Imagine this: You’re going strong on Day 15 of Whole30 and you feel like you’ve gotten into the swing of things. Then the afternoon rolls around and you’re munching on your usual Larabar. You glance at the wrapper—only to realize that you just scarfed down the wrong kind of Larabar. (The ones with peanuts or chocolate chips aren’t Whole30-approved.) This means you’ll have to start the 30-day elimination diet all. the. way. over.
In order to avoid a similar scenario, you might want to consider getting a PhD—in reading labels, that is. Actually, going for whole foods that don’t have labels at all is your safest bet. But since that’s not totally realistic for most of us, it’s important to know exactly what you can and can’t have on the program, because even one banned ingredient in a seemingly healthy-looking food could derail you.
Sound impossibly strict? Well, there’s a good reason for that. Whole30’s not just about clean eating, but also examining your habits every time you reach for a snack. Melissa Hartwig, founder of the program, says one of the biggest benefits people experience from this is an awareness around their emotional connection and attachment to food. “People think, ‘This will be really hard, I’m going to miss my treats,'” she says. “But it can be really eye-opening to realize how much food plays into your emotional relationship with yourself, with your body, with other people, and with the food itself.”
Of course, it can be overwhelming to adjust to this ultra-mindful way of eating. So if you’re thinking about starting Whole30 soon, it’s a good idea to have a game plan before you hit the grocery store. Consider this the Cliff’s Notes version of what to eat (and what not to eat) on the program, right down to the banned ingredients you should look for on food packaging. See ya on the flip side, avocado toast…
Keep reading for your ultimate Whole30 food list.
This may come as no surprise, but you’ll want to stock up on organic, fresh produce. Basically all fruits and veggies are acceptable on Whole30, so your favorite apples, bananas, berries, and the like are fair game.
The same can’t be said for your green breakfast smoothie, however. Unfortunately, blending or juicing fruits and veggies and calling it a meal is not recommended on the program, unless it’s absolutely necessary. The main reason, according to the Whole30 program guidelines, is that drinking your meals or calories is less filling, tricking your brain into thinking it’s not as full as if you ate whole foods. And it’s easier to overdo the sugar from fruit and miss out on fiber if you’re juicing.
The other things you’ll have to nix for the 30 days include all dairy (except ghee), grains and breads (including oats, wheat, rice, and other gluten-free and Paleo varieties), and legumes (including beans).
Beware of additives and added sugar
Since you’ll probably want to use sauces to make all of those veggies a bit more exciting, you’ll have to be extra careful when buying bottled condiments or salad dressings. In an ideal world, you’d make these from scratch, but when you’re crunched for time you have a few options. (Many of the products from Primal Kitchen and Tessemae’s are Whole30-approved).
This handy guide gives you the rundown on the ingredients you can have (like natural flavors, acacia inulin, and sunflower—not soy!—lecticthin), and the ones that are off-limits (like MSG, carrageenan, sulfites and cornstarch).
Added sugars of any kind are also a no-go. Check out this list of sneaky sugars that are often added to condiments and packaged foods. Yes, even natural sweeteners like agave nectar, maple syrup, and honey are to be skipped.
The majority of your protein on Whole30 is going to come from meat, eggs, and fish. Try to choose quality meat and fish that are sustainably sourced, certified organic, free-range, and without any hormones, fillers, or nitrates.
Protein can be a tricky food group to master when you’re super busy, traveling, or on the go, so you’ll want to make sure you have some on hand that you can reach for easily. “I always recommend keeping emergency food at home in your fridge,” Hartwig says. Some of her go-tos include hard-boiled eggs, ground meat, and chicken sausage.
Nuts, nut butters, and nut milks
Since you’re allowed to have all kinds of nuts—except peanuts, since they’re technically legumes—you can still enjoy nuts and nut butters. Just make sure they aren’t roasted in grain- or legume-sourced oils or coated in sugar or with seasonings that have additives. Raw and unroasted nuts and nut butters are great for Whole30, since there’s no chance of any extra stuff you don’t want in them.
And you can still enjoy your daily latte—as long as it’s made with a dairy-free alt-milk that is free from carrageenan and added sugar. That means all of the nut milk options at Starbucks are off-limits, and so is the popular barista blend almond milk favorite from Califia Farms (which has 5 grams of added sugar per cup). Califia Farms’ unsweetened almond milk products are fine, though. And sorry, Oatly fans—the buzziest alt-milk of the moment is banned, too, given that it’s made with oats (which aren’t allowed).
Snacks and drinks
Whole30 generally doesn’t recommend snacking. If you do need to eat between meals, it’s best to include some protein and fat. But sometimes, when you’re putting in a lot of hours at the office or traveling, you can find yourself starving with no Whole30-compliant food in sight. This is when it’s best to have some snacks on hand until you can get something substantial. “I always fly with meat sticks or jerky. DNX Bar makes a Whole30 compliant kind of mini meal—it’s a meat, veggie, nut, and seed stick, kind of like a bar,” Hartwig says.
If you have to pick one thing to bring with you to the airport, Hartwig recommends packing protein, since it can be difficult to find. “You can almost always find nuts or seeds or some fresh fruit at your local airport, but meat is the hardest thing,” she says.
When it comes to drinks, alcohol and sugar-sweetened sips are out, but what about your favorite healthy options? Kombucha is ok (if sugar’s not listed on the label), and so are freshly pressed fruit and veggie juices. La Croix and bone broth are also compliant.
What about dessert?
The no-dessert rule is probably one of the least-popular parts of Whole30, but Hartwig says it’s one of the most important if you’re looking to kick sweet cravings to the curb and reset your habits. She even coined a term for cheating by eating Paleo, dairy-free, or sugar-free desserts, which seem like they’d be Whole30-compliant—she calls it “sex with your pants on.”
“Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a Whole30-compliant pancake and the normal pancakes you make in the morning. Or a brownie or a cookie,” she explains. “And if you’re still eating pancakes, cookies, and brownies on your Whole30, you’re not going to learn anything about your emotional relationship with food and you’re not going to have to change your habits. We rule out [sweets] on the program to force you to address the way you are using food to comfort, relieve anxiety, and self-soothe—and force you to find other ways to satisfy those needs.” Who’s up for some forest bathing instead?
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