Book Review

It Starts With Food: A Critical Review Introduction

I am going to fact check the claims made in It Starts With Food by reviewing all 450+ citations provided by the authors. Got your attention? Good, keep reading.

That Was Then

I was introduced to the Whole30 by way of my CrossFit gym (yes, I’m a cult member. Leave me be!). Like many other CrossFit gyms, they offered a paleo-centric nutrition program. For the program, you had to read through the Whole30’s book, It Starts With Food (ISWF), as well as various other texts about the importance of sleep, nutrition, etc. The program lasted 60 days and was a stricter version of what is prescribed by ISWF. On the traditional program, they essentially get you down to eating meat, veggies, fruits, and nuts for 30 days. At my Crossfit gym, we got down to eating meat, veggies, and some nuts during weeks 6-8. It was tough. The purpose of the program was three-fold:

  1. Have people foster a healthy relationship with food
  2. Break bad food habits/cravings
  3. Get participants to eat healthier

My friends that were on it lost a ton of weight. The average weight loss for men seemed to be about 30 lbs. (13.6 kg) over two months granted some of this would have been water weight loss due to the low carb nature of the diet. People felt great, they slept better and talked about how much more energy they had. I even saw improvements in some of my metabolic markers.

Authors’ Note

This will be brief. In the previous 2012 version of ISWF you were not allowed to consume white potatoes or table salt.

White potatoes had been previously excluded because “because people like to eat them in the form of fries and chips”. The Hartwig’s admitted their exclusion was pretty arbitrary and that potatoes are nutrient dense veggies. They do suggest that you should limit your intake if you are “metabolically challenged, and not very active” as potatoes contain a lot of energy. They could have added that this also applied to sweet potatoes, as both types of potatoes contain the same amount of carbohydrate per 100 gram serving [1,2].

For more reading on the differences between sweet and regular potatoes, check out the blow article at Precision Nutrition. 

Chapter 1: Food Should Make You Healthy

Covering this chapter will be somewhat brief as there was only 1 citation. The rest of the chapter was a short intro to the program and the story of the Hartwig’s journey back to health using the Whole30. There are many anecdotes littered throughout the text that I will not be covering as they are irrelevant to reviewing the science behind ISWF. Anecdotes can be a powerful mechanism for persuading people but as the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is not data.


“The food you eat either makes you more healthy or less healthy. Those are your options.”

In the foods they consider to be "less healthy" we have alcohol, added sugars, grains, legumes, and dairy. At first glance, this seems to be pretty black and white, disregarding the effect that dose will play. Water is a good example of this. Everyone knows water is "more healthy" when ingested in moderate doses and there is a clear benefit (like staying alive). But if you were to chug 6+ liters at once you begin to see signs of harm like dilutional hyponatremia or death [2-4]. I’d say death is pretty harmful. Since future chapters take a look at each of these foods in depth, that’s all I'll say about that for now.