In proof that the most talked-about diets aren’t always the best ones, U.S. News & World Report just released its annual ranking of diets and stuck Whole30 — the diet everyone’s friend’s sister’s boss’s wife has tried and raved about — at the very bottom of the list, which includes 38 different diets.
Since the Whole30 eating program seems to be both popular and, at face value, relatively benign for a diet, this is a pretty major upset, particularly since these ratings are considered to be super legit. They’re derived by an expert panel composed of more than 20 registered dietitians, academics, and medical doctors, who rank each diet in seven categories including effectiveness in short- and long-term weight loss, safety, ability to prevent disease, nutritional completeness, and simplicity,
The Whole30 plan is based on cutting out whole food categories including dairy, grains, beans and legumes, and any foods made with added sugars for 30 days to “reset” your relationship with food and help you pinpoint foods that are unknowingly affecting your health and fitness. Permitted foods include meat, seafood, eggs, veggies, small amounts of fruit, oils, nuts, and seeds, with a general focus on whole ingredients as opposed to processed foods, according to the program’s website.
Still, the experts who assessed the Whole30 plan weren’t exactly impressed. “This diet did not fare well in the rankings overall, and certainly did not fare well with me,” says panel member Dr. David Katz, M.D., director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and adjunct professor at the George Washington University School of Medicine, in a comment to Cosmopolitan.com.
The problem, according to Dr. Katz, is that Whole30 promotes meat consumption, which is generally considered a bad idea, while discouraging perfectly healthy food groups. Other panel members who anonymously submitted their critique of individual diets complained that Whole30 is high in sodium, low in calcium, and permits too much cholesterol with unnecessarily food restriction. They found it unsustainable and potentially unhealthy, since it can lead to nutritional deficiencies, according to Angie Haupt, assistant managing editor at U.S. News, who collected the panel members’ anonymous critiques.
But Whole30 co-creator Melissa Hartwig, a certified sports nutritionist, told Cosmopolitan.com she stands behind her program’s guiding principles. Since Whole30’s animal protein recommendations are in line with government guidelines, “to say we’re a meat-heavy program is inaccurate,” she says, adding that there’s nothing found in grains or legumes — two foods that are temporarily restricted — that you can’t find in fruits and vegetables, sometimes in more bioavailable forms.
And as for diets that outranked Whole30, which include time-tested commercial diets such as Slim-Fast, Weight Watchers, and Jenny Craig? “How are diets based on calorie restriction, processed foods, supplements, and meal replacement shakes ‘healthier’ than an approach that encourages participants to eat real food to satiety without counting calories?” Hartwig says. “Our program’s efficacy speaks for itself, as evidenced by the countless medical doctors who successfully use our program with their patients, and the hundreds of thousands of life-changing testimonials we’ve received.”
Still, if you ask Dr. Katz, Whole30’s only potential benefit is for short-term weight loss, not long-term weight maintenance, general health, or longevity.
If you’re looking to overhaul your diet for any of those reasons, there are 37 other diets on the U.S. News list to consider before settling on Whole30, including the DASH Diet, Mediterranean Diet, and MIND Diet, which were ranked the top three diets, respectively. (Just saying.)