Whole30: A Wholly Misguided Approach to Healthy Eating

Spaghetti Squash with Marinara and Veggies

As enlightened eaters begin to question the healthfulness of highly processed and fast food, many are turning to the Whole30 Diet as a way to cleanse themselves of the junk. Whole30 is being embraced with a frenzy of fad-like enthusiasm (warning bell!), so several close friends have asked for my opinion.

At first glance, this approach seems to be an exciting way to cut the junk and focus on whole foods. After all, the first rule of the Whole30 Diet is the Pollan-esque mantra “Eat real food.” However, if you dig a little deeper into the rules of Whole30, and you’ll find that much of the “real food” as we know it is expressly forbidden on this diet. Don’t believe me? Here is why the Whole30 Diet is a misguided approach to healthy eating.

Whole30 eliminates all grains: Building on the gluten-free fear mongering of other pop-science books (I’m pointing at you, Wheat Belly), Whole30 eliminates all grains, including healthy whole grains, because of their “problematic proteins,” like gluten.Parboiled brown rice for Brown Rice Pumpkin Risotto with Mushrooms, Zucchini and Spinach

This in itself is a misguided interpretation of science. Indeed, in people with Celiac Disease and some gluten sensitivities, the body perceives gluten as an enemy, and produces an inflammatory immune response. But for the vast majority of the population without gluten disorders, that’s not what happens. In fact, eating whole grains, is associated with decreased inflammation. In a recent clinical trial, researchers found that eating a cup of whole grain barley or brown rice (or a combination of the two) for as little as four weeks can increase the “good” bacteria in your gut that fight inflammation.

A diet without grains but with unlimited red meat is basically just an Atkins diet. There is no reason for this to be disguised as a “whole foods” eating pattern, when entire groups of whole foods are eliminated. Any diet that bans nutritious whole grains like quinoa and millet, but allows you to survive exclusively off of bacon and Larabars, should make you question the legitimacy of its health claims.

Whole30 eliminates all legumes: Another healthy food group, axed from the menu! The creators of Whole30 warn that legumes (like chickpeas, black beans, or lentils) have high levels of phytates, which can block the uptake of certain nutrients by our bodies. While this might sound alarming, what Whole30 enthusiasts fail to understand is that SO many factors affect our uptake of nutrients (how a food is stored, processed, and cooked, what else is eaten with it, etc) and that the reductionist approach of analyzing foods by the milligrams of nutrients that you may or may not be fully absorbing is an entirely fruitless pursuit.

Pike PlaceAdditionally, these “nutrition experts” (those are sarcastic quotes) fail to understand that ALL plant foods contain varying level of phytates, and that many of the foods promoted by Whole30 (such as kale) have even more phytates than legumes. Phytates are also found in pasture raised and wild meat, based on which plants animals ate during their lifetime. And on top of everything, phytates (natural plant defenses) are not necessarily a bad thing! These bioactive compounds act as antioxidants in the body, and have been linked to anticancer activity, as well as cholesterol lowering effects. (This should not be surprising – we all know that beans are healthy.) The only way to avoid all phytates is to eat highly processed and synthetic foods – which basically defeats the entire philosophy of Whole30.

Whole30 eliminates all dairy. Plant-based diets that eliminate animal products, including dairy, can certainly be extremely healthy. Indeed, T. Colin Campbell (The China Study) and the Harvard School of Public Health bring up excellent points that are leading nutrition researchers to revisit the connection between dairy and bone health (it’s not as straightforward as we once thought).

That being said, fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, and some raw milk cheeses, are great ways to stimulate beneficial gut bacteria. Everyday new research is uncovering the importance of the microbiome. Already, we are finding that a wide variety of healthy gut bacteria are thought to be linked with everything from infections, to obesity, to allergies. Additionally, if dairy is banned in addition to grains and legumes, there really isn’t much left to eat! What kind of healthy diet eliminates half of the food pyramid?

Whole30 eliminates “psychologically unhealthy foods”: The creators of Whole30 claim that smoothies, healthy baked goods, and basically any recipe resembling something that you might actually want to eat is “psychologically unhealthy,” because it is too similar to the standard American diet. Because, you know, Americans became obese from drinking too many kale smoothies and making too many loaves of naturally sweetened, whole grain banana bread (ahem, not!).Healthy Whole Grain Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Broccoli, Chickpeas, Feta, and Olive Oil

Judging by the no-apologies way that the rules are written up (and by the rules themselves), Whole30 seems to be designed to take the pleasure out of eating. This is a terrible idea. The last thing people need is another fad diet that they stick to for 30 days and then drop. I truly believe that healthy eating is not a punishment – if done right, it can be joyful, delicious, and a lifelong habit. But Whole30 is not healthy eating done right. It is restrictive, antagonistic, and completely misguided.

Additionally, while Whole30 gurus may be opposed to “psychologically unhealthy” foods, they seem to have no problem with physiologically unhealthy foods – in other words, an eating pattern guaranteed to make you feel like crap. While adjusting to a higher fiber diet can take some time (the key to avoid intestinal discomfort is to add fiber slowly over time, and drink LOTS of water!), no “healthy” diet should EVER make you feel “hungover” or like you want to “kill all the things,” which the creators of Whole30 brush off as perfectly normal (it’s not!).

Despite these shortcomings, there are some important lessons to be learned from the program:
At the heart of it, the elimination of highly processed foods is what makes the Whole 30 diet seem so appealing. Americans (and increasingly, folks in other nations as well) are hooked on snack foods—packaged ‘Frankenfoods’ formulated from the same handful of highly processed ingredients. In contrast, healthy diets should be based on a wide variety of minimally processed plant foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, beans, and fish. While Whole30 creators seem to be confused about what a whole foods diet is, their heart seems to be in the right place (maybe).

Nutrient Synergy: Why Whole Foods and Traditional Cuisines MatterThe Whole30 regimen also asks participants to abstain from added sugars for 30 days. While a few teaspoons a day isn’t going to kill you, most people could definitely use a break from this over consumed food. After all, the World Health Organization recommends that adults cut back to only 6 teaspoons a day. Additionally, Whole30 urges participants to abstain from alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption–especially red wine–is shown to have numerous health benefits. But judging from the number of drunken people I’ve seen on the T around Saint Patrick’s Day (or on 6th Street, in college), I’m sure there are plenty of folks that could benefit from a month without alcohol. Bottom Line: If you want to purge your diet of everything remotely impure for 30 days, do just that! But don’t exclude wholesome plant foods, like whole grains or beans.

You wouldn’t get open-heart surgery from an auto mechanic, so why would you follow nutrition advice from someone with zero education or training? While one of the Whole30 cofounders might be a “sports nutritionist,” all that’s required for that designation is to pass one test. No nutrition degree (or even nutrition classes), no supervised practice, and no accredited internship required. The startling nutrition deficiencies in this program are all the more reason to seek nutrition advice from a trained nutrition professional, like a registered dietitian.

– Kelly

Yes, Keep Eating Fruit

Yes, Keep Eating Fruit (@kellytoupsrd)

Fruit is bad because it has so much sugar, right?

Aren’t bananas fattening?

Shouldn’t you cut back on fruit if you’re trying to lose weight?

I get questions like this all the time. No seriously, I do. While it’s upsetting to think of how the media and food faddists have led well-meaning dieters astray, it’s actually pretty liberating when friends and clients realize just how easy good nutrition is. More fruits and veggies, less junk food. It’s that simple!

Think about it logically. America doesn’t have an obesity problem from eating too much fruit. It’s our ever-increasing portion sizes, penchant for sugary beverages and endless snacking that did us in.

Yes, fruit has sugar. But it also has loads of vitamins, minerals, water, and most importantly, fiber. The fiber in the fruit will slow its release into your bloodstream, so that you don’t get the spike and crash associated with other sugary foods (such as soda or candy).

However, do not confuse fruit with fruit juice. Juice lacks the fiber and some of the micronutrients of the whole fruit. While a cup of fresh fruit is a healthy, low-calorie snack, do not be fooled into thinking that juice is a low calorie or no calorie beverage. Many juices pack just as much sugar and calories per cup as soda. And without the fiber (and additional water in whole fruits) to trigger fullness cues in your stomach, it is much easier to overindulge in fruit juice than fruit. Additionally, the amount of juice you drink has a direct relationship with diabetes risk, but the amount of fruit you eat actually decreases the risk of diabetes.

Next time you find yourself unsure of what to eat, remember the sweet truth and fill up with fiber-rich fruits and vegetables.

– Kelly

True Food Kitchen: This RD approves!

This summer I spent a week in Phoenix, Arizona with my family. Not only was I able to read, swim, and spend some much-needed quality time with my family, but I was also able to finally eat at True Food Kitchen!

True Food Kitchen

^^The airy, trendy atmosphere was definitely a seller. Image via Fox Restaurant Concepts.

True Food Kitchen serves up “globally inspired cuisine” at its 6 different locations (all in the Southwestern United States). The basis of the menu is Dr. Andrew Weil’s anti-inflammatory diet, but don’t let that scare you off. From Spaghetti Squash Casserole with Fresh Mozzerella, Organic Tomatoes, and Zucchini to Grass Fed Steak Street Tacos with Avocado, Cojita Cheese, Tomotillo Salsa, Sour Cream and Anasazi Beans, these menu items are nothing short of spectacular.

True Food Kitchen

^^ Watermelon & Heirloom Tomato Salad with Goat Cheese, Basil, Cashews, and Olive Oil. Quite possibly my very favorite item on the menu!

Restaurants are usually a minefield of hidden fat and calories, devoid of nutrient rich fruits and vegetables. While True Food Kitchen does not post nutrition information (and some dishes do seem to be calorically dense), there is no doubt that the menu items available are extremely nutrient rich. I also love that vegetables are considered to be the main event, rather than an afterthought.

True Food Kitchen

^^ Tuscan Kale Salad with Lemon, Parmesan, Breadcrumbs, and Grilled Steelhead Salmon

Over the course of my trip, I went to True Food Kitchen 3 different times, and let me just say that 3 times was not nearly enough! Between my family and I, I got to sample:

  • Quinoa Johnny Cakes with Blueberries, Greek Yogurt, and Maple Syrup
  • Street Tacos with Grass Fed Steak
  • Tuscan Kale Salad with Grilled Steelhead Salmon
  • Spaghetti Squash Casserole with Fresh Mozzerella, Organic Tomatoes, and Zucchini
  • Red Chili Shrimp with Sesame Noodles
  • Heirloom Tomato & Watermelon Salad
  • Flourless Chocolate Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Nectarine and Blueberry Tart with Greek Yogurt Ice Cream

YUM!

cookbook

Don’t live in the Southwestern United States? No problem! Lately I have been getting my True Food fix at home, courtesy of the True Food Cookbook (pictured above). This cookbook is filled with seasonal recipes from the restaurant, as well as the most gorgeous photography I have ever seen.

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^^ My rendition of the Chicken and Farro salad, via Instagram

Have you ever been to True Food Kitchen? Do you know of similar restaurants on the east coast? Do tell!

– Kelly

Ask the Dietitian: Are snacks healthy?

Snacks can be some of our greatest allies, but they can also be the source of our undoing. My rule for snacking is as follows:

Snacking is healthy, so long as you don’t eat “snack foods”.

We all know that chips, candy, and sodas are unhealthy choices, but my principle also applies to “healthy” diet snack products. While a 100 calorie pack of cookies may only do 100 calories worth of damage, there is absolutely nothing nourishing or healthy inside of that package.

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During my early foray into “healthy eating” (and before my nutrition education took off) you would find my dorm room well stocked with 100 calorie packs of peppermint patty bars. (Side note- an actual Peppermint Patty only has 70 calories. Thus is the twisted logic of the food industry). I used to jokingly refer to these snacks as “700 calorie packs”, because you had to use every bit of willpower not to devour the entire tasty box. But I digress…

Snack foods on the market today are pure junk. Desserts in disguise. Salty, fatty treats carefully engineered to keep you coming back for more. A few foods warrant careful consideration, such as Greek yogurt and granola, but one must remember that even these “health foods” are littered with excess sugar. So what are you to snack on if not “snack foods”? Nature’s original snack foods- fruits and vegetables!

Healthy snacks

For more healthy snack ideas, see this post

I know, I know. It gets tiring hearing the same old song and dance about nature’s bounty. But come on… you can’t be that sick of them. As a nation, we hardly even eat any! Fresh, in season fruits are so delicious, that they hardly need any accompaniment. However, vegetables can be a tougher sell. Pair them with homemade hummus or 100% nut butter to boost the nutrition content, and add that fatty mouthfeel that we all crave. Or, if you’re a weirdo like me, oven roast some veggies and call that a snack. There is hardly a salty craving that a warm, crispy, oven roasted Brussels sprout can’t cure. At least in my opinion.

Occasionally (0kay, pretty frequently), I will relent, and a few Chocolate Peppermint Stick Luna Bars or organic Greek yogurt cups will make their way into my grocery cart. But I make a solid effort to enjoy my Luna Bars how anything called “Chocolate Peppermint Stick” should be enjoyed: with an ice cold glass of milk (fat free and organic, nonetheless) and on a dessert plate. Not to mention, a Luna Bar is hardly a Hostess Cupcake. But the principle remains.

The main problem I have with snacking is that it never ends. As Marion Nestle so accurately explains, “it is now socially acceptable to eat more food, more often, in more places…These are recent changes… just since the 1980’s—exactly in parallel with rising rates of obesity” (Nestle, 2006, p. 13). Snacking can indeed be healthy, so long as you pick something that nourishes you, rather than the processed garbage sold everywhere. But let’s bring back an old adage… don’t spoil your dinner! 🙂

– Kelly

Why nutrition?

Kelly's Food & Nutrition picks

One question that I often get asked is about how I got interested in my field. Why nutrition?

Growing up, I always enjoyed reading the “health” sections of newspapers and magazines. I loved the idea that I could take control of my health by eating a nutritious, balanced diet.

When choosing a major for college, I wanted to choose a degree that would provide me with useful knowledge, no matter where my career might take me. Regardless of where I worked (or even if I became a stay-at-home-mom), I knew that the information I learned about how to eat healthy would be beneficial for the rest of my life. It’s just good life knowledge. And if I could make a career out of it… even better!

I also knew that I wanted a career that helps people (and preferably, helps the planet as well). While doctors, nurses, and trainers all work to make people healthier, nutrition seems more, well… fun. After all, food is fun! And in this blog, I try to show that eating healthy can be enjoyable.

For more about my journey and professional experience, see the “Meet Kelly” page.

How did you choose your career path? Are you interested in nutrition?

– Kelly

P.S. Kinda obsessed with bookcase styling. See here.

Find me on Alltop

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Alltop is a site meant to help readers find out what’s new in different categories (such as nutrition). Just select a category of interest (I frequent the nutrition page as well as the food page) and you will be able to see the latest headlines for that category. You can now find my blog on Alltop Nutrition News. Scroll all the way to the bottom, and there I am!

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As a reminder, remember that not all writers featured on Alltop are educated in nutrition and health. For evidence based food and nutrition information from a professional, keep coming back to visit me! 😉

– Kelly

Dietitians vs Nutritionists: The New RDN Credential

There is already significant public confusion over the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist, but now the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is throwing another term into the mix. Effective immediately, Registered Dietitians (RD) are able to identify themselves as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDN). This new title is optional, and there is no difference between the practice, experience or skill set of an RD vs an RDN. According to the Academy, the change is meant to remind the public that “All Dietitians are Nutritionists, but not all Nutritionists are Dietitians”. But lets back up first…

What is the difference between a Dietitian and a Nutritionist?

I have covered this before, but here’s a quick recap. Registered Dietitians (RDs) are experts in the field of nutrition that have met the requirements in order to hold the legal title of “RD”.  Although some RDs may consider themselves nutritionists, do not assume that all nutritionists are RDs. In many states, almost anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist”, regardless of education or experience. Requirements to become an RD include:

  • a Bachelors degree in nutrition, dietetics, or a related field
  • Completion of 1200 supervised practice hours through an accredited program
  • Passing the registration exam given by the Commission on Dietetic Registration
  • RDs must then keep up with continuing education requirements in order to maintain their certification.

How does the RDN fit into this puzzle?

Personally, I think that “Nutritionist” is a much better description of nutrition practice, but because it is so unregulated, I prefer to be called a Dietitian. I worked hard to become a Dietitian, not just a Nutritionist, and I’m glad that my title reflects that. I don’t have strong opinions one way or another on the new title, but by making it optional, I believe that the Academy is creating divisions where such divisions don’t exist.

What about Licensure?

Licensure is an entirely different can of worms. Licensure is state regulated, so by becoming licensed, Dietitians are identified as state regulated nutrition professionals. Licensed Dietitians are identified by having “LD” or “LDN” following the RD (or RDN) in their title (example: Jane Doe, RD, LDN). There is no difference in meaning between LD and LDN. Some states (such as Texas) use LD, while other states (such as Massachusetts) use LDN. Many employers request that Dietitians become licensed, because licensed Dietitians qualify as providers by insurance companies, are recognized by JCAHO, meet the criteria for Medical Nutrition Therapy, and are the only professionals that can provide nutrition counseling.

So what’s all of the controversy about? Even though many states have licensure in place, recent persecution of a nonlicensed blogger providing nutrition counseling has sparked the debate that licensure is just a tool for the Academy to limit competition for RDs. On the other hand, the Academy sees licensure as protecting public health and setting a minimum standard for education and experience. As a recent article so eloquently put it, “just as there are licensed physicians and dentists, whose license ensures they’ve met a rigorous set of standards, so should there be licensed dietitians”.

For those that would like to learn more:

– Kelly