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The verdict is in. Juicing is out and souping is the new trend your friends and their waistlines will be raving about. The concept is similar to a juice fast, but instead, you’re eating soup. It sounds like a simple trade, but the two are pretty different.
You can find most soup cleanses premade online through companies like Soupure, the Splendid Spoon, and others. The options and outcomes depend on the plan you choose. Some last a week, some last a day, but nearly all companies promise renewed vitality, more energy, and potential weight loss — most of the soups are vegetable-based and very high in fiber.
“The nice thing about soup is it’s real food. It’s satisfying,” explains Nicole Centeno, CEO and founder of the Brooklyn-based Splendid Spoon. “No one should be drinking fiber-free juices all day.” Hence, her decision to launch her own gluten-free line of plant-based soups.
“From a nutrition standpoint, [reducing meat intake is] one of the simplest ways to improve your health across a variety of body types,” she notes. “I also wanted a business I felt proud of and I wanted to reduce our footprint on the earth.”
Many people do cleanses as a way to atone after a stint of unhealthy eating — say, after a vacation, a birthday weekend, or a simple period of bad habits. While this is normal to some extent (hello, annual New Year’s fitness resolutions), it needs to be done the right way.
“There’s a very human desire to refine or reset our diets, to make up for eating that big piece of chocolate cake at a birthday party,” explains Centeno. “I don’t agree with all the judgement we have of ourselves, but a soup cleanse is not punishing. It helps you slow down and become more accepting of the balance that comes with food.”
Paul Salter, a dietitian, weight maintenance expert, and the former Nutrition Editor for Bodybuilding.com, has some reservations about the concept of soup cleansing if it’s done for longer than one day. “I’m big on moderation and sustainability, and I don’t think a cleanse is ideal if it’s longer than 24 hours. Anything beyond that puts you at risk for nutrient deficiency.”
Salter also fears that exclusively eating soups could promote binge eating after the cleanse is complete. “Soup is phenomenal, but trying to push it for more than 24 hours will cause more harm than good in the long run. Ultimately someone is going to break, and [potentially] binge. Especially if they’re doing a cleanse that lacks a large quantity of protein,” he says. Fasting
For this reason, it’s important to read the labels on the soups you’ve ordered to confirm that you’ll get adequate amounts of protein, fats, calories, and carbs. Salter notes that pure vegetables will probably lack protein, potentially leaving you feeling “horrible.” If you’re dead set on doing a longer soup cleanse, he suggests making your own soups so “you have full control of what you’re putting in your body.”
Evidence of soup cleanses
“Souping” is a new juicing, but like juicing, there’s minimal research about the benefits. While eating soup may technically be healthier than juicing, it’s hard to determine if you’re getting the daily nutrients, vitamins, and calorie intake you need.
Because many cleansing soups are made up primarily of vegetables and plant-based fats, you’ll probably be consuming more fiber than your body is accustomed to. “That means you might be going to the bathroom more frequently than usual,” Centeno notes. She says her soup cleanse clients also report sleeping better and having more energy.
I sadly didn’t experience an energy boost when I decided to try a weeklong soup cleanse during the course of writing this story. I did notice that I had to get up to pee much more frequently throughout the night — which makes sense, as I was mainly consuming liquids. I also noticed, well, hunger.
The soups I tried from both Soupure and Splendid Spoon were delicious, and some were more filling than others. For Soupure’s plan, a typical day entailed a chilled strawberry cashew smoothie-esque breakfast “soup,” a spicy asparagus soup for lunch, and a split pea or Japanese sweet potato soup for dinner (the split pea was my favorite).
There were also bone broths and teas available to supplement the meals as desired, and the guide’s instructions indicated that supplementing one’s lunch soup with healthy snacks was fine. Most of Soupure’s soups are somewhat low-calorie, though, around 250, and not exceptionally high in protein. Splendid Spoon’s offerings were heartier, with many soups coming in at 400-plus calories.
During my cleanse, I found myself extremely hungry by midafternoon, and I needed to supplement my soups with snacks like boiled eggs, nuts, salmon, and crudites with hummus. I also ate protein bars for “dessert” and there were a couple of days when I ended up wolfing down fatty snacks (coconut shrimp or macaroni and cheese) simply because they were there — and I was ravenous. This led me to believe that Paul Salter’s thoughts on the subject were correct: For some people, doing extended soup cleanses could potentially trigger binging.
If you find yourself hungry while souping, Nicole Centeno, who is big on mindful eating, suggests trying to determine whether your hunger is real — i.e., you’re not just bored, anxious, or tired — before you reach for a snack. If the answer is yes, you’re truly hungry, Centeno recommends grabbing something crunchy, like an apple or crudites with nut butter or hummus.
And be sure to check in with your body every step of the process. Any time you feel extreme fatigue, foggy brain function, or depression, it’s time to eat real food.
The approach to souping may be best if we think about it the same way as juicing — that it’s better to eat the whole version better than the watered down one. Yet, if even just one day of souping inspires you to incorporate more vegetables into your diet and eat more mindfully, than perhaps it’s not so bad in the long run after all.
Laura Barcella is an author and freelance writer currently based in Brooklyn. She’s written for the New York Times, RollingStone.com, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, The Week, VanityFair.com, and many more.