The Whole 30 diet meal plan comes with a lot of restrictions. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy food.

By Julia Guerra
November 21, 2019
Credit: Getty Images/Westend61

Whether it's the Mediterranean dietketo dietWW, or Atkins, diets are always trending. And while each one has its own benefits, the Whole 30 food plan is unique in that it's firmly rooted in bettering both the mental and physical relationship you have with food. Yes, Whole 30 is restrictive, but if 30 days of limitations can lead to a lifetime of food freedom, it might be worth a try, right?

What Is the Whole 30 Food Plan?

The Whole 30 diet meal plan was originally designed by certified sports nutritionist Melissa Hartwig Urban to help people learn more about how the foods they eat directly affect their health. "It's not a weight loss program. There's no caloric restriction. You're not counting or weighing or measuring," Hartwig Urban said in an interview with U.S. News & World Report.

Rather, the Whole 30 diet meal plan is set up as a 30-day elimination period during which you remove "hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups," including sugar (meaning real and artificial sweeteners: honey, maple syrup, Stevia, etc.), dairy, alcohol, grains, food additives, and legumes, Hartwig Urban previously told us. Then, after those 30 days are up, you slowly re-introduce those foods to see how your body reacts, explains Lisa Richards, nutritionist and the creator of The Candida Diet.

When and How to Eat On the Whole 30 Food Plan

Unlike other diets that might require you to count calories or macronutrients, Whole 30 is only restrictive in terms of what you can and can't eat. As long as your food is Whole 30-approved, you can eat whenever and whatever you want. The general guidelines suggest you eat three meals a day with minimal snacking so that you grow accustomed to eating more mindfully.

That said, you might want to reserve your Whole 30 elimination for a time when you know you won't have too many social obligations since you'll be eliminating sweets and alcohol from your rotation, says Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., C.D.N., founder of Real Nutrition.

"On this diet, you can eat meat, nuts, seeds, seafood, eggs, vegetables, and fruits," explains Shapiro. Olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil are all fair game, too. But all forms of dairy, sugar, soy, alcohol, grains, legumes and/or starchy vegetables (such as corn) are a no-go. Unfortunately, the Whole 30 Rules vs. Recommendations guidelines also state that you're not really supposed to recreate non-approved foods in creative ways, either (think: cauliflower pizza over regular dough, banana pancakes over regular flapjacks, etc.).

Luckily, spices are Whole 30-approved, so you don't have to scarf down dry, flavorless pieces of fish and poultry. (Related: 12 Healthy Spices and Herbs You Need In Your Kitchen)

As for plant-based peeps, here's the scoop: "[Whole 30] is in line with the Paleo diet, allowing meat, healthy fats, and vegetables, and therefore is not a vegetarian diet," says Shapiro. That's not to say it's impossible to follow a vegetarian Whole 30 meal plan. But because this way of eating is already restrictive, not all experts are in favor of further modifications. Following a Whole 30 vegetarian meal plan ultimately comes down to careful planning to ensure you're still getting enough nutrients in your diet, says Richards.

So what does a vegetarian Whole 30 meal plan look like? It depends on the kind of vegetarian diet you follow. Some vegetarians eat eggs and fish, which are Whole 30-compliant. Per Whole 30's vegetarian guidelines, foods like eggs, salmon, sardines, and cod are likely going to be your main protein sources. Whole fruits and vegetables are obviously fair game, and you can get creative with your meals by making broccoli or cauliflower rice, soups, and salads.

It's also worth noting that the founders of Whole 30 recently declared that white potatoes are compliant with the program, calling them a "whole, real, nutrient-dense food." This is especially good news for anyone trying to follow a whole 30 vegetarian meal plan since it's already restrictive as it is. However, to ensure that white potatoes are still Whole 30-compliant, the guidelines state that while you can add salt to your spuds, French fries and greasy potato chips are still no-gos (sorry).

3 Reasons to Try the Whole 30 Diet Meal Plan

Though more research needs to be done on the subject, benefits of the Whole 30 food plan may include weight loss (but note: this is not the main focus of the diet), regulated blood sugar levels, and reduced inflammation as a result of cutting out processed foods, says Richards. Here are the top three benefits of Whole 30 that experts generally agree on:

  1. Your body gets a break from processed foods. It probably doesn't come as much of a surprise, but processed foods can do a number on your body. Case in point: A recent study published in the journal Cell Metabolism showed a strong association between eating an abundance of processed foods and overeating habits, as well as weight gain.During the study, researchers assigned 20 people to eat "ultra-processed" and "unprocessed" diets for 14 days each. Meals in both diets were designed to have equal numbers of calories, sugar, fat, fiber, and macronutrients, and participants were told to eat as much or as little as they wanted. Yet, when participants were following the "ultra-processed" diet, they consumed roughly 500 extra calories, according to the study's results. "The processed diet-eaters were seen to have extra weight gain, supporting the idea that processed, not-'whole foods' are seen to lead to more weight gain and potentially harmful health consequences," explains Bonnie Balk, RD, a health and wellness expert for Maple Holistics (who was not involved in the study).Plus, cutting out processed foods, even if only for 30 days, can help encourage healthier habits after the fact. "Limiting your intake of most processed foods, especially the simple processed sugars and excess processed fats, will help change your habits," nutritionist Linda Raynes Mahony previously told us. "Habits are formed over a 13-week period, so the four-week period of changing your normal routine is a good start."
  2. You'll gain a better understanding of the connection between nutrition and well-being. Many people try a Whole 30 food plan because they're experiencing unpleasant health symptoms on a regular basis—bloating, nasal congestion, achy joints, and skin issues are just a few examples—but can't quite figure out what's causing them, says Jenn Randazzo, M.S., C.L.T., Vital Proteins' in-house registered dietitian. "As more people learn the direct connection between nutrition and well-being, they're open to eliminating certain foods to see how they impact their symptoms," explains Randazzo. Eliminating certain foods for 30 days, and then slowly introducing them back into your diet, can help you better identify trigger foods and/or foods you might be sensitive to, she adds.
  3. It's basically a dietary reset. Some people gravitate toward the Whole 30 program because they want to hit the "reset" button, so to speak, on their entire diet, says Randazzo. For instance, after periods of indulgence, such as the holiday season or after vacation, many people seek out the program as a resource to re-center mealtime around whole-food nutrition. However, it's important to note that not all experts are on board with the Whole 30 food plan. Since the program is so restrictive, someone following Whole 30 could miss out on a variety of nutrients, says Marisa Michael, RDN and certified personal trainer. Plus, the plan could potentially be triggering for someone with a history of disordered eating, she adds. Therefore, experts strongly suggest that you speak with your doctor before trying Whole 30 to make sure the program is right for you and your body.

7-Day Meal Plan for Whole 30

You could buy Hartwig Urban's The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom. But if you're not ready to fully commit to the program just yet, no worries. We gathered a full week's worth of easy meal and snack ideas from dietitians and nutritionists to build this complete seven-day meal plan for Whole 30.

Whole 30 Diet Breakfasts

  • Vegetable frittata
  • Chia pudding made with almond milk and cinnamon
  • Scrambled eggs, veggies (i.e. diced tomatoes, yellow peppers, sautéed onions, and mushrooms), and avocado-stuffed sweet potato
  • Baked sweet potato breakfast bowl topped with almond butter, fruit, and seeds
  • Smoothie made with fruit, almond milk, chia seeds, and spices

Whole 30 Diet Lunches

  • Salad with non-starchy veggies of your choice + 4 oz grilled chicken and 1/2 avocado
  • Turkey breast in a Siete Foods almond flour wrap with lettuce, tomato, bacon, avocado, mayo, and peppers
  • Grilled chicken strips, lettuce, red cabbage, and avocado with olive oil and lemon juice dressing
  • Chicken burrito bowl with cauliflower rice
  • Tuna salad and lettuce cups
  • Large salad with non-starchy veggies, potato, chicken, egg whites

Whole 30 Diet Dinners

  • 6 oz grass-fed beef with roasted broccoli, steamed sweet potato, and asparagus
  • Seasoned grilled salmon with turmeric-paprika roasted cauliflower and cubed butternut squash
  • Stuffed bell peppers
  • Shrimp and pesto zoodles
  • Salmon with roasted broccoli and zucchini soup

Whole 30 Diet Snacks

  • Nuts and seeds with dried fruit
  • Apple with almond butter
  • "Pink Dream" collagen drink made with Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides, coconut milk, water, and muddled raspberries over ice
  • Jerky
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • 1/2 avocado sprinkled with sea salt and lime juice
  • Roasted cashews with Everything Bagel Spice

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