One of the most active sections of our free Whole30 Forum is the “Can I Have…” section. This is where Whole30’ers ask about ingredients that they wish to include as part of their Whole30 program—things like bee pollen, mesquite flour, or banana almond pan-fried discs.*
Sometimes, we wonder if people really want to eat these things, or if they’re just trying to stump us.
The forum is a great venue for these kinds of questions, but it can be a bit cumbersome to search, and as new people are joining every day, the same questions are asked over and over again. So today, we’re going to give you all of the most common “Can I have…” questions and answers all in one place, along with our most helpful tips to maximize your Whole30 success.
Note, anything in italics below are not official “rules” of the Whole30—they’re just suggestions from us to you, based on our experience, and the experience of the 100,000+ people who have done our Whole30 program in the last four years. So, you know, you don’t have to accept our helpful suggestions… but you probably should.
*Yes, yes but only if you’re not baking with it, and every time you ask us about pancakes on the Whole30, Ryan is sad.
Before You Ask, “Can I Have…”
Before you even read this list, please make sure you’ve done the following:
Read the Whole30 Program Rules.
No, really read it, a few times. Don’t ask if quinoa or Siete tortillas are okay, because we spell it out clearly right there in the rules. (They’re not.)
Read your labels.
Before you ask whether Cholula hot sauce, French’s Yellow, or a Tanka bar* is compliant, read the ingredient list! If all of the ingredients are okay, the food is okay. If it contains an off-plan ingredient, then it’s out for your Whole30.
*Yes, yes, and no because of the added sugar.
Remember, added sugar is about the ingredients, not the nutrition label.
The amount of sugar listed on the nutrition label has nothing to do with whether something is Whole30 or not. Nutrition labels round to the nearest full digit, so just because something says “0 grams” next to “sugar” doesn’t mean there’s no added sugar! Look for any form of sugar (real or artificial) in the ingredient list. If it’s there, it’s out for your Whole30.
When it comes to additives, less is better, but only three are specifically out.
The Whole30 eliminates carrageenan, MSG, and sulfites on the program. Other common additives, like xanthan gum or ascorbic acid, are allowed. Not all additives are “toxic;” acsorbic acid sounds scary, but it’s really just a fancy name for vitamin C. See our Common Additive Cheat Sheet for details.
On the Whole30, Can I Have…
Almond Flour: Yes
Yes, you can have almond flour, coconut flour, tapioca flour, cassava flour and other non-grain-based flours, but it’s context-dependent. You can use it in place of breadcrumbs in your meatballs, to dredge a piece of chicken, or to thicken a sauce or stew. You may not use it for Paleo baking—to make muffins, pancakes, bread, cupcakes, cookies, waffles, biscuits, tortillas, pizza crust, or anything of that nature; nor can you have it in pasta or gnocchi recreations. We call those recipes Sex With Your Pants On (SWYPO) foods, and they are expressly off-limits during your Whole30.
Almond Milk: Read Your Labels
Compliant commercially-produced almond milk is easier to find than ever before, however, the majority will still have sugar and few may even still have carrageenan—rendering those off-limits for your Whole30. If you can’t find a compliant brand, like New Barn Unsweetened, the alternative is to make your own—but remember, no added sweetener!
Tip: Nuts and seeds aren’t your best fat choice, in general, and drinking your food is always less healthy than eating it. So when it comes to almond milk, even if you make your own… we’d rather you just eat the almonds once in a while!
Arrowroot Powder or Tapioca Starch: Yes
These are fine choices as thickeners and can be especially helpful in sauces and gravies. Like almond flour, though, they are not appropriate for use in baked goods.
Bacon: Read your labels
While finding compliant bacon is a lot easier these days, it can still be challenging in many parts of the country (and world!). There are a few Whole30 Approved partners that carry compliant bacon, including Naked Bacon, Pederson’s Natural Farms, and US Wellness Meats, If you are having trouble, check with your local natural foods store, or (even better) ask a local farmer or butcher shop.
Tip: Factory farmed pork is one of the unhealthiest and most mistreated animals in our farming system, and these animals tend to store toxins from their environment and feed in their fat. Since bacon is more fat than meat, that grocery store bacon is really not a healthy food choice.
Bean Sprouts: Yes
The plant part of the bean is fine to eat. The problematic compounds are found in the seed (bean) itself.
Bragg’s Amino Acids: No
Bragg’s Amino Acids are derived from soy, and all forms of soy are out for your Whole30. A great Whole30-compliant substitute, however, is Coconut Secret’s coconut aminos. Tastes just like soy sauce!
Buckwheat falls into the category of plants that we call pseudo-cereals. These products are not botanically grains, but contain compounds that may cause similar problems, which is why we rule them out for your Whole30.
Cacao (100%): Yes
Cacao (or 100% cocoa) is great when used as a savory spice (our Mocha Steak Rub, found in It Starts With Food, is a great example), but you can also feel free to add it to your coffee or tea, or brew it Crio Bru-style. However, we highly discourage mixing cacao with dates, figs, or other fruits to make chocolate-y confections during your program. These only feed your Sugar Dragon, which is the opposite of what you want to do on a Whole30.
Canola Oil: Yes, reluctantly (because sometimes, you have to dine out)
While we don’t think vegetable oils are a healthy choice (understatement of the century), we don’t expressly rule them out on the Whole30. If we did, you’d never be able to eat outside of your own kitchen, because all restaurants use them in cooking. We wanted to create the healthiest program possible, but we also need it to be do-able for those who travel for business or pleasure, or simply want to dine out during the month.
Tip: Eliminate the consumption of vegetable oils at home, even if you’re not on the Whole30, and make sure the rest of your diet is focused on the most nutritious choices possible, especially if you dine out frequently.
While Carob is technically a legume, carob powder is generally made from the pod of the plant and not the seed. Since all of the potentially problematic parts are contained in the seed, it’s A-OK to eat parts of the plant other than the seed during your Whole30.
These “seeds” aren’t the same botanical family of seeds that we eliminate with grains and legumes, so that makes them fine to eat during your Whole30.
Tip: Chia isn’t likely to cause you any serious trouble, but it’s not the omega-3 super-food it’s made out to be, either. We explain why in It Starts With Food, but in summary, chia should be treated like any other nut and consumed in limited quantities.
Chips: Not if they’re store-bought
While we recognize that potatoes are a real food, we also know that eating them in the form of fries and chips has turned them from “produce” into an adulterated commercial “product.” It’s easy to find potato, tortilla, or plantain chips that meet the Whole30 ingredient standards. It is not easy, however, to consume those chips in a way that’s true to the spirit of the Whole30. For most of us, deep-fried, salted, crunchy chips are a bonafide food-with-no-brakes, and fall into that deep, dark area of less-healthy foods with technically compliant ingredients. For that reason, no store-bought chips of any nature (potato, plantain, tortilla, beet… not even kale) on the Whole30. Feel free to roast your own kale, pan-fry your own plantains, or bake your own sweet potato spears at home, however.
Citric acid: Yes
This is a common and acceptable additive in canned or jarred foods, like tomatoes or olives.
Coconut aminos: Yes
This soy sauce substitute is derived from coconut nectar, but brewed (and lightly fermented) with sea salt and water into a savory “umami” flavor. Per this ruling, all coconut aminos are allowed on the program.
Coconut flour: Yes
Yes, you can have coconut flour, almond flour, tapioca flour, and other non-grain-based flours, but it’s context-dependent. You can use it in place of breadcrumbs in your meatballs, to dredge a piece of chicken, or to thicken a sauce or stew. You may not use it for Paleo baking—to make muffins, pancakes, bread, cupcakes, cookies, waffles, biscuits, tortillas, pizza crust, or anything of that nature; nor can you have it in pasta or gnocchi recreations. We call those recipes Sex With Your Pants On foods, and they are expressly off-limits during your Whole30.
Coconut water: Read your labels
Most coconut waters are technically compliant, containing only natural sugars from the coconut. However, some brands add sugar to their ingredients, so read your labels. Anything with added sugar is out for your Whole30.
Tip: Coconut water is essentially a “light” fruit juice. If you’re involved in endurance athletics, work in a profession that leaves you prone to dehydration, or just want a refreshing treat, coconut water can be a fine choice for rehydration. Just don’t let coconut water take the place of plain old water in your daily routine.
Coconut milk yogurt: Read your labels
Most coconut milk yogurt contains added sugar, but there are some plain varieties that would be considered Whole30-compliant, and a source of natural probiotics. Just don’t turn it into a breakfast bowl with dried fruit, shredded coconut, and cacao nibs, m’kay?
Yes, you can have your coffee. You’re welcome. You can drink it black, add unsweetened compliant nutpods, coconut milk, almond milk, or add cinnamon or vanilla beans to the brew. But remember, Whole30 guidelines exclude milk, cream, non-compliant milk substitutes, and added sweeteners—including stevia (more on that below).
Tip: Regarding “Paleo” coffee creamer… sigh. We know there’s a recipe out there where eggs, coconut milk, dates, and some voodoo magic are combined with prayers to create a thick, creamy concoction that can take the place of your cream and sugar (or Coffeemate) and once again transform your undrinkable black coffee into sweet, dreamy caffeine. We REALLY don’t like this, and would encourage you to take a look at why you need this at all. Do you really like coffee, or are you drinking it for the hit of sugary flavor?
“Dark” Chocolate: No
Anything less than 100% cocoa (cacao) is off-limits during your Whole30. Even the really dark chocolate is still candy.
All fruit, including dates, are allowed on your Whole30. They’re a great way to add that hint of sweetness to a sauce (like the Char Siu pork from Well Fed), or to stuff with almonds and wrap in (compliant) bacon as a fancy-schmancy appetizer. But please, no processed date syrup.
Tip: These little sugar bombs pack a big punch—they’re as close to candy as you can get on the Whole30. We recommend against using them as a “treat” to feed your Sugar Dragon.
Flax Seeds: Yes
These “seeds” aren’t the same botanical family of seeds that we eliminate with grains and legumes, so that makes them fine to eat during your Whole30.
Tip: Flax isn’t likely to cause you any serious trouble, but it’s not the omega-3 super-food it’s made out to be, either. We explain why in It Starts With Food, but in summary, flax should be treated like any other nut and consumed in limited quantities.
French Fries: Not if they’re commercially prepared or deep-fried
Ordering fries with your (no bun, no cheese) burger and green salad really misses the point of the Whole30. Fries are the epitome of “food with no brakes,” and anything deep-fried in vegetable oil is a default unhealthy. Make your own potatoes at home using coconut oil, duck fat, or ghee, and baking or roasting them in the oven instead of deep-frying them; or order them baked or mashed (no cheese, sour cream, or butter!) if dining out.
Fruit Juice: Yes
Fruit juice is the only acceptable added sweetener on the Whole30. (We had to draw the line somewhere.) Use it to flavor sauces, soups, or entrees.
Tip: While drinking a glass of fruit juice is technically compliant, we really wouldn’t recommend it, even if you juice it yourself. Juicing strips many of the nutrients out of the fruit, but still leaves all of the sugar. We’d much rather you just eat the fruit.
Guar Gum: Yes
This is a common and acceptable thickener, often found in canned coconut milk.
Green Beans: Yes
The problem with legumes comes when you consume the seed. As with snow peas or sugar snap peas, green beans contain a tiny, immature seed, and a big, green pod. As such, we’re not worried about the potential downsides—and if green beans are the worst thing in your diet, you’re doing okay.
All chewing gums contain some form of added sweeteners (including xylitol) that aren’t acceptable under Whole30 guidelines.
Tip: Chewing sends a message to your body that food is coming. If you spend a lot of time chewing, but not eating, your body is going to get quite confused in its responses. Consider brushing your teeth more frequently or chewing on mint leaves or fennel seeds as a fresh-breath alternative. See our 9 Fresh-Breath Strategies for more ideas.
Hemp Seeds: Yes
See chia and flax.
Traditional hummus is made from garbanzo beans, which are a legume. However, there are some really yummy hummus-like dip recipes out there, like this one from Jennifer at Living Grainlessly.
“Ice Cream”: No
Even if it’s just frozen mashed-up bananas with coconut milk or a cashew milk-based frozen concoction… This. Is. Ice. Cream. Unlike plain frozen fruit, the only purpose of this confection is to replicate the taste, texture and reward sensation of ice cream. (Don’t tell us you’d get the same satisfaction from a frozen banana because we call your bluff.) Plus the addition of cocoa, nut butters, nuts, or other fruits to your creamy concoction… this is straight SWYPO, and it’s off-limits during your Whole30.
Kombucha: Read your labels
We like the probiotic benefits of ‘booch, and we think it makes a fine addition to your Whole30 menu. Just read your labels carefully—sugar listed in the ingredients generally means that it was added after fermentation, and that’s a no-go. Some varieties, like GT Dave’s Enlightened flavors, have fruits and fruit juices added, which are just fine. For the in-depth behind-the-scenes on kombucha, read this.
Larabars: Read your labels, and use with caution
Most (but not all) varieties of Larabars are acceptable during your Whole30, so read your labels. (The Peanut Butter and Jelly bar is out for obvious reasons.)
Tip: We recommend using Larabars as emergency snacks, or fuel during endurance athletics. They’re as close to candy as you can get on the Whole30 (with dates as a binder), so don’t use them to satisfy sugar cravings. Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a Snickers bar and a Larabar!
Mayonnaise: Read your labels
Most commercial mayonnaises contain off-plan ingredients—generally, added sugar. (Even the “olive oil” mayo is mostly soybean oil!) Primal Kitchen offers two wonderful options, the Original and the Chipotle Lime Mayo, but the good news is that making your own compliant mayo is easy! Just read this article.
Mustard: Read your labels
Mustard is a fine choice, just read your labels carefully. French’s Yellow is compliant, but beware your Dijon—it often contains white wine, which rules it out during your Whole30.
Nut “Cheese”: Read your labels, use with caution
Technically, almond “ricotta” or cashew “cheese” dips are allowed on the program, as long as their ingredients are compliant. But as with Larabars or nut butters, USE YOUR BEST JUDGMENT. If you have an unhealthy emotional relationship with cheese, use cheese as a comfort food, or find cheese is a trigger food for other cravings (like wine or crackers), it’s absolutely for the best that you leave these recreations out of your Whole30. It’s only 30 days.
Nutritional Yeast: Yes
Just consider your source carefully and make sure the option you choose is gluten-free.
“Paleo” or Grain-Free Bread: No
What we actually wanted to say here was, “Hell, no.” Buying (or baking) Paleo Bread during your Whole30 is an exercise in missing the point. We’re asking you to change your food habits, here, not just the ingredients. Bread is as SWYPO as it gets, and is still a nutrient-poor food choice, pushing more nutritious foods off your plate. Finally, bread (even if it is made from coconut flour) is the very definition of “food with no brakes!” P.S., this extends to tortillas and coconut flour wraps as well. Just say no, and sandwich your meat in a lettuce leaf, portobello mushroom caps, or toasted sheets of nori instead.
Sometimes, we feel like if we have to have one more conversation about pancakes, we might explode. No, you can’t have pancakes. Yes, even if they’re just bananas and eggs. First, they are explicitly ruled out in the Whole30 program guidelines. This should be enough of a reason, but in case you’re still wondering why (they’re just bananas and eggs!)…
Pancakes in any form do not encourage success with the Whole30 program. Reaching your health goals depends on committing to both the rules and the spirit and intention of the program. The Whole30 is designed to change your relationship with food, first and foremost. And the psychological impact of eating pancakes as part of your healthy eating, life-changing plan cannot be ignored.
Eating eggs, a banana, and some olive oil is not the same as combining those ingredients into a pancake. There are studies that show that how your brain perceives the food influences satiation. This is often cited with liquid food (smoothies or shakes, as we reference in the back of It Starts With Food), but experientially we see this with whole foods as well, depending on how they are combined. Pancakes bring up a totally different psychological response than frying some eggs and eating a banana. And it’s that psychological response that we are trying to target with the program.
You may not have an affinity for pancakes, but we find that most people who complete our program do best without any of these comfort/trigger/reminiscent-of-the-SAD-stuff-you-used-to-eat foods. So, because we need to create one program that applies to as many people as possible, we rule these Paleo recreations out. In our vast experience, this sets everyone up for the best Whole30success possible. And, of course, what you choose to do after your 30 days are up is entirely up to you.
Pasta: Not unless it’s 100% veggies
Zucchini noodles (“zoodles”) or sweet potato noodles are a fun way to eat your veggies. (In this case, “noodles” just represents the shape, not the taste, texture, or flavor.) But pasta recreations that use alternative flours (like Trader Joe’s gnocchi) are specifically designed to replicate the taste, texture, and flavor of real pasta–and this is a “no” under the SWYPO rule. Read your labels; if there is any form of flour or starch (like cassava, potato, or coconut) used in the pasta, it’s out for your Whole30.
We changed the official Whole30 rules in August 2014 to include all varieties of potatoes—white, red, Yukon gold, purple, fingerling, baby, sweet potatoes, yams, etc. Feel free to boil, bake, roast, pan-fry, grill, microwave, or steam them, but no store-bought potato chips or restaurant French fries; that’s completely against the spirit of the Whole30.
Tip: White potatoes pack a whole lot of energy into a relatively small package. If you’re overweight, insulin-resistant or otherwise metabolically challenged, and not very active, you don’t need a lot of extra energy on your daily plate. If this is your context, use white potatoes sparingly in your Whole30 meal plan, if at all. Plus, if you eat mashed potatoes with every dinner, you’ll miss out on a world of colorful, nutrient-dense vegetables to explore. Bust out of your potato rut and discover a newfound love of Brussels sprouts, asparagus, or kale!
Protein Shakes: Almost Always No
Almost all protein powders (like whey, casein, soy, or pea) contain off-limit ingredients. Besides, anything you can get from protein powder (except maybe chemical extractives, added sweeteners and strange-sounding isolates) you can get from whole foods during your Whole30. In addition, formulated and processed meal-replacement shakes like Shakeology or Visalus are always off-limits. These products don’t even come close to our definition of real, whole food—and they’re packed with off-plan ingredients like pea protein and stevia.
However, protein powder from approved ingredients like 100% egg white or 100% grass-fed collagen peptides are allowed on the Whole30, provided they contain no sweeteners. As always, though, liquid food is still not encouraged. Got it?
Tip: We want you to spend a month learning to appreciate real food, how it tastes, the work it takes to prepare, and how it works in your body. You can have your shaker cup back in 30 days; for now, focus on starchy veggies and lean protein after a workout. Hard-boiled eggs, compliant deli meat, smoked salmon, or tuna are easy, portable protein sources to take with you to the gym.
Quinoa is another one of those pseudo-cereals. While it might not technically be considered a grain, it contains properties that could be similarly problematic to your body, which makes it off-limits for your Whole30. The same guideline applies to buckwheat, amaranth, and other gluten-free grain substitutes.
Safflower/Sunflower Oil: Yes
While we don’t think vegetable oils are a healthy choice (understatement of the century), we don’t expressly rule them out on the Whole30. If we did, you’d never be able to eat outside of your own kitchen, because all restaurants use them in cooking. We wanted to create the healthiest program possible, but we also need it to be do-able for those who travel for business or pleasure, or simply want to dine out during the month. Ideally, you’re using high-oleic saafflower or sunflower oil; these actually have a pretty favorable fat profile, similar to extra-virgin olive oil.
First, salt makes your food delicious. Second, when you cut out processed and packaged foods, you remove the vast majority of sodium from your diet. Adding salt to your Whole30 plate won’t push you over reasonable sodium limits, and if you avoid salt altogether, you run the risk of an electrolyte imbalance (not to mention serious food boredom). We encourage a mix of iodized table salt and sea salt.
Tip: Did you know that all iodized table salt contains sugar? Sugar (often in the form of dextrose) is chemically essential to keep the potassium iodide from oxidizing and being lost. But remember, salt is an exception to the Whole30 “no added sugar” rules. Without this exception, you’d never be able to eat outside of your own home, because iodized table salt is added to all restaurant and pre-packaged foods.
Smoothies: We’d rather you didn’t
This is a very popular question, with a very unpopular answer. Smoothies (generally made using lots of fruit) are technically compliant on your Whole30, but we strongly recommend against it. Food that you drink sends different satiety signals to your brain than food that you chew. So when you drink your meal, your brain isn’t getting the feedback it needs to tell your body that it’s had enough of what it needs. Plus, smoothies are generally really fruit-heavy, and starting your day off with a liquid sugar-bomb sets you up for cravings, hunger, and volatile energy levels throughout the day. In summary, we’d rather you just eat the food, and skip the smoothie.
Snap/Snow Peas: Yes
Snow peas (and snap peas, and green beans, and romano beans) are fine during your Whole30 – even though they’re botanically legumes. The problem with legumes comes when you consume the seed. Snow peas contain a tiny, immature seed, and a big, green pod. As such, we’re not worried about the potential downsides of consuming these “veggies.”
Stevia Leaf: No
While it’s not highly processed like its liquid or powdery cousins, the only purpose of stevia leaf is to sweeten something that was not already sweet. This is something we want you to avoid during your Whole30. Instead, learn to appreciate the natural flavors of your foods, and don’t rely on sweet tastes to prop up sugar cravings.
Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. Sesame seeds are compliant with the Whole30 program, so tahini paste is too, if all the other ingredients in the paste are compliant.
Vanilla Extract and Other Botanical Extracts: Yes
Alcohol-based botanical extracts (like vanilla, lemon or rosemary) are allowed during your Whole30 program. These extracts are used to boost flavor in food and beverages and also to preserve certain food products, like meat.
Water Kefir: Yes
Following the same logic as kombucha, we’re okay with water kefir. If you’re making it yourself, do what you can to ensure that the sugar is used by the bacteria (appropriate fermentation time). If you’re buying, avoid those brands with added sugar in the ingredients list.
Header images courtesy of Mel Joulwan and Paleo Spirit.