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Good news: Whether you want to break up with bad habits or figure out what’s causing that food baby, the Whole30 can help.
More good news: You get to go shopping!
Possibly bad news (depending on your shopping views): This trip is for your pantry, not your wardrobe.
Overhauling your kitchen can be one of the hardest parts of a new diet or program. But it’s arguably one of the most important, especially with a method like the Whole30.
The Whole30 is designed to be a short-term reset for your body. It eliminates foods thought to affect your metabolism, digestion, and immune system for 30 days. Instead, you focus on eating “real” foods with simple and recognizable ingredient lists (or no ingredient list at all).
For many people, this requires wising up on nutrition facts. But instead of spending hours in a grocery aisle, consult this list of kitchen staples and recipes and get ready to “pwn” your Whole30 experience.
Let’s break down the pantry basics to help put Whole30 on autopilot (well, almost).
Fats and oils:
Clarified butter or ghee
When solid, clarified butter and ghee have a texture similar to coconut oil. When heated, they resemble the liquid gold you douse over movie popcorn. Which, unfortunately, isn’t Whole30-approved.
Clarified butter and ghee are pure butterfat, but ghee is cooked slightly longer than clarified butter and has a nuttier taste. Both can be used in place of butter. Try Pure Indian Foods, OMGhee, or Tin Star Ghee.
Keeping track of all the coconut byproducts is confusing, so just think of coconut butter as a sort of nut butter. Made from coconut flesh, the spread can be added to smoothies and sauces or enjoyed with fresh fruit. Look for Artisana Organics.
A small amount of sesame oil goes a long way, which is good since it’s supposed to be used sparingly.
Primal Kitchen mayo
Don’t feel like making your own mayonnaise? No judgement. Grab a jar (or two) from Primal Kitchen. In addition to original, the brand makes flavors like Chipotle Lime and Garlic Aioli.
Being Whole30 compliant doesn’t mean eating bland food. Cooking with high-quality animal fats from brands like Fatworks and Epic Animal Oils adds a ton of flavor to simple dishes like roasted potatoes or pork.
Switch it up
Almond flour, tapioca starch, and arrowroot powder
Instead of thickening up sauces with cornstarch or flour, try a non-grain-based flour. They can be used in place of breadcrumbs, too.
Coconut aminos are a soy-free alternative to soy sauce, tamari, and worcestershire. Made from aged coconut sap, they’re great for sauces, dressings, marinades, and anything else you can think of. Try Coconut Secret (or grab a bottle from Trader Joe’s).
Pickles, relish, diced green chiles, and capers
If your favorite premade sauces and marinades aren’t Whole30-friendly, try spicing up dishes with flavorful jarred ingredients — after you check the labels, of course.
Raisins, currents, and dried figs
Swap sugar, jelly, and chutney for dried fruits like raisins, currants, and figs. Just a little adds the right amount of sweetness to dishes and sauces.
Get your usual caffeine fix by subbing the milk or creamer of your choosing for Nutpods. The nondairy unsweetened creamer is made from almonds and coconuts, and comes in flavors like hazelnut, French vanilla, and caramel. *kisses fingertips*
Tessemae’s makes a variety of condiments, sauces, and dressings that are Whole30 compliant. The brand’s BBQ sauce and ketchup are kitchen must-haves. Plus, they have multiple — yes, multiple — ranch flavors. Think Cilantro Lime, Buffalo, and Everything Bagel.
Spice up any soup, stir-fry, vegetable dish, or marinade with Thai Kitchen curry paste.
Red Boat fish sauce
Complete your Whole30 curry with Red Boat fish sauce. The sauce is literally made with just two ingredients: anchovies and sea salt.
Got hot sauce in your bag? No sweat, so long as there aren’t added sugars or other banned ingredients. Tessemae’s and Horsetooth both make Whole30-friendly sauces, and Frank’s Red Hot Original is also compliant.
The Whole30 team “recommends” making your own broth, but there are compliant premade versions. Some Imagine Organic broths are Whole30-friendly, but double-check the nutrition label to make sure.
Bone broths are hearty enough to be sipped straight from a mug, but they also make great bases for soups or stews. Bonafide Provisions’ broths are frozen fresh and are free of sugar, grains, and gluten.
Kettle & Fire
Kettle & Fire selects grass-fed bones that are packed with collagen and nutrients, then slow-simmers them for over 14 hours. In addition to classic chicken and beef broths, they offer flavored versions like Chipotle Beef and Coconut Curry & Lime Chicken.
This brand’s classic broths are compliant, but Whole30 has a “bone” to pick with the instant bone broth mix — it contains maltodextrin.
Osso Good broths are organic and slow-simmered in small batches. Like Bonafide Provisions, they’re packed frozen for maximum flavor and nutrition.
Got canned meat in my meals tonight baby
Safe Catch Tuna
The Safe Catch brand is dolphin safe, mercury tested, and sustainably caught. The Seasoned Elite Wild Tuna pouches come in flavors like Cajun, Chili Lime, and Garlic Herb, and are great for on-the-go meals.
Toss Primal Kitchen or Tessemae’s mayo with canned chicken for a quick lunch or light dinner. Just be sure to check the label for added starches and other non-compliant ingredients. Wild Planet’s organic roasted chicken breast is a reliable standby.
Healthy additions (and other fun stuff)
Simplify meal prep with canned vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash, and pumpkin. As always, check the label. The only ingredient should be vegetables (and perhaps water).
Unsweetened cocoa and 100 percent cacao — not Hershey’s cocoa — are Whole30-approved, but should be treated like a spice. Try adding to sauces or rubs for an extra punch of flavor.
Green. Black. Canned. Fresh. Olivem’ are Whole30-compliant. Just look out for added sulfites.
Chia seeds aren’t from the same family as legumes and grains, but they should be treated like nuts, i.e. eat them sparingly.
Finding canned tomatoes that are compliant can be tricky. Pomi is a great go-to — the only ingredient in most of its products are tomatoes.
If you’ve ever felt the urge to experiment with homemade salad dressings, then Whole30 is your time. Nearly all vinegars are compliant, including rice, red wine, and white wine. Malt vinegar is the exception.
Coconut might be the G.O.A.T. for Whole30. Shredded and flaked coconut is great for adding flavor to stir-fries, salads, and more.
Everything but the Bagel Seasoning
Santa Cruz Organic is USDA-Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified. If ascorbic acid on the label throws you off, don’t worry, it’s basically just vitamin C.
This plant based yogurt is free of lactose, dairy, soy, and added sugar, but full of prebiotics and probiotics. It’s made with a blend of organic coconut, Pili nuts, and young plantains for a thick and creamy texture that’ll have you double-checking the label. (Don’t worry, it’s indeed Whole30 compliant.)
If the word “jerky” makes you think of Slim Jim, snap out of it. CHOMPS Snack Sticks, The New Primal Beef Thins, and Epic Bars are all made with grass-fed beef or free-range turkey. Keep them on hand for emergencies or on-the-go snacks.
Raw and dry-roasted nuts make for quick and easy snacks. Stash a pack in your purse or office drawer, but be sure they’re free of peanuts. (And chocolate, duh.)
Flavors like Cashew Cookie and Apple Pie are Whole30-friendly and will quickly become your snack standby.
There are nearly endless resources for Whole30 recipes. If you ever feel like you’re in a food rut, hit up Google or Instagram. Or check out some of the favorites below.
- sweet potato quiche with sausage and spinach
- cauliflower rice breakfast stir-fry with poached eggs
- eggs in a nest with sweet potato and kale
- pumpkin coconut smoothie
- avocado baked egg
- Italian wedding soup
- sausage and kale saute
- no-bread turkey wrap with Tessemae’s Ranch
- cauliflower rice tabbouleh
- creamy sweet potato and cauliflower curry soup
- roasted lemon chicken with potatoes and rosemary
- Irish beef stew with mashed cauliflower
- sheet pan blueberry-glazed salmon
- jalapeño turkey burgers with guacamole and pico de gallo
- zucchini noodles with pesto-fried egg
Snacking is “supposed” to be kept to a minimum, but it’s ok if you need something to tide you over between meals. The following snacks are great options (and many are staples in your new Whole30-compliant pantry).
As a quick refresher, here’s what to avoid during your Whole30:
- No added sugar — real or artificial: Raw sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave syrup, date syrup, and stevia are all on the “no” list.
- No alcohol: If it’s boozy, it’s banned — even for cooking.
- No grains: Buckwheat, bulgur, corn, millet, oats, quinoa, rice, sprouted grains, and wheat (to name a few) aren’t allowed in any form.
- No pulses or legumes: Chickpeas, peas, lentils, beans, peanuts, and soy — including tofu and tempeh — should be avoided. (Green beans, sugar snap peas, and snow peas are exceptions.)
- No dairy: Regardless of the source, dairy products aren’t allowed.
- No processed additives like carrageenan, MSG, or sulfites.
- No baked goods or “junk” foods made from “approved” ingredients.
Q: I’ve never done the Whole30 before. What’s one thing I should know?
A: Be prepared! It’s best to do your research on what to avoid and what to eat, come up with a list of recipes you want to make each week, meal-prep to make it easier to stick the program, and find a support buddy to share your experience. Expect that you’ll have moments of temptations, whether it’s donuts at an office meeting or cake at a birthday party.
Q: As far as elimination diets go, how is Whole30 different?
A: While the goal of an elimination diet is to uncover problematic foods, Whole30 goes beyond that to help you redefine and build a better relationship with food overall. One rule of the program is to not measure or weigh yourself during the 30-day period: This shifts the program’s goals away from just weight loss (if that is a goal) to truly tuning into your body and how you feel.
Q: Is there science behind Whole30, or is it another fad diet?
A: There are no research studies to date on the Whole30 program specifically. However, certain elements of the Whole30 program are rooted in science. For example, there are numerous research studies based on the elimination diet. And, in general, it can take 3 to 6 weeks for the proteins your immune system makes when it negatively interacts with certain problematic foods to disappear. This is why a 30-day program is a good timeframe to see how your body responds to eliminating certain foods (and then reintroducing them).
Q: It seems like certain foods make me feel tired, bloated, or gassy. Can the Whole30 help me figure out what’s going on?
A: Yes! Eliminating common food allergens (such as soy, dairy, and grains) and foods known to worsen inflammation (like sugar), then slowly reintroducing them to your diet can help you identify which foods are causing issues. Keep a food journal during the 30 day program and especially when you reintroduce foods to note how you feel. It’s best to reintroduce one type of food at a time for a few days so it’s very clear which food is causing you distress, if any.
Q: Thirty days is a long time. Can’t I just do a juice cleanse and get the same results?
A: A juice-only cleanse doesn’t provide sufficient protein, healthy fats, or fiber. Plus, our bodies are designed to naturally cleanse and detox themselves every day, thanks to our livers. A cleanse-type program that is nutritionally balanced and rich in real, predominantly plant based whole foods is the best way to support your liver. Eating food is also more enjoyable and sustainable than drinking liquids alone!
Q: I “slipped up” and ate or drank something that’s not Whole30-approved. Do I really need to start all over again?
A: Based on the Whole30 program rules, yes. One of the reasons is based on the elimination diet process, which is designed to help you identify food sensitivities and intolerances. You need to completely remove certain foods from your diet for a period of time to see how your body responds without them and then when you later reintroduce them. The elimination diet will not be accurate or helpful if it isn’t followed correctly.
Q: I’m a few days in and I’m tired, cranky, and have a headache. Is this normal?
A: Yes! Sugar, caffeine, and alcohol are all very addictive. It’s normal to feel withdrawal symptoms the first few days or even weeks, depending on the quantity and frequency you consumed those items. Staying hydrated with water and/or herbal teas, fresh air, or even exercise can help you feel better!
Q: On that note… can I exercise while on the Whole30?
A: Yes! The goal of the Whole30 program is to nourish your body so that you can thrive. You may feel tired in the beginning due to the dietary changes, especially if you previously relied on sugar as a quick source of energy. Exercise is one of the best ways to boost energy levels naturally! However, always listen to your body and don’t push yourself if you truly feel weak or like you need to rest.
Q: What are the symptoms of inflammation, and how will I know if I should eliminate a certain food or food group from my diet?
A: Someone who is experiencing chronic inflammation may notice:
- joint pain
- swelling or stiffness
- stomach pains or cramps
- Body pain
- depression, anxiety, or mood disorders
- brain fog
- weight gain or loss
- frequent infections
- gastrointestinal issues
The best way to know if you’re experiencing inflammation that’s related to a chronic or acute condition is to meet with your doctor for blood work, which may include a food allergen test.
In general, sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, processed meats, and trans fats are known to worsen inflammation symptoms. The elimination process of the Whole30 program is a wonderful place to start to see if you feel better without the consumption of certain foods. However, to truly know if you have a food allergy or intolerance, an allergen test and blood work will give you peace of mind.
Megan Roosevelt is an RDN and founder of HealthyGroceryGirl.com.