What is the cabbage soup diet?
Can something as simple as cabbage soup help you lose weight? We look at how the diet works, its basic steps and possible drawbacks.
What is the cabbage soup diet?
The cabbage soup diet has been around for some time and is believed to be a popular and quick way to lose weight. Advocates say it can help you lose up to 4.5kg (10 pounds) in a week. However, nutritionists are quick to point out this is mostly water and may be easily re-gained once you resume a more balanced way of eating.
How does the cabbage soup diet work?
Simply put, the cabbage soup diet is a calorie-restricted plan that’s low in fat and high in fibre. The aim of the diet is to restrict calories by limiting the foods you eat while filling up on fibre-rich soups. Daily calorie intake is estimated to be about 1000-1200kcal per day over the seven days of the programme.
How to follow the cabbage soup diet
This diet is designed to be followed for a maximum of seven days and should not be considered a long-term eating plan. It consists of homemade cabbage soup, along with specified low-calorie foods such as fruit, vegetables and skimmed milk.
What foods are allowed on the cabbage soup diet?
A number of variations on the cabbage soup recipe have been published, but most include white cabbage, onions, tomatoes or tomato juice, celery and carrots. Loosely speaking, you can consume unlimited cabbage soup along with the following:
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- Day 1: cabbage soup and raw fruit, but no bananas
- Day 2: cabbage soup and leafy green vegetables, raw or cooked, but no potatoes
- Day 3: cabbage soup and as many fruits and vegetables as you can eat, but no potatoes or bananas
- Day 4: cabbage soup, skimmed milk, and as many as 8 bananas
- Day 5: cabbage soup, 280-565g lean beef or chicken (skinless) and tomatoes (up to six)
- Day 6: cabbage soup, unlimited beef and green leafy vegetables
- Day 7: cabbage soup, brown rice, unsweetened fruit juice
What foods are avoided on the cabbage soup diet?
As outlined above, carb-rich foods as well as high-fat foods are restricted on this plan. The programme is limited and prescriptive, only allowing specified foods on certain days.
What’s the evidence for the cabbage soup diet?
Although studies suggest those who eat soup regularly enjoy healthier weight and a nutritionally balanced diet, there are currently no randomised clinical trials to support the efficacy of the cabbage soup diet. Although one study showed the cabbage soup diet was cited as a high-satiety, low-calorie plan.
Can the cabbage soup diet aid weight loss?
If you follow this seven-day diet, you are likely to see a difference on the scales but this will mostly be fluid changes. It’s not possible to lose the cited 4.5kg as body fat in just seven days. Furthermore, when you severely restrict calories, your body responds by lowering your metabolic rate and reducing the calories you burn per day. This may present issues for your longer-term weight management.
Is the cabbage soup diet healthy? Our nutritionist’s view...
The cabbage soup diet is designed to be followed for a period of seven days only, it is a highly restrictive diet and as such may cause some people to become light-headed and/or dizzy due to its low-calorie content. It’s also unlikely to provide all of your nutritional needs, for example, the low levels of fat may hinder your absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Given the limited range of food and calories you can consume, you are likely to lose weight at a quicker rate than generally recommended. However, when you return to eating regularly, the weight you may have lost is likely to return. Suffice to say, the cabbage soup diet is not balanced, healthy or sustainable, and is not the answer for long-term weight management.
Finally, as cabbage is a member of the brassica family, eating it regularly and in quantity may cause some people to experience mild digestive discomfort, including bloating and flatulence.
Who should not follow the cabbage soup diet?
Diabetics and anyone with a blood sugar management issue should discuss the potential implications with their GP and healthcare team before embarking on such a regime. Similarly, anyone who meets one or more of these criteria:
- is under 18 years old or elderly
- has a pre-existing medical condition, including heart disease
- are pregnant or breastfeeding
- has or are recovering from an eating disorder
- or are on prescribed medication
Please note: if you're considering attempting any form of diet, please consult your GP first to ensure you can do so without risk to your health.
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This article was reviewed on the 9 November 2023 by Kerry Torrens, Registered Nutritionist.
Emer Delaney BSc (Hons), RD has an honours degree in human nutrition and dietetics from the University of Ulster. She has worked as a dietitian in some of London’s top teaching hospitals and is currently based in Chelsea.
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