We welcome vegetarians to our program and want you to reap many of the benefits of our healthy-eating plan while still honoring your ethical or religious obligations. In fact, we’ve had a loyal vegetarian following for several years now, and we created a special section of our Whole30 Forum just for you.
Despite the fact that these lifestyle choices seem in conflict with our healthy eating recommendations (which include a moderate amount of animal protein), please don’t rule our program out! We actually have quite a few things in common and believe the Whole30 has a lot to offer you, even if you choose to limit the inclusion of animal products in your diet.
Technically not the Whole30
Note that if you are vegan or won’t complete the Whole30 using only your limited animal protein sources (like eggs and fish), what we’ve outlined here isn’t the Whole30. You’re choosing to include plant-based protein sources in your daily diet, which means your program doesn’t follow the guidelines we’ve outlined. Still, we love hearing this version of our program referred to as the “Veg Whole30” on social media, and are thrilled so many of you want to join our community, embracing the commonalities in our approaches rather than the differences. We’ve created these recommendations specifically to make you feel welcome.
If this is your context, however, it’s important for us to be clear in our expectations. We can get you to better health with our Whole30 framework, but not optimal health. The inclusion of plant-based protein sources known to have detrimental effects on hormonal balance, the digestive tract, and the immune system, and the lack of nutrients (like vitamin B12 and heme iron) found only in animal protein sources means that your health potential is limited. We’ll do our best to help you implement the Whole30 framework in a way that makes the most of your dietary choices, but we caution you not to expect the same stunning, dramatic results that omnivores commonly report.
Finally, a little tough love: this isn’t a pass to do a “Veg Whole30 + beer.” (Yes, beer is technically vegan, but it’s never Whole30.) We still expect our vegetarian and vegan Whole30’ers to follow all of our rules related to added sugar, alcohol, and baked goods and treats, even if you do include some grain, dairy, or legume-based protein in your version of our program.
Are you ready for a change?
If your primary reason for becoming vegetarian or vegan was for health, we invite you to reconsider your approach for the next thirty days. We believe the inclusion of some animal protein (dairy doesn’t count) in your daily diet is necessary for optimal health, and we’ve provided well-reasoned, well-sourced arguments (in It Starts With Food) to back up our position. So if this is where you are coming from, give our plan a try! Consider it a self-experiment: Go back to eating high-quality animal protein as part of your Whole30. We’d be shocked if your health, body composition, and quality of life did not improve, but if you don’t experience the benefits you hope to see, you can simply return to your vegetarian/vegan lifestyle having learned a bit more about how certain foods work for you.
If your concerns are largely ethical—animal welfare, sustainability, your local economy, or global economic factors—know that there are ways to responsibly, ethically source meat, seafood, and eggs. In fact, supporting those efforts sends a strong message (financial and otherwise) to the large corporations invested in factory farming; you’ll have more of an impact voting with your dollar than you will opting out of the system altogether. We believe it is important to create an alternative food-supply system, but that cannot be done without the support of committed consumers like you. Refer to the “Meat, Seafood, and Eggs” chapter in It Starts With Food (starting on page 141), and page 404 in The Whole30 for more information on sourcing responsible animal protein options.
If you’d rather proceed with your version of the Whole30 using vegetarian or vegan preferences as a framework, here are some tips to help you make the most of your experience.
Our Protein Recommendations
If you’ll eat some animal products (like eggs or fish), we recommend getting the all of your protein from these sources and not supplementing with plant-based sources at all for the 30-day period. Yes, you’ll get tired of eggs, salmon, sardines, and cod, but remember, this approach is only for the sake of this experiment—and you can actually do the real Whole30 on nothing but eggs and seafood! The benefit of that is you can completely eliminate and carefully reintroduce other plant or dairy-based protein sources, to evaluate whether they are healthy for you to include in life after your Whole30.
If you simply choose to include off-plan dairy or plant protein in your Whole30-ish plan (this also applies to vegans, save dairy), here are our best tips:
Dairy: Prioritize pastured, organic, fermented sources like yogurt or kefir. You could also use a whey protein powder from grass-fed, organic sources, which would provide the protein you need with fewer downsides than other dairy products (including cheese). You may want to experiment with goat’s milk or sheep’s milk if you know cow’s milk products aren’t well-tolerated.
Legumes: Your best choices are minimally processed, fermented soy products like tempeh or natto, or organic edamame (soybeans). You can also include non-fermented, organic soy (like extra-firm tofu) and various legumes in rotation. Avoid non-organic soy, processed soy products (like “burgers” and “cheese”), and peanuts.
Grains/Pseudo-Cereals: Avoid all gluten grains, including seitan (which is made from wheat gluten). Pseudo-cereals like quinoa are less likely to cause disruption to the gut or immune system than other grains.
Protein Powders: A hemp- or pea protein powder is also an option for you, although you’d have to include quite a lot of it in your diet to get any substantial amount of protein. Read your labels carefully to make sure these protein powders include as few inflammatory ingredients as possible.
For More Information
For more information about our recommendations for vegetarians and vegans (including supplementation that may be helpful), turn to page 120 in The Whole30: The 30-Day Guide to Total Health and Food Freedom.
You can also download a template for our vegetarian/vegan shopping list. Note, this list won’t include any Whole30 non-compliant items. (Listing “tofu” on a Whole30-branded shopping list would be extremely confusing for the new folks.) If you’re modifying our program as a vegan, you’ll have to fill in your own plant-based protein sources—don’t worry, we’ve left you lots of space.
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