If you’re trying to lose weight fast, the reputation of the seven-day cabbage soup diet can make it pretty alluring. Proponents claim you can shed 10-plus pounds in a week by eating cabbage soup and select fruits and vegetables — without feeling hungry during any of those seven days.
Whether you think that sounds too good to be true, or you’ve been looking for scientific support for your (frankly weird) cabbage obsession, this post is for you. Read on to find out if the cabbage soup diet is a short-term solution to your upcoming bikini or cocktail dress dilemma — or if it’s full of soup.
What Is the Cabbage Soup Diet?
The seven-day cabbage soup diet is built on the premise that you can eat unlimited amounts of vegetable soup, and lose weight without feeling hungry. Some claim it’s among the oldest fad diets, having truly skyrocketed to fame in the ’90s thanks to coverage in magazines like Cosmo and GQ. But its true origins are murky.
One version of the diet’s history points to its roots as a regimen for overweight patients in the cardiac ward of a Spokane hospital — but that hospital doesn’t actually exist. Elsewhere it’s been referred to as the American Heart Association Cabbage Soup Diet and the Mayo Clinic Diet even though it’s not endorsed by either (or any accredited) organization.
Regardless of where it came from, people looking for a quick drop in lbs. have been slurping cabbage soup alongside its handful of other permitted foods for decades now, making its results secondary to its legend.
How Does the Cabbage Soup Diet Work?
The cabbage soup diet’s strategy for weight loss lies in its emphasis on low-calorie, high-volume foods. At the center of the diet’s seven-day meal plan? You guessed it: cabbage soup. And you can eat as much of it as you want. (Yay?)
The soup itself is a basic broth-and-cabbage setup typically containing onion, green pepper, tomato, celery, and carrot for an energy count of about 66 calories per cup. In addition to the soup, you’re allowed one or two fruits and/or vegetables every day — specific to that day — which are theoretically chosen to help you shed fat.
What Can You Eat on the Cabbage Soup Diet?
In addition to all of the cabbage soup you can shovel in your gullet, the diet allows for a rotating selection of specific fruits and vegetables. Bread, alcohol, and sweetened drinks — included diet soda — are prohibited, but coffee and tea are unlimited.
7-Day Cabbage Soup Diet Plan
Day 1: Unlimited cabbage soup and unlimited fruit, except bananas.
Day 2: Unlimited cabbage soup and unlimited vegetables (raw or cooked), especially leafy greens, but not corn, peas, or beans. At dinner, add one baked potato with butter.
Day 3: Unlimited cabbage soup and unlimited fruit and vegetables, except bananas, corn, peas, and beans.
Day 4: Unlimited cabbage soup and 3-8 bananas. Drink an unlimited amount of skim milk.
Day 5: Unlimited cabbage soup, 10-20 ounces of beef, and up to six fresh tomatoes. Drink 6-8 glasses of water to flush extra uric acid from the body.
Day 6: Unlimited cabbage soup and unlimited beef and vegetables, but no baked potato.
Day 7: Unlimited cabbage soup, and unlimited brown rice and vegetables. Drink an unlimited amount of unsweetened fruit juice.
Also: Make sure to drink at least four glasses of water per day (ideally more). And take a multivitamin to compensate for the nutrients you’re missing.
Does the Cabbage Soup Diet Work?
If you define “work” as the immediate loss of pounds regardless of their quality, “you will most likely lose weight,” Openfit nutrition manager Krista Maguire, R.D., C.S.S.D. says. Wisconsin-based chef and nutritionist Julie Andrews, R.D.N. agrees: “The calorie level on this diet is so low — likely less than 1,000 calories. So you will lose weight.”
Of course that weight loss comes with a “but”: it will mostly be water, likely with some fat and muscle. Maguire says she’s never seen any scientific evidence to support the longer-term efficacy of the diet, or to explain how the specific foods it prescribes “synergistically promote weight loss.” Science also has yet to prove that this meal plan is better for weight loss than any other diet.
Both nutritionists also agree that the majority of people who crash-diet like this will just end up gaining that weight back. Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence, especially from back in the diet’s ’90s heyday, suggests it can help you lose upwards of 10 pounds in just one week; more if you’re obese, and less if you’re already at a healthy weight. But that’s just basic math. Eat at a severe deficit and you’ll lose weight. Whether that’s a smart way to go about it is another topic.
Are There Risks to Following the Cabbage Soup Diet?
Andrews explains that any low-calorie diet comes with a standard inventory of side effects, including possible irritability, lightheadedness, dizziness, lethargy, lack of focus, and/or downright exhaustion. And because you’re excluding whole food groups, the cabbage soup diet lacks a diversity of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, which is why taking a daily multivitamin is a good idea, Maguire adds.
Limiting your calories for seven days won’t wreak long-term havoc on your body. But Andrews points out that “most people who subscribe to crash diets have done them before and will do more of them rather than adopting a healthy lifestyle that is balanced and sustainable.”
And going down that rabbit hole of quick fixes and yo-yo dieting can harm your metabolism and relationship with food. So the cabbage soup diet should only be used as an occasional slim-down or means to jumpstart a healthier, sustainable diet plan filled with more vegetables and fruits, fewer processed foods, adequate protein, and fiber.
Who Is the Cabbage Soup Diet For?
Andrews and Maguire agree that diabetics should skip the cabbage soup diet. And anyone with a serious health condition should talk to their doctor before trying it.
Maguire adds that the diet isn’t recommended for people with a history of disordered eating, those on a fluid-restricted diet, or anyone dealing with flatulence or gastrointestinal issues, since cabbage is a cruciferous veggie and tends to promote gas.
But for otherwise healthy people, Maguire and Andrews agree that following this low-calorie diet likely won’t affect you long term.
A few other perks of the cabbage soup diet: it’s super affordable since the ingredients are pretty cheap, and it’s easy to prep. Just make a big batch of soup to start the week and stock up on the daily fruits and vegetables. Plus, while you’re choosing from a super-limited pool of foods, you get to eat as much as you want, which should stem the gnawing hunger that often accompanies fad diets, Maguire points out.
Health Benefits of Eating Cabbage
Part of the brassica family, which includes veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, and kale, cabbage is often called a “negative-calorie” food. The term is reserved for foods that theoretically require more energy to digest than they provide. But that’s not actually a thing, Maguire says.
Cabbage is super low in calories, however — one cup boasts just 22 energy units. It’s also packed with nutrients: One cup of raw, green cabbage contains a ton of vitamins K and C, as well as small amounts of folate and vitamin B6 — both of which are important for regulating your metabolism and nervous system. It also boasts manganese, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Plus, according to a 2017 revs sew in the journal Functional Foods in Health and Disease, cabbage has anti-inflammatory properties that promote healthy blood sugar levels and fat metabolism.
The recipes generally used for the cabbage soup itself are also high in water and fiber. According to landmark research from Dr. Barbara Roll, such foods help you feel fuller and more satisfied despite a low-calorie diet, Maguire points out.
Cabbage Soup Diet Recipe
There’s not a single agreed-upon recipe for the diet. In part because it has no definitive origin, and also because the soup can be pretty bland. So variations are always trying to make the recipe more exciting and filling without upping the calories. But the most common version goes as follows.
- 2 large yellow or white onions
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves
- 2 green peppers
- 1 or 2 cans of tomatoes (diced or whole)
- 3 carrots
- 10 oz. mushrooms
- 1 bunch of celery
- Half a head of cabbage
- 48 oz. Low-Sodium V8 juice (optional)
Cut vegetables into small pieces and cover with water and V-8, if using, in a large pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add parsley, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne and curry powders, black pepper, or any other zero-calorie herbs to taste.