaged food contains a whole lot of ingredients and it’s wise to be aware of them and their effects on the body.


MSG is short for monosodium glutamate, a food additive used for flavor. It’s made from fermented starch and turns into glutamate, which is a common amino acid and something our bodies already produce.

The jury’s out on MSG. For many years it was speculated that MSG is bad for our bodies, triggered asthma attacks and caused other symptoms such tingling, muscle tightness and headaches.

The FDA deem it safe but there are studies supporting the argument that MSG can have adverse effects on the body in excessive amounts. In one study, people who believed were sensitive to MSG consumed 5 grams of MSG or a placebo. Out of those who consumed MSG, 36.1% reported reactions compared to 24.6% with a placebo. Keep in mind that 5 grams is a very high dose.


Sulfites are preservatives and have been used since Roman times to preserve food flavor and color, stop bacterial growth, preserve medication and stop food from going bad.

Foods commonly containing sulfites include fruit juices, wine, soft drinks, vinegar, jams, jellies, bread, biscuits, dried fruit and gelatin. Sulfites can be used to stop foods like crustaceans and meat from discoloring.

Sulfites can cause allergic reactions such as wheezing in people with asthma, hives, and hay fever. They also cause anaphylaxis in rare cases. Research tells us that sensitivity reactions vary widely but the majority of reactions are mild.

Just looking at the list of foods containing sulfites, it’s clear that staying clear of these foods as a whole would do you good, whether or not you have a sensitivity to sulfites.

Grains, legumes and dairy

Eliminating these three groups had me stumped a little. What does science tell us? We know that many people are lactose intolerant, so eliminating dairy for 30 days is wise. If you’re one of the many who don’t know they are lactose intolerant, eliminating dairy for 30 days will help you find out. Yogurt doesn’t contain lactose – it disappears in the fermentation process. It’s possible that casein – the protein in dairy, can cause adverse reactions in the body. All in all, eliminating dairy for 30 days may be quite helpful in finding out if it’s causing you harm.

Now onto grains. Many grains contain gluten which is a substance that people with coeliac disease must avoid. The genetically modified wheat that we commonly find in bread, as well as gluten, is hard for some non-coeliacs to digest and there is scientific evidence to support this. This is known as non-coeliac gluten sensitivity. Nevertheless, whole grains do provide the body with a host of health benefits including reduced risk of: Coronary Heart Disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and other chronic diseases, thanks to the dietary fibre, starch, antioxidant nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients they contain.

So on the Whole30, you’re told to avoid legumes too. There really isn’t any evidence we could find to suggest that legumes have a detrimental effect on the body. Of course, there are people with allergies to legumes just like there are people with allergies to peanuts. Legumes offer so many health benefits. This article in the Journal of Medicinal Food explains their role in cardiometabolic risk prevention. According to the researchers, legumes are associated with a lower risk of insulin resistance, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, lower BMI, and lower serum cholesterol.

Given that you’d be eliminating these food groups for 30 days only, the elimination is unlikely to have an adverse effect on your body and may even help you to determine whether or not some foods are causing you discomfort.


So that’s the Whole30 review. There are many people who swear by it and if it means eliminating refined and artificial sugars; baked and junk foods from your diet, then in our books, it’s worth trying for 30 days and then going back to a more varied diet. You should always consult your doctor before starting any diet.

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