The Whole30 Food List: Here's What You Can & Can't Eat

Whole30 Co-Founder and CEO By Melissa Hartwig Urban
Whole30 Co-Founder and CEO
Melissa Hartwig Urban is a certified sports nutritionist who specializes in helping people change their relationship with food and create life-long, healthy habits. She is the co-creator of the Whole30 program, the New York Times bestselling author of It Starts With Food and The Whole30.

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So you've decided to try the Whole30 diet—at this point you might have some idea of what you're getting into. But do you know all of the rules? Do you know what it actually takes to have a successful Whole30? We had Whole30 founder Melissa Hartwig Urban give us the lowdown—the do's and don'ts, simply spelled out. It's sure to answer any questions you have. Good luck!

For the next 30 days, you'll be eating meat, seafood, and eggs; lots of vegetables and fruit; natural, healthy fats; and fresh herbs and spices. Oh yeah, and on this program there are no slips, cheats, or special occasions. Below are the program rules. (For a complete list of rules and more on results, please refer to the "Whole30 Food List: What You Can Eat & What To Avoid For Results.") 

The "no cheat" thing isn't me playing the tough guy or turning the Whole30 into hazing. It's grounded in the science of an elimination diet, during which you have to completely eliminate suspected triggers to accurately evaluate them. (Otherwise, how will you know if life could be better without them?) Plus, the Whole30 is about keeping your promise to yourself. You committed to 30 days of evaluating your health, habits, and relationship with food, and I want you to honor that commitment.

The official Whole30 rules.

Want the program to actually change your life? Follow the rules 100% for 30 straight days. 

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Do not consume added sugar of any kind, real or artificial.

No maple syrup, honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, Splenda, Equal, NutraSweet, xylitol, stevia, etc. Read your labels, because companies sneak sugar into products more often than you realize. 

Do not consume alcohol in any form.

No wine, beer, Champagne, vodka, rum, whiskey, tequila, etc., whether consumed on its own or used as an ingredient—not even for cooking.

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Do not eat grains.

This includes wheat, rye, barley, oats, corn, rice, millet, bulgur, sorghum, sprouted grains, and pseudo-cereals like amaranth, buckwheat, or quinoa. This also includes all the ways we add wheat, corn, and rice into our goods in the form of bran, germ, starch, and so on. Again, read your labels. 

Do not eat legumes.

This includes beans of all kinds (black, red, pinto, navy, white, kidney, lima, fava, etc.), peas, chickpeas, lentils, and peanuts. This also includes all forms of soy—soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh, edamame, and all the ways we sneak soy into foods (like soybean oil or soy lecithin). No peanut butter, either. The only exceptions are green beans and snow/snap peas. 

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Do not eat dairy.

This includes cow's-, goat's-, and sheep's-milk products such as cream, cheese, kefir, yogurt, and sour cream. The only exceptions are clarified butter and ghee. 

Do not consume carrageenan, MSG, or added sulfites.

If these appear in any form in the ingredient list of your processed food or beverage, it's out for the Whole30.

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Do not recreate backed goods, "treats," or junk foods with approved ingredients.

No banana-egg pancakes, paleo tortillas, avocado oil potato chips, or coconut-milk ice cream. Your cravings and habits won't change if you keep eating these foods, even if they are made with Whole30 ingredients.

Do not step on the scale or take measurements.

Your reset is about so much more than just weight loss; focusing on your body composition means you'll miss out on the most dramatic and lifelong benefits this plan has to offer. So no weighing yourself, analyzing body fat, or breaking out the tape measure during the 30-day elimination. 

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Exceptions to the Whole30 rules.

A few off-limits food that fall under the "No baked goods, treats, or junk foods" rule include pancakes, bread, tortillas, biscuits, crepes, waffles, cereal or granola, muffins, cupcakes, cookies, pizza crust, store-bought chips of any kinds (even plantain), and restaurant French fries. While this list of off-limits goods applies to everyone (even those who "don't have a problem" with pancakes), you may decide your personal off-limits list includes additional foods that you already know make you feel out of control, like bars or almond butter.

These foods are exceptions to the rules and are allowed during your Whole30.

Clarified butter or ghee

Clarified butter and ghee are the only sources of dairy allowed during your Whole30, as they've had their milk solids rendered out. Plain old butter is not allowed, as its milk proteins could impact the results of your program.

Fruit juice as a sweetener

Products or recipes that include orange, apple, or other fruit juices are permitted on the program, although we encourage you not to go overboard here.

Green beans and snow or snap peas

While these are technically legumes, they are far more "pod" than "bean," and green plant matter is generally good for you.

Vinegar and botanical extracts

Most vinegar (including white, red wine, balsamic, apple cider, and rice) and alcohol-based botanical extracts (like vanilla, lemon, or lavender) are allowed during your Whole30 program. (Just not malt-based vinegar or extracts, which will be clearly labeled as such, as they contain gluten.) 

Coconut aminos

All brands of coconut aminos (a brewed and naturally fermented soy sauce substitute) are acceptable, even if you see the word "coconut nectar" on the ingredient list.

Iodized salt

All iodized salt contains a tiny amount of dextrose (sugar) as a stabilizer, but ruling out table salt would be unreasonable. This exception will not affect your Whole30 results in any way. 

What you need to remember on Whole30.

1. It's for your own good.

Here comes the tough love, heavy on the love—perhaps the most famous part of the Whole30. This is for those of you who are considering taking on this life-changing month but aren't sure you can actually pull it off, cheat-free, for a full 30 days. This for people who have tried committing to health initiatives before but "slipped" or "fell off the wagon" or "just had to eat [fill in food here] because of this [fill in event here]." This is for you, said with love.

2. This is not hard.

Fighting cancer is hard. Birthing a baby is hard. Losing a parent is hard. Drinking your coffee black is. Not. Hard. You've done harder things than this, and you have no excuse not to complete the program as written. It's only 30 days, and it's for the most important cause: the only physical body you will ever have in this lifetime. 

3. Don't even consider the possibility of cheating.

Unless you physically trip and your face lands in a box of doughnuts, there is no "slip." It is always a choice to eat something unhealthy, and if you open the door now to "Whole30 but…" you will bail on the program, and I cannot allow you to bail on yourself again. Commit to the program 100% for the full 30 days. Don't give yourself an excuse to fail before you've even started. 

4. You never, ever, ever have to eat anything you don't want to eat.

You're all adults. Stand up for yourself. Learn to say, "No, thank you" and hold the line without defending, explaining, or excusing your decision. Just because it's your sister's birthday, best friend's wedding, or office party does not mean you have to eat or drink anything. It is always a choice, and I hope we all stopped succumbing to peer pressure in seventh grade.

5. This does require effort. 

Meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking, dining out, explaining the program to friends and family, and dealing with stress will all prove challenging at some point during your program. I've given you all the tools, guidelines, and resources you'll need in the eight Whole30 books and on our website, and our community is here 24/7 with accountability, resources, advice, and support…but you also have to take responsibility for your own program. Improved health, habits, and relationship with food don't happen automatically just because you're now taking a pass on bread. This will be work, but it will be worth it. 

6. You can do this.

You've come this far—don't back out now. You want to do this. You need to do this. And I believe in you, even if you're not quite ready to believe in yourself. So stop thinking about it, and start doing it. Right now, this very minute, commit to the Whole30—and tell someone you're doing it.

I want you to have this experience. I want you to join our community, complete the program, and see amazing results in every area of your life. Even if you aren't convinced this will actually change your life, just give me 30 short days. You are that important, and I believe in our efficacy that much. It changed my life, and I want it to change yours, too.

Welcome to the Whole30. 

Text excerpted from The Whole 30 Friends & Family © 2019 by Melissa Hartwig Urban. Photography © 2019 by Ghazalle Badiozamani. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

And are you ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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