The do’s and don’ts of the nutrient-rich Whole 30 diet: Best of Molly Kimball

Best of Molly Kimball: Nutrition columnist Molly Kimball will be on leave until Aug. 6. While she is away, we are revisiting some of her best-read and most popular columns published by | The Times-Picayune. This column was originally published in 2017.

I’m often asked about popular diets. Two hot ones right now are the Keto Diet, which I wrote about last week, and Whole30, which I am tackling this week.

While these diets – or components of these diets – may be beneficial to some, my recommendation for the majority of the population is to keep it simple, streamlined, wholesome. Worry less about hard rules with lists of do’s and don’ts, and more about the key fundamentals: Limit added sugars and white carbs. Emphasize lean proteins. Tons of vegetables, some fruits (mostly berries), and more of an emphasis on plant based fats when possible. Find what works for your individual lifestyle, taste preferences, budget and schedule.

If you do choose to try one of these popular diets, use it as an opportunity to help break and replace not-so-good habits, and to educate yourself and learn more about how you may respond to certain foods and ingredients so that you can make lasting behavioral changes that can stick around long after you’re “off” of a particular diet plan.

The Whole30 program isn’t “new” – it’s been around since 2009, but chances are you may have just started hearing more about it, as it continues to grow and gain momentum and followers.

Just as the Keto Diet (which we covered last week) takes low-carb eating to the extreme, the Whole30 program takes eating real food to the next level.

The Whole30 Program: What it is

Whole30 is not a “diet” – it’s a 30-day program centered on real, whole foods. Whole30 followers are instructed to eliminate all added sugars, alcohol, grains, dairy, legumes, and specific food additives for 30 days, instead incorporating meat, fish, poultry, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruit, and fats from oils, nuts and seeds.

It’s a temporary elimination diet, designed to serve as a reset button to help re-train our habits and our taste buds.

It’s so focused on the pure approach of real, whole foods that, unlike the Keto Diet, Whole30 doesn’t allow baked goods, sweets, treats or other guilty indulgences, even when made with “approved” ingredients. So no pancakes, pizza crust, French fries, ice cream, fudge or any other “indulgences” – even if they’re made with almond flour, coconut oil, or stevia.

The Whole30 creator explain that recreating or buying these types of sweets and treats – even if the ingredients are technically compliant with Whole30 – misses the point of the Whole30 approach. These are the same types of foods that got you into trouble in the first place, they say, so if it doesn’t help to change our habits or break our cycle of cravings, leaving it out.

But Whole30 is not a crazy-strict or super complex program to follow. There’s no counting or weighing or measuring. At all. No tracking calories or counting “macros” or tallying up numbers of any type. The most challenging part will be to figure out how you’ll have only real, whole, unprocessed foods for 30 days straight.

The science behind Whole30

There hasn’t been any published research on Whole30, but there’s no question that eliminating added sugars, refined white carbs, processed foods and alcohol will leave us feeling better. These foods are linked to inflammation, depression, low energy, and poor sleep – and the Whole30 plan can help to serve as a tool to help us break and replace these not-so-healthy food and drink habits.

And similar elimination-style diets have been around for ages: Certain foods, ingredients and food groups are cut out of the diet for an extended period of time to assess how our bodies respond, whether it’s joint pain, mood, fatigue, bloating or other gastrointestinal issues. These foods are then gradually added back into the diet one at a time to determine how each affects our symptoms. This approach has been used for years in traditional and complementary healthcare practitioners.

What Whole30 consists of

Real, whole foods. Foods with very few ingredients or foods with no ingredients listed at all because they’re whole and unprocessed.

What’s allowed on Whole30:

· Proteins including meat, fish, poultry, and seafood

· Eggs

· Vegetables

· Fruit – fresh or frozen, with no sugar added

· Nuts and seeds, including almond butter, sunflower seed butter

· “Natural” fats including coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil; avocado-based mayonnaise like Primal Kitchen Mayo

· Salt, herbs, spices, and seasonings

· Ghee or clarified butter. These are the only source of dairy allowed during Whole30. Plain butter is not allowed.

· Vinegar. Nearly all forms of vinegar, including white, red wine, balsamic, apple cider, and rice, are allowed during Whole30 program.

· Coconut aminos as a naturally fermented soy sauce substitute

· Beverages including water, tea, bone broth, sparkling water

What’s not allowed on Whole30

· Added sugar, real or artificial. No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, date syrup, stevia, Splenda, Equal, Nutrasweet, xylitol, etc.

· Alcohol in any form, not even for cooking

· Grains. Includes (but is not limited to) wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, as well as quinoa, amaranth, and buckwheat.

· Legumes. This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts and peanut butter.

· Soy. Including soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and additives like soy lecithin

· Dairy. This includes cow, goat, or sheep’s milk products like milk, cream, cheese, kefir, yogurt, sour cream, ice cream, or frozen yogurt.

· Carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites.

· No baked goods, junk foods, or treats – even with “approved” ingredients.

A sample day on the Whole30 Program:

Green Tea or Coffee – black, or with coconut oil or carrageenan-free almond milk

Breakfast options:

· Omelet, frittata, or egg scramble or egg “muffin” with egg and vegetables, with fresh fruit

· Chicken sausage (e.g. Aidell’s or Hans Brat) with egg and fresh fruit

Lunch options:

· Chicken Avocado Burger (see recipe below)

· Lettuce wrap with grilled chicken, lean beef, or tuna salad or chicken salad made with avocado-based mayonnaise)

· Salad topped with grilled steak, r burgers) with cheese, no bun. Salad with protein, avocado, nuts, oil and vinegar.

Snack options:

· Smoothie with carrageenan-free almond milk, ¼ avocado and fresh or frozen berries

· Guacamole (avocado, tomato, lime, onion, garlic and salt) with vegetables for dipping

· Bone broth

· Hardboiled egg + fresh fruit

· EPIC protein bars or grass-fed beef jerky

Dinner options:

· Grilled fish or lean steak with sautéed spinach and sweet potato

· New Orleans-style BBQ shrimp with ghee or olive oil, served over pureed cauliflower (instead of rice or grits)

· Zucchini “noodles” topped with lean beef, shrimp or chicken with roasted tomato sauce or olive oil-garlic sauce

· “Rice” bowl with cauliflower rice, shredded chicken, roasted tomatoes, avocado

Molly’s take

I like the Whole30 approach as a type of “reset” button to help us retrain our habits and our taste buds, and also to start to identify potential food triggers that may be linked to inflammatory, mood, gastrointestinal problems, cravings and other weight issues.

While the Whole30 approach may not be long enough or specific to target the full spectrum of health and medical issues, I think that 30 days can give us a good starting point to see how these changes to our diets can affect how we feel. It’s long enough to start to see and feel very real benefits, and it serve as incentive and inspiration to continue with these renewed, “cleaner” eating habits.

The bottom line

There’s no debating the fact that a greater emphasis on whole, unprocessed, real foods is a good thing.

The Whole30 program aims to increase our awareness of what we’re putting into our bodies, helping to identify certain food sensitivities, including gluten, dairy, or soy, as well as how we react to added sugars and other processed foods and food additives.

While it’s not designed for weight loss specifically, this may be a side-benefit of the Whole30 that naturally occurs as we cut out processed foods, sugars, and alcohol.

Consider adding a multivitamin and calcium supplement, since you may not get the full spectrum of micronutrients from your food choices on the Whole30 plan. As always, check with your physician before beginning any new program, and consider consulting with a registered dietitian to help you design a balanced Whole30 plan that fits within your lifestyle.

These low-carb Whole30-style burgers from the Laughing Spatula blog can be served bunless or with lettuce wraps, topped with sliced tomato, grilled mushrooms and onions. Make a batch or two extra and freeze for a fast weeknight meal. Recipe by

Chicken Avocado Burgers

Makes 4 servings

1 pound ground chicken breast

1 large ripe avocado – cut into chunks

1 clove chopped of garlic

1/3 cup almond meal

1 poblano or Jalapeño pepper, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Add all ingredients to a large bowl and toss gently. Shape into patties and grill to desired temperature.

Per serving: 260 calories, 16 grams fat, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 380 mg sodium, 7 grams carbohydrate, 5 grams fiber, 1 gram sugar, 29 grams protein.


Editor’s note: Registered dietitian Molly Kimball offers brand-name products as a consumer guide; she does not solicit product samples nor is she paid to recommend items.


Molly Kimball is a registered dietitian in New Orleans. She can be reached at Follow @MollyKimballRD on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Check out her weekly podcast by searching “Molly Kimball” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast app.

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