Can You Do a Modified Whole30?
If you've heard of the Whole30, you probably know that it is an elimination diet that restricts many types of common processed foods and even entire food groups. You may have considered doing a Whole30 but hesitated because of certain cultural, ethical, religious, or medical restrictions.
If this is that case, a modified Whole30 might be right for you.
What is a modified Whole30?
There are two categories of modified Whole30s: official and unofficial.
The only modified Whole30 that is officially recognized as compliant within the Whole30 program is the Plant-Based Whole30, which was recently introduced to help those who are unable to eat animal protein be able to reap the benefits of a Whole30 as much as possible.
The Plant-Based Whole30 was designed by original Whole30 creator Melissa Urban, along with registered dietitian Stephanie Greunke, to replace all sources of animal protein with plant-based sources, while continuing to follow Whole30 protocol as much as possible.
Unofficial modified Whole30s could include any "Whole30" that breaks any of the official rules for any reason. These would not technically be Whole30s, but they may still expose the dieter to many of the benefits of a Whole30.
What is the difference between the original Whole30 and the plant-based version?
Both versions of the Whole30 diet are designed to be dietary resets, geared not toward weight loss, but rather rewiring eating habits and pinpointing specific foods that may promote or trigger health issues. These issues could range from trouble with blood-sugar regulation to skin problems, unsatiable sugar cravings to undesirable stomach situations.
Both plans focus on whole foods and eliminate grains, alcohol, any kind of added sugar (including but not limited to real extracted sugars like maple syrup or coconut sugar, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, and zero-calorie natural sweeteners like stevia), and the common additives carrageenan and sulfites.
The huge difference is that, like a typical paleo diet, the original Whole30 also eliminates lentils and legumes, including peanuts, soy, and beans. Green beans are the exception, as the beans are very immature inside the pod, and the green, vegetal pod itself is the primary edible component. Here is a more comprehensive list of cans and can'ts on a traditional Whole30.
In order to supply adequate protein without using animal products, the Plant-Based Whole30 allows peanuts, black beans, lentils, less-processed forms of soy, compliant unsweetened plant-based protein powders, and some vegan "meats." Highly processed forms of soy such as textured vegetable protein (TVP), soybean oil, or soy protein isolate are not allowed on a Plant-Based Whole30. The focus is on plant-based whole protein sources.
While both programs eliminate dairy products, the original Whole30 allows for ghee, or clarified butter, in which the milk solids have been strained away. Since it is an animal product, ghee would not be part of Plant-Based Whole30 protocol. Here is the official guide to what you can and can't have on a Plant-Based Whole30.
Which 30-day program is right for you?
If you have ethical, medical, or religious reasons to avoid animal products, you would be a great candidate for a Plant-Based Whole30.
Ethical--you do not agree with the killing or exploiting of animals for human consumption or gain.
Medical--you have been advised by a doctor to avoid animal proteins for medical reasons, such as allergies or cancer; or you simply find that animal products do not agree with you.
Religious--your religion or spiritual beliefs do not allow the consumption of any or certain animal products.
Another reason to do a Plant-Based Whole30 would be if you have already completed at least one traditional Whole30, and now you want to dive deeper into exploring how consuming legumes and/or eliminating and reintroducing animal products affects you.
For more on the specific program rules of the original or plant-based programs, check out the Whole30 website.
What about "unofficial" modified Whole30s?
If you are considering doing your very first Whole 30, I would absolutely suggest sticking to the official rules. Sometimes, however, there may be a place for an unofficial modified Whole30.
For instance, when I was breastfeeding my most recent baby, I really wanted to do a Whole30, but I needed to make a few exceptions to the rules. Primarily, I occasionally allowed myself to have hydration pouches (I use Liquid IV brand), which contain a small amount of added sweeteners.
I am prone to migraines when breastfeeding, especially in the first few months, and I have found that the hydration pouches help with both my post-partem migraines and my milk supply. There may be Whole30-friendly options for this type of product on the market now, but at the time, this was the only kind I had access to.
If you are doing a Whole30 with the whole family, there also might be reasons to make some slight modifications, at least for certain members. When we did our first Whole30, my son's preschool had very strict rules regarding what we could pack for lunch, as well as what it could be packed in. His lunches wouldn't be refrigerated and couldn't be packed with ice packs or in cooler bags, so that ruled out anything that needed to stay cool for food safety purposes.
At the time I was at a loss for what I could pack him. Long story short, I ended up making big batches of paleo pancakes to stash in the freezer and pull out just for his school lunches. This is a clear violation of the notorious "pancake rule," but it made the Whole30 otherwise doable in that situation.
Speaking of the pancake rule . . . as my family has done several Whole30s at this point, one of the ways we modified our last one was by including some baked goods at certain, specific times. We would only allow an item if it had a compliant ingredient list (unsweetened paleo biscuits, crepes, etc.), and we did this just for Sunday brunches since we were abstaining from our typical Sunday tradition of Taco Bell. Yes, we are classy like that.
We felt comfortable doing this because it wasn't derailing us at this point since we no longer ate the "real" versions of those things even when we were off the Whole30--they were no longer triggers for us--and we still avoided added sweeteners, which are our main trigger.
What should all Whole30s accomplish?
The spirit of any Whole30, modified or not, should be to reset your dietary and culinary habits. This is not a fad diet meant to limit you as much as it is an experiment meant to expand your understanding of how foods affect your health.
You will put the best things you can in your body, including healthy whole foods like sweet potato, cauliflower rice, and green bell peppers; healthy fats like coconut milk, coconut cream, extra virgin olive oil, and almond butter; and much more.
You will aim to increase your overall health and energy levels, determine if you have any food sensitivities, and learn different ways to fuel yourself that you didn't know were possible.
Before deciding to make any modification to your Whole30, ask yourself how it would impact your ability to achieve the above.
Are you ready to embark on a Whole30 challenge?
For some great Whole30 recipes, check out our Whole30 page.
Curious about what differentiates Whole30 from paleo? Check out our Paleo-v-Whole30 page.