There is no shortage of diets out there that promise rapid weight loss, as long as you follow a set of rigid food guidelines — like the carnivore diet, the boiled egg diet, or the potato diet. The soup diet is yet another strict eating plan that’s getting a lot of buzz recently. So what can you eat on the soup diet? Is it healthy? And does the soup diet actually help with weight loss? Here’s what the experts say.
What Is the Soup Diet?
There are a few different versions of the soup diet floating around. The most common one is the cabbage soup diet, which gained popularity in the 1960s and involved eating cabbage soup — and not much else — for at least a week.
Because it’s so restrictive, you might lose a few pounds — but like all crash diets, it’s not going to be sustainable long-term.
“It is easy to estimate a calorie intake of less than 1,200 calories a day while on this soup diet,” says Maleah Staton, RDN, LD. And while the number of calories you need to eat to lose weight varies from person to person, most people need to eat more than that each day to get the daily recommended amount of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients.
A less restrictive version of the soup diet has gained popularity recently, thanks to Michael Greger, MD, author of the very subtly titled book How Not to Die. Greger’s version is based around a specific recipe for bean soup, with the rest of your calories coming from other plant-based foods.
“This soup diet is basically a plant-based vegan diet that recommends eating up to two servings of a hearty vegetable bean soup per day as your main meal, with the rest of your daily intake coming from unlimited amounts of oil-free, unprocessed, whole plant foods,” says Krista Maguire, RD, CSSD, and Nutrition Manager for Openfit.
Is the Soup Diet Healthy?
It’s not a good idea to limit your food intake to only soup. The more flexible version of the soup diet is slightly better, but it’s still too restrictive to be sustainable.
“I think this diet is unhealthy,” Staton says. “There are far more healthy and enjoyable ways to reduce calorie intake and lose weight.”
However, eating a lot of plant-based foods, like the soup diet recommends, is definitely a healthy habit to get into. And research has linked soup consumption to lower body weight, lower waist circumference, and better overall diet quality.
“The benefit of this diet is that it’s filled with so many nutrient-dense foods that have been shown to provide myriad health benefits,” Maguire says. However, she notes that you need to make sure you’re eating enough to meet your nutrient needs: “This diet would need to be supplemented with B12 and, if your doctor agrees, possibly vitamin D, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and iron,” she adds.
Can You Lose Weight With the Soup Diet?
Probably — but it’ll be short-term.
“You can lose weight on the soup diet mainly because you’re eating a lot of low-calorie foods that are filled with water and fiber that help fill you up without restricting portions,” Maguire says. And foods that are high in water content have been linked to fewer total daily calories consumed.
Your best bet is to make soup a part of your healthy eating plan — but not just soup. “As long as you eat an appropriate amount of food in addition to the soup, then you could lose weight at a healthy rate,” Maguire says.
Are There Any Limitations on the Soup Diet?
It depends on which version of the soup diet you’re following.
With the cabbage soup diet (and similar versions), you’re eating soup and not much else — even fruits and veggies are restricted in this plan. And some versions of the diet resemble a vegan diet, which may be a challenge if you’re not already vegan.
“It may limit the things you can choose from when eating out,” Maguire says. “And of course, if you’re eating soup one to two meals a day, then that limits the number of other eating opportunities to add more variety in your diet.”
And the fact that different versions of the soup diet vary so widely should raise some red flags. “There is a lot of room for interpretation, which doesn’t bode well for its credibility,” says Staton.
What Types of Soup Are the Healthiest?
Just say no to soup diets that are only made of one ingredient.
Instead, look for soups “with a solid protein source (chicken, tuna, beans, lentils, etc), vegetables, and an appropriate carbohydrate source,” says Staton. “Extra points for choosing packaged soups with low sodium and adding extra veggies for fiber.”
Gregor’s soup recipe fits that description, Maguire says, because it has “a great mix of different veggies, beans, and spices that provide nourishment with minimal calories and lots of flavor.”
Try to steer clear of cream-based or butter-based soups, which are higher in calories than broth-based soups. If you crave a creamier soup, Maguire recommends using soaked cashews or nondairy milk to help thicken it. “In addition, starchy veggies like pumpkin, butternut squash, potato, and peas lend a nice thick consistency as a pureed soup,” she says.
The Bottom Line on The Soup Diet
The soup diet is a crash diet that works only because it severely restricts calories. Sure, you might notice weight loss if you eat nothing but soup for a week — but don’t expect lasting results. “The weight that you lose while following a soup diet would not be healthy weight lost,” Staton says. “You are very likely to gain it right back when you start eating solid, more calorie-dense foods again.” So nix the super-restrictive soup diets, and just get in the habit of eating more plant-based foods and broth-based soups.