The Ultimate Guide to the Whole30 Diet

Photo of author

By Leslie Waterson

Reviewed by Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN - Last Updated

The Ultimate Guide To The Whole30 Diet


The Whole30 is an elimination diet based on Paleo principles. The theory behind Whole30 is that many health problems, both physical and mental, are due to the foods we eat. Whole30 does not consider itself to be a diet in the sense of losing weight, but rather a prescription for healing nearly anything that ails you. Whole30 wants to help you cure digestive problems, boost immunity and energy, rebalance hormones, and remedy or improve other medical issues. By cutting out all sugar, grains, legumes, dairy and alcohol from your diet for 30 days, the creators of Whole30 say you can reset your system and free yourself from chronic pain, brain fog and sugar cravings. When (or if) you reintroduce these food groups, your body’s reaction to them will tell you what you need to avoid.

The Ultimate Guide To The Whole30 Diet Food


Whole30 is a relatively new diet. In 2009, Melissa Hartwig and her then-husband Dallas Urban decided to give up eating all the foods that they suspected were potential triggers of his shoulder pain, then slowly reintroduce them to see which ones were causing the problem. Hartwig blogged about the experience, saying she slept better, had better focus at work, more energy, and just felt happier overall. But she says the biggest change was her relationship with food. She stopped looking at the scale and in the mirror, and rather than have a glass of wine or some junk food, found new ways to reward and soothe herself. The idea is that by getting rid of all the foods that potentially cause inflammation, damage your gut and disrupt your blood sugar for one month, your body can recover and reset, and you can rid yourself of many physical and mental ailments, from diabetes to high blood pressure to depression. 

It is important to note that the Whole30 plan is not intended for weight loss, although on such a restrictive diet, you could easily do so. But there is no calorie-counting and you are discouraged from stepping on a scale or taking any other measures.

Hartwig calls Whole30 an ‘anti-diet.’

Hartwig has her certification as a Sports Nutritionist and has written several best-selling books about the diet, including It Starts With Food, The Whole30, Food Freedom Forever and The Whole30 Cookbook

The Ultimate Guide To The Whole30 Diet Books

The Whole30 website gets millions of hits every month.


Whole30 does not advocate counting macros. There are no rules or restrictions on calories, fats, carbs, or protein, so long as they are from whole, natural sources. The only thing that matters is that you eat ‘read foods.’ These foods must all have pronounceable ingredients, which means: meat (preferably organic or grass-fed), seafood, eggs, vegetables (preferably organic), healthy, natural fats such as olive oil, avocado oil and nuts, and herbs and spices. You may also have black coffee and tea. 

As for fruit, you can have it, but because it is high in sugar, eat moderately, and the ones you choose should be low-sugar, meaning things like berries and grapefruit. No-sugar added fruit juice is also okay. 

Most types of vinegar are okay, but read the label to make sure the one you pick doesn’t have added sugar or grains, as you’ll sometimes see in rice or malt vinegar. Coconut aminos are also acceptable (they are a soy sauce substitute). Salt is also okay, despite the fact that iodized table salt contains sugar. 

While Whole30 does not tell you want proportions of proteins, fats and carbs you should eat, it does make a recommendation of getting about 20% of your calories from protein to help you feel full. On a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s 100 grams of protein per day, or 4-6 oz. at each meal. (Note: a gram of protein is not the same thing as its weight.)

But what really matters is what you don’t eat for the month: sugar, grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol, and chemical additives or preservatives. 

Fruit excepted, all sugars including natural sugars such as honey, maple syrup, sugar alcohols and stevia are out. This rule also includes all sugar replacements, such as things like Sweet ’n Low, Equal and Splenda. 

All grains, which means wheat, corn, rice, oats, millet, quinoa, buckwheat and so on, must be avoided. White potatoes are the one exception, but they should be eaten whole and natural (meaning: no French fries).

Same goes for legumes which includes all soy products and peanut butter. Lecithin (an additive) is soy. You must read all labels. The exceptions here are green beans, sugar snap peas and snow peas.

Dairy, including fermented, is all out. No milk, cheese, yogurt, kefir, etc. The one exception is ghee or clarified butter.

MSG, sulfites, carrageenan, and all processed foods and anything with artificial ingredients is a no-no.

You may not have baked goods, treats or other junk food even if it is technically compliant with the list of approved ingredients. Things such as cauliflower pizza, alternative pastas, coconut cookies, banana pancakes, gluten-free items, French fries, and so on, are all a big no for Whole30.

Alcohol is out. 

But, again, only for 30 days.

If you slip up and eat any of the unapproved foods, you have to start all over again at day 1.



For all its detractors, with Whole30’s emphasis on vegetables, natural proteins and healthy fats is much healthier than the standard American diet (SAD) which is chockfull of sugar, unhealthy fat and chemicals. We see the evidence everywhere: two out of three American adults are either overweight or obese. While Whole30 is only meant to last 30 days, the hope is that you will develop healthy eating habits to last you a lifetime.


Hartwig makes a point of calling Whole30 an ‘anti-diet’ because there is no calorie-counting or any other measuring, but because you only eat things like vegetables, fruit, grass-fed beef and and olive oil, there’s a good chance you’ll lose weight.


At its core, Whole30 is an elimination diet. If you follow the plan of reintroducing foods slowly, it is likely you will be able to figure out which foods make you feel tired, give you brain fog or are causing your acid reflux.


One good thing about new diets is that they make you try different things. Not only will you be likely to experiment with new flavors, herbs and spices, but because the diet is so specific, you’ll have to cook for yourself too, and may discover a whole new hobby to love. There’s a Whole30 cookbook, and tons of Whole30 compatible recipes online.


Because you need to pay close attention to every single thing you put in your mouth during your month of Whole 30, you must start reading food labels. Even if you decide to go back to eating grains, dairy and so on, there’s a least a good chance the habit of checking out what’s in your food before eating may stick with you, and you might decide against buying things with mile-long ingredient lists.

The Ultimate Guide To The Whole30 Diet Labels


Although you may feel tired during the initial phase of Whole30, many people report feeling boundless energy shortly thereafter. By getting off the sugar and carb rollercoaster, your energy levels will likely soar.


When you don’t use sugar as your main source of energy, the mid-afternoon slump should become a thing of the past. With quality whole foods fueling your day, you should feel awake and alert until night when you fall asleep effortlessly.


What you eat affects all aspects of your health, including your sleep. Hartwig says that eating natural foods and avoiding sugar will help rebalance your hormones and reset your natural daily rhythms. You may be ready for bed earlier in the evening, but you will wake up earlier too, refreshed and restored.


While scientific studies have yet to be conducted on Whole30, the anecdotal evidence is impressive. Symptoms of diabetes, MS, cerebral palsy and other chronic diseases may be eliminated or greatly reduced through the use of this diet.


Scientific research is now seeing a connection between gut and brain health, but it doesn’t seem like rocket science to figure out that what you eat affects your mood. Sugar may make you feel good in the short-term, but between its addictive qualities and the many negative effects it has on health, eliminating sugar offers many benefits.


This may or may not matter to some people, but glowing skin, strong nails and shiny hair is frequently reported for those who follow this diet. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise for those of us remember the parental nag of laying off the candy to avoid pimples.



Cutting out sugar is tough enough, but add to it all grains, dairy and legumes and alcohol, in short, all the fun stuff, is a lot. Hartwig makes no bones about it. This diet will be tough to follow, especially at the beginning. But hopefully, you will start seeing enough benefits to get yourself through those difficult early days.


If you’re going to be successful with Whole30, you must plan, shop and chop (both food groups and veggies). During your month of Whole30, you have to really think about what you’re eating, and you may need to carry food with you. Doing all this takes time and brain space, and you must ready to make some sacrifices during those 30 days.


Fresh, organic vegetables and meat cost more than fast food, that’s for sure. Also, some Whole30-approved ingredients may be difficult to find at your local grocery store. But if you balance out that versus the cost of medicine and visits to the doctor, you’ll probably come out ahead by eating wholesome food.

The Ultimate Guide To The Whole30 Diet Money


While it is likely you’ll shed pounds during your month of doing Whole30, if you go back to your old habits afterward, the weight will probably come right back. This is true of any diet and the reason why Hartwig and others stress the point that this is not a diet but rather a reset helping you to figure out the best things for you to eat long-term.


This is listed as a pro as well, but it can be time-consuming, not to mention tedious, to have to read every label. Also, the lengthy search for things like vinegar or canned tomatoes that don’t contain sugar can get frustrating.


Given that alcohol and other extremely common food items like bread and sweets are out, it can be hard to go to restaurants or socialize for your month of Whole30. While you could bring your own food to Aunt Erma’s bbq (even if it offends), you can’t bring your own food to restaurants. Some sacrifice will likely be necessary for Whole30. Keep your eyes on the prize: the goal of improving your health.


On Whole30, you eat 3 meals per day but no snacks. You do not need to weigh or measure portions, count calories or keep track of points. You should not weigh yourself or take any other measurements.

This isn’t the sort of diet you decide to do on a Monday morning after a hard weekend of bingeing. It takes planning and preparation.

Have a plan for every meal, and a backup plan in case you can’t make it home for dinner. Know what is okay to order in restaurants.

Signing up only requires an email address and the program provides a grocery list, access to a blog and an online message board, as well as tips for traveling or dining out in restaurants. There are also several books available to buy if you wish.

You must read the label of every food item you buy and avoid everything with added sugar, MSG, carrageenan, sulfites and other additives and preservatives. You’ll soon discover that sugar is everywhere, and so are lots of other unwanted additives.

You are encouraged to prepare your own meals so that you can be sure of what you’re eating, which takes time. You may find it helpful to make extras at dinner to eat for lunch the next day to cut down on cooking and prep time.

The general consensus is that the first week is the hardest, but as time goes by, your energy level will soar. 

For the reintroduction period, it is recommended that you slowly add one ingredient at a time to see which foods you’re reacting to. This is why some people call it the ‘Whole50’ or Whole60, because you’re not really done at 30 days.

Most people who are interested in trying Whole30 are doing it for a reason: because they feel tired, depressed, bloated, achy or believe they may have food allergies. By keeping your goals in mind and reminding yourself that the program only lasts a month, you should be able to see it through.

The Ultimate Guide To The Whole30 Diet Plans


Vegetables — Veggies are a big part of Whole30. You can eat all you want, including potatoes.

Meat, Seafood & Eggs — Natural meats such as grass-fed beef, organic, wild, etc. is best, but you can also eat things like bacon, sausage and hot dogs so long as they are natural and don’t have added sugar or preservatives. Fish and seafood are also part of Whole30 and eggs make a quick and easy Whole30 breakfast (or lunch or dinner).

Healthy fats — Nuts and seeds, with the exception of peanuts and peanut butter, are all fine. Olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil and ghee (clarified butter) are all part of Whole30. In case you’re interested, ghee is acceptable because it has had the milk solids removed, and is unlikely to cause allergies.

Fruit — Fruit is also a-okay on Whole30, just don’t overdo it because of its sugar content. Fruit juice is also allowed, so long as it doesn’t contain added sugar.

Beverages — Water should be a staple, but coffee, tea and herbal tea are fine. To flavor it, you can add (unsweetened) almond or coconut milk.

The Ultimate Guide To The Whole30 Diet What To Eat

The ‘golden rule’ of Whole30 is to read every label of every food item you buy. Condiments are especially tricky. When in doubt, buy foods with only a single ingredient and add your own herbs and spices.


Whole30 is an elimination diet so there’s a lot you need to avoid.

Grains — Wheat, corn, rice, quinoa, bulgur, amaranth, millet, sorghum, sprouted grains, anything even gluten-free items, are all out for the month.

Dairy — Milk, cream, cheese, yogurt, sour cream, kefir and regular butter are off the list. The exception is ghee or clarified butter because the milk solids have been removed.

Legumes — Beans including black, kidney, pinto, peanuts, lentils and all soybeans and soy products, including soy sauce, tofu, edamame, and miso, are out. Exceptions are green beans, peas and snow peas.

Added Sugars — While fruit and fruit juice is allowed, all forms of sugar whether natural or artificial, are not allowed. This list is long and includes: maple syrup, honey, agave, stevia, Splenda, Sweet’n Lo, sugar alcohols like maltitol along with many other forms of sugar and sugar replacements. You’ll have to be especially careful to look for added sugars when buying condiments and canned foods. Sugar is everywhere.

Alcohol — You don’t get to drink or use any alcohol for cooking for the month, including vanilla extract. Kombucha is allowed, so long as there is no added sugar besides that from fruit juice.

Processed foods — All refined and processed meats, baked goods and other processed foods are out on Whole30. During your month, you are not supposed to recreate junk food with healthy versions either, so no coconut pancakes or cauliflower pizza crust.

Additives — This is part of processed foods, but look especially for MSG, sulfites and carrageenan and do not buy anything with these additives.



Read up, collect recipes, start reading labels at the store, joint the online community and do you research. Know which local restaurants offer things you can eat so you don’t get caught out, and stock up on ‘emergency’ foods such as cans of tuna, nuts and natural beef jerky so you don’t cave to the urge of hitting the snack machine. Each week, take the time to write out a meal plan so you aren’t scrambling last minute, and risk falling off the boat.


Protein helps you to feel fuller, longer. Many people make the mistake of not eating enough protein. Go ahead and enjoy eggs for breakfast. Don’t think about calories, cholesterol, or anything else. Just eat to feel satisfied.

The Ultimate Guide To The Whole30 Diet Protein


With Whole30, you’re only supposed to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, no snacks, so take the time to appreciate your food. Eating more slowly allows your body to feel full naturally, and can help prevent overeating.


While it is important to slow down and savor your food, be sure you are eating enough at meals. If you find you’re ready for lunch long before noon, eat more at breakfast. If you used to have a bagel, one egg as a replacement probably won’t cut it. Go for 3 or maybe even 4 if eggs are all you’re having. Or make a little extra so if you do feel desperate for a snack, you have a healthy one on hand.


The signal for hunger and the signal for thirst can sometimes be hard to tell apart. Herbal teas are a great way to spice up your water without adding chemicals or sugar to it. If you feel the urge to snack, have a cup of tea first. 


While you don’t need to count calories with Whole30, it is not a license to eat huge quantities of nuts and fruit. Nuts have a ton of calories and fruit contains lots of sugar. Fill up on fibrous vegetables and protein, and enjoy nuts and fruit in moderation.


If you’re one of those people who thinks salad is ho-hum, maybe you’re just not being creative enough. Lettuce can be pretty boring on its own but no one says you have to munch plain leaves like a bunny. Go ahead and add protein like tuna, grilled chicken or hard boiled eggs. Toss in colorful veggies to please the eye and the palate, and to add more nutrients. Extra virgin olive oil is a tasty healthy fat, and so is avocado. Sprinkle on fresh herbs, and why not some seeds, a few nuts and fruit while you’re at it? You can be infinitely creative with salad fixings.


The more, the merrier. Try to recruit other family members or friends to do Whole30 with you to cheer each other on and help each other through the rough patches. Can’t convince anyone else to give up their cookies? Join an online community.


It’s been said before, but let’s say it again: this diet is only for a month. Remember why you’re doing Whole30 in the first place. Whether it’s to have more energy, get rid of aches and pains or to sleep better, remind yourself you’ll feel better if you stick it out to the end.



Co-creator Melissa Hartwig makes a point of saying that Whole30 is not a weight-loss diet. You are not meant to count calories or restrict them. You are encouraged to eat three meals per day from the approved food list and while snacking is not encouraged, it is not forbidden. Whole30 works best when you have a good amount of protein, healthy fats and fiber at each meal, and you should eat to satiation, if not to feeling stuffed.


Whole30 is restrictive, but it is only meant to be followed for one month, with the purpose of resetting your body. The Whole30 plan is for people who want to improve their health. If you have tons of energy, are happy with your weight, sleep great, have no aches, pains or other ailments, there is no reason to do Whole30. No one expects you to give up carbs or alcohol forever, just long enough so that you can test it out and see what is causing your problem(s).


Anyone who believes this hasn’t investigated very far into the core concept of Whole30. The idea is to tease out the foods that are making you feel unwell. After doing the 30 days, you may wish to continue to avoid certain items from the trigger food list, or you may want to limit certain foods. But no one thinks you should give up all grains, dairy, alcohol, etc. for life unless you really want to.


Food prep might take a little longer, especially if you’re used to eating fast food, but this isn’t all bad. Your goal is to improve your health, and that’s worth a few minutes of your time. With practice, you’ll probably figure out strategies, such as making double recipes, to cut down on prep time.


While grains and legumes are out on Whole30, you are allowed to eat potatoes, as well as sweet potatoes, beets, other carb-y veggies, not to mention fruit. True, carbs from fruit and vegetable sources taste different, but after a few days of not eating sugar and refined carbs, you’ll start to taste subtle flavors in these fruits and vegetables that you likely never tasted before. Once your taste buds aren’t being dulled by processed ingredients and chemicals, these natural foods start to taste great.


Things like organic fruit and vegetables and grass-fed beef do cost more than fast food, but, again, it is only for one month. Consider it an investment in your health. 


Snacking seems to have become the norm, but people didn’t always expect to eat at any time of the day or night. Whole30 does want you to limit yourself to three meals per day, but it also wants you to feel full and satisfied at those meals. If you eat enough protein, healthy fat and vegetables that contain fiber, you shouldn’t feel hungry between meals.



Whole30 is already restrictive, but some people go even farther and try to restrict calories, fat carbs, and/or protein as well. Your body needs fuel to run on. Eat balanced meals and eat slowly, but eat to satiation.


Knowing what you’re putting into your body is extremely important with Whole30. Don’t assume you know what’s in a box or can. Read the label. Anything that is difficult to pronounce is almost certainly not part of Whole30.


For some, the hardest of Whole30 part is what happens on day 31. If you have a pizza to celebrate the successful completion of your month, it’ll be hard to know if grains, dairy or something else is causing your problem. Reintroduce one food item at a time so you can pinpoint your issue.


While you are meant to only eat three meals per day with Whole30, you are allowed to snack if necessary. But the things people often reach for such as nuts can really add up quickly calorie-wise. If your goal is to lose weight, don’t go crazy with snacks.


If your symptoms return after doing Whole30 the first time, it may be worth repeating the experiment to pinpoint the problem, but Whole30 isn’t meant to be done over and over. The idea is to figure out which foods are triggering your issues, and help you design a new way of eating, not eat restrictively for life.



You can simply eliminate the food groups on your own or if you wish, you can join Whole30 by sending in your email. They will send back a printable version of the rules, recipes and other resources at no cost. Whether or not you buy any of the books is up to you. 

As for food costs, it will depend on what you choose to eat. Replacing your entire food pantry and eating only organic, grass-fed etc. can get expensive, but it is only for a month. 


The goal of Whole30 is not weight loss and you do not need to restrict calories, but many people lose weight simply by cutting out processed foods and sugar. However, if you do not change at least some of your eating habits after doing Whole30, the weight will likely come back.


While Whole30 does not have any specific requirements for exercise and it believes that diet is the basis of good health, it does recommend getting movement into your day or week.

The Ultimate Guide To The Whole30 Diet Exercise


In her book, Hartwig insists you’ve done harder things and that there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to complete the program. However, the plan does require planning and dedication. It is probably very difficult to find a month where you have no social events, outings, or other unplanned excursions and so you’ll have to be ready and committed to stick with it the whole way through, making sacrifices if necessary.


Yes, but it requires preparation. If possible, read over the menu and/or call the restaurant ahead of time to learn what is in their dishes and how they prepare them. If you’re going to a family function, it might be best to bring things you know you can eat.


Setting aside the debate over whether or not Whole30 is a ‘diet’ and the Points system which is unique to Weight Watchers (WW), the two programs has several things in common. Both have an emphasis on eating whole foods, particularly fresh fruit, vegetables and healthy fats like olive oil. Lean proteins are preferred to red meat on WW, but eggs are fine for both. However, there are no such things as forbidden foods on WW, which is very different from Whole30 where entire food groups are off-limits. 

While both eating plans have the ultimate goal of a healthier life, the shorter-term objectives of Whole30 and WW diverge. WW’s primary purpose is to help you lose weight and while there’s a good you’ll lose weight with Whole30, that is not the focus. Whole30 wants to help you discover food triggers that make you feel unwell. Once you complete the month with Whole30 and determine which foods trigger your particular issues, however, you may find a program like WW can help you keep the weight off. 


Whole30 shares some commonalities with Slow Carb, but there are several differences as well. Both have an emphasis on eating a significant amount of protein at every meal to help fill you up. Both recommend having three meals per day and eating slowly to better enjoy your food, and to allow the body time to send a natural satiation signal. Both want you to fill up on healthy veggies, and tell you not to drink your calories.

But while Whole30 cuts out all grains, legumes and dairy, Slow Carb allows legumes and certain dairy products, such as cottage cheese. Fruit is another place the two diverge. Slow Carb cuts out fruit as containing too much sugar but Whole30 allows fruit in moderation. Slow Carb also has a weekly cheat day, whereas with Whole30, if you eat anything not on the approved food list, you have to start back on day 1. Slow Carb also says to eat the same things over and over again because new, interesting flavors make you want to eat more, whereas Whole30 does not make any such recommendation. If you discover during your month of Whole30 that grains are your trigger food but legumes do not cause problems, Slow Carb might be a good choice as a maintenance diet.


Whole30 also has a fair amount in common with the Mediterranean diet (MED), but again, there are differences. Both include eating fresh food with a heavy emphasis on fresh fruit and vegetables. Both encourage cooking for yourself, slowing down, and savoring your food. Both recommend healthy, natural sources of protein (although Whole30 has no problem if you eat eggs and red meat every day whereas the MED prefers you stick to fish and seafood). Healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds are a feature of both, as are herbs and spices.

But there is a big difference, mainly, that the Mediterranean doesn’t consider any food group to be off-limits, so you are welcome and encouraged to have grains, dairy, legumes, and alcohol (mainly wine), along with your veggies, fruit, healthy fats and lean proteins every day. The Mediterranean diet is also meant to be a life-long eating plan. If you discover after your month of Whole30 that sugar and refined foods are your triggers but that dairy, grains and legumes are not the problem, the MED might be right for you.


Whole30 is like a stricter form of Paleo. Both avoid grains, legumes, dairy, alcohol and processed foods. On Paleo, natural sugars such as honey and maple syrup are allowed in small amounts, but with Whole30, you must not eat sugar of any kind. Another difference is that Whole30 says you must not try to recreate your favorite junk food or baked goods, even if the ingredients are all on the approved Whole30 food list. Paleo does not have this restriction. Another small difference is potatoes are not allowed on Paleo but they are okay for Whole30. The biggest difference is that Whole30 is only meant to last a month whereas Paleo is a long-term lifestyle. It is not uncommon for those who do Slow30 to ultimately choose to follow a Paleo diet once they discover their food triggers.


A diet of whole food should provide sufficient nutrition, but there is on-going debate about whether or not agricultural practices have depleted the soil to the point where food no longer provides the same vitamins and minerals it once did. To cover your nutritional bases, and particularly during the month that you do the Whole30, it isn’t a bad idea to supplement with a few items.

Multivitamin — Since entire food groups are off-limits, a multivitamin isn’t a bad idea to fill nutritional gaps during your month of Whole30.

Fish oil — Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and may protect against neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s as well as lower cholesterol and offer other heart-healthy benefits. It may help you drop a few pounds, too.

Vitamin D — This is one vitamin we can make ourselves by absorbing sunlight through our skin, but most people don’t get enough, especially those who live in northern climates. Vitamin D helps keep bones strong, protects against diseases like cancer, and it is also used in the processing of other vitamins. This means that a deficiency in vitamin D can cause other nutritional deficits.

Magnesium — Another nutrient many people do not get enough of is magnesium. This mineral is also needed for healthy bones as well as to maintain a healthy heart rhythm, normal blood pressure. A deficiency in magnesium may cause inflammation, which can in turn worsen many diseases, including things like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.


Whole30 rules

Whole30 books

Whole30 blog

Whole30 breakfast recipes

Whole30 lunch recipes

Whole30 dinner recipes


To date, no scientific studies have been conducted on Whole30.


  • Melissa Hartwig

Photo of author

Leslie Waterson

Leslie has been passionately involved in the health and fitness industries for over a decade. She is constantly reviewing the latest scientific research and studies in order to take a research-backed approach to lifestyle optimization. Her main areas of interest include nutrition and supplementation. Leslie shares her findings on Fitness Clone to help other health enthusiasts choose the products and routines that will help them achieve their goals.