by Rachael Link, MS, RD
If you’re looking to lose weight, the premise of the cabbage soup diet can be pretty appealing. Proponents of the diet claim that you can drop anywhere up to 10 pounds in a single week by simply swapping your regular foods for ample amounts of cabbage soup, fruits and vegetables.
Like other fad diets, it’s designed to provide short-term results without a long-term commitment for those seeking to achieve fast weight loss with minimal effort required. It’s also easier to follow than many traditional diets, with simple guidelines that specify exactly which foods are okay on each day and which foods should be nixed altogether.
However, it’s been the center of a good amount of controversy; while some tout it as super effective, others claim that it doesn’t produce long-lasting results, can be overly restrictive and is downright unhealthy.
So does the cabbage soup diet work? And should you give it a shot or or opt for another diet plan to lose weight instead? Here’s what you need to know.
What Is the Cabbage Soup Diet?
The cabbage soup diet plan is a low-fat, high-fiber diet that involves eating cabbage weight loss soup at least once per day for a week. On each day, other specific foods are also allowed, including fruits, vegetables (highlighted by cabbage, of course), milk and meat.
Like other low calorie diets, the cabbage soup diet promises quick weight loss, with some variations claiming that dieters can expect to lose between 10–17 pounds in just one week by simply switching up what they’re putting on their plate.
The diet goes by many other names, including the Model’s Diet, Mayo Clinic Cabbage Soup Diet, Sacred Heart Hospital Diet and the Spokane Diet. Interestingly enough, however, it actually has no association with institutions like Mayo Clinic or Sacred Heart Hospital.
Although its true origins are unclear, it’s believed to have originated around the 1950s. Some claim that it may be even older, noting that recipes like Doughboy Cabbage Soup were commonly consumed during World War I when soldiers had few other vegetables available.
In the 1980s, the diet gained rapid popularity and was commonly touted as a diet used by models, stewardesses and celebrities alike to keep their figures in check and spur quick weight loss. It was later even claimed to be used by health organizations to help overweight patients lose weight and prepare for surgery.
Keep in mind that there is no reliable evidence that these claims are true. It has, however, become a popular diet for those looking to drop weight fast and not worry about meticulously counting calories or macronutrients. Here’s how the cabbage soup diet works:
Eat only cabbage soup and fruit all day, except for bananas, which are put on the chopping block on this diet.
Eat only cabbage soup and diced vegetables all day, especially root vegetables. Avoid corn, beans and fruit. As an indulgence, you can end the day with a baked potato and butter.
Eat unlimited cabbage soup, fruits and green vegetables (excluding potatoes) all day. Do not eat any starchy veggies, such as beets, yams, carrots, corn and peas.
Eat cabbage soup, bananas and skim milk. This day is supposed to decrease the desire for sweets.
Eat cabbage soup (at least once) with beef and vegetables.
Eat cabbage soup (at least once) with brown rice, unsweetened fruit juices and vegetables.
5 Benefits of the Cabbage Soup Diet
1. Aids in Weight Loss
There’s no doubt that following the cabbage soup diet results in weight loss. Limiting your diet to just cabbage soup with a few fruits, vegetables and other low-calorie foods sprinkled in can significantly slash your caloric intake, helping you drop weight quickly.
It’s estimated that following a weight loss cabbage soup diet provides around 1,000 calories per day, which is much lower than your daily caloric needs. Of course, how many calories in cabbage soup can vary widely; it depends on your portion sizes, what ingredients you’re adding to your soup, plus which other foods you choose to pair it with.
Keep in mind that much of this rapid weight loss may be due to water weight loss versus true fat loss. Not only that, but dropping weight quickly can also lead to weight regain after resuming a normal diet, especially if your regular diet is unhealthy or high in calories.
2. High in Fiber
Filled with high-fiber foods such as cabbage, brown rice, fruits and vegetables, you’re bound to get a hearty dose of fiber while following this diet. Fiber moves through the body undigested, supporting satiety and promoting regularity. Not only can upping your intake of fiber help keep you feeling satisfied to reduce your overall intake, but it has also been linked with other benefits, such as better blood sugar control and lower cholesterol levels. (1, 2)
A single 1/2-cup serving of shredded cooked cabbage can knock out up to 6 percent of your daily fiber needs. (3) Pairing your cabbage soup with other fiber-rich fruits and veggies makes it super simple to meet (and exceed) your fiber requirement each day.
3. Cabbage is Rich in Nutrients
Nutritionally speaking, cabbage is one of the best foods that you can add to your diet, and it’s a staple on the cabbage soup diet. Each serving packs in tons of fiber and free radical-fighting antioxidants, plus micronutrients like vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and folate. (3)
Not only that, but cruciferous vegetables like cabbage have been tied to tons of health benefits. Studies show that a higher intake of cruciferous veggies may be associated with a lower risk of cancer, less inflammation and even a decreased risk of death from heart disease. (4, 5, 6)
4. Promotes Detoxification
Cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables are well-known for their multitude of health-promoting properties, especially when it comes to liver health. Your liver is one of the most hard-working organs in your body, working tirelessly to filter out toxins and keep you feeling healthy.
Cruciferous vegetables contain a compound called glucosinolate, which can help stimulate the production of enzymes in the liver that aid in detoxification. (7) Increasing your intake of cabbage can provide you with a good amount of glucosinolates, helping to promote proper detoxification, improve liver function and enhance overall health.
5. Easy to Follow
If you’ve ever gone on a diet, you are probably well-aware of just how challenging it can be. There are plenty of diets out there that require you to diligently track every single thing that you eat and then painstakingly translate it all into points, grams or calories. Not only can it be exhausting, but it can tank motivation levels and decrease the chances of success.
The cabbage soup diet is different from many other fad diets because it’s simple, easy to follow and requires minimal amounts of work, effort or nutritional knowledge. The diet plan lays out exactly which foods you should eat and which foods you should skip, without placing strict limits or restrictions on portion sizes and quantities. This makes it an especially appealing option for dieters who may have tried and failed at other more restrictive diets.
Cabbage Soup Diet Recommendations + Precautions
The cabbage soup diet doesn’t allow for much variety and offers very limited choices, which can leave you feeling unsatisfied and bored. Additionally, while it can definitely help you lose weight fast, much of the weight loss will actually come from water weight rather than fat loss. This means that after resuming your regular diet, you’re very likely to gain back some of the weight that you initially lost.
The diet is also intended to be only for short-term use. Because there is little variety in the diet, it doesn’t provide a broad array of vitamins and minerals and can even leave you with some nutritional deficiencies if you decide to follow the cabbage soup diet for a month or longer. After finishing a one-week cycle of the diet, it’s generally recommended to wait a few weeks before starting again to ensure that you’re getting the nutrients you need from your regular diet.
The soup can also be high in sodium, which may be a problem for those with high blood pressure or following a low-sodium diet. Cabbage is also very high in vitamin K, which may interfere with blood thinners such as warfarin. If you have any underlying medical conditions such as heart problems or diabetes, it’s best to consult with your doctor or dietitian before starting the cabbage soup diet to make sure it’s safe for you.
If you do decide to try the cabbage soup diet, it should be paired with a nutritious, well-rounded diet to help enhance overall health, promote good eating habits and meet your nutritional needs.
Recommended Serving Sizes
Although the cabbage soup diet is very lax when it comes to portion sizes, it’s best to keep your intake in check if you’re looking to lose weight and stay healthy. Overdoing it on the cabbage soup can skyrocket your sodium intake, plus contribute to digestive distress and even flatulence.
Stick to around two cups of soup per meal and be sure to moderate your intake of other foods on the diet as well. The standard serving size for meats, for example, is around 3-4 ounces and 1/2 cup of brown rice is considered a single portion. Other foods like bananas are super healthy, but moderation is key; eating 10 bananas per day, for example, can actually throw levels of potassium totally out of whack and cause an electrolyte imbalance.
Enjoy a good variety of foods (as permitted) in normal portion sizes to get in a wide range of nutrients and prevent some of the problems that may come with excess intake.
How to Properly Transition
The cabbage soup diet is intended to be a short-term diet used for up to one week at a time. To maximize the health benefits, it should also be combined with a well-rounded diet filled with whole foods and with minimal amounts of ultra-processed foods, refined carbs and high-sugar snacks.
When coming off the diet, it’s best to return to your regular diet slowly. Gradually increase your intake over a few days and be sure to stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Additionally, be sure to practice mindful eating — listen to your body, pay attention to hunger cues and stop eating when you feel satisfied.
Here are some healthy, nutrient-dense foods that you can add to your regular diet that can help support both weight loss and overall health:
- Meat, poultry and seafood
- Whole grain products: quinoa, oats, brown rice, barley, etc.
- Vegetables: broccoli, carrots, kale, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.
- Fruits: apples, bananas, oranges, pears, etc.
- Dairy products: raw yogurt, ghee, grass-fed butter, cottage cheese, etc.
- Bone broth
Best Cabbage Soup Recipes
Wondering how to make cabbage soup that is equally nutritious and delicious? Fortunately, there are plenty of healthy cabbage recipes out there that can satisfy just about any palate. Here are a few easy cabbage soup diet recipe ideas to get you started:
- The cabbage soup diet is a popular weight loss method that involves eating a few servings of low calorie soup per day paired with other foods like fruits and vegetables.
- There are plenty of recipes available, and it just takes a little experimentation to find the best cabbage soup recipe for your palate.
- The cabbage diet is low in calories, high in fiber and easy to follow, meaning it can result in short-term weight loss. Cabbage is also high in many important nutrients, can aid in detoxification and has been associated with a variety of health benefits.
- However, the diet is extremely limited and can actually cause health problems and nutritional deficiencies if followed long-term. It may also not produce long-lasting weight loss, especially after returning to a normal diet.
- If you do decide to follow the cabbage soup diet, be sure to only use it short-term, consult with your doctor if you have any health problems and couple it with an otherwise balanced and healthy diet.