The Cabbage Soup Diet is a short-term weight loss diet.
As the name implies, it involves eating large quantities of cabbage soup.
Proponents of the diet say that it can help you lose up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in a single week, but many health experts warn that the diet is unhealthy and its results unsustainable.
This article examines the Cabbage Soup Diet and its effectiveness.
Rating Score Breakdown
- Overall score: 2.25
- Fast weight loss: 4
- Long-term weight loss: 1
- Easy to follow: 2
- Nutrition quality: 2
BOTTOM LINE: The Cabbage Soup Diet is likely to cause weight loss — but only because it severely reduces your calorie intake. As soon as you stop this one-week diet, you’re likely to regain the weight you lost.
The Cabbage Soup Diet is a rapid weight loss diet. Its proponents claim that seven days on the diet can lead to weight loss of up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg).
The diet works exactly as its name implies — for one week, you eat almost nothing but homemade cabbage soup. Each day, you can also have 1–2 other foods, such as skim milk, fruit or vegetables.
The diet is intended to last no longer than seven days for the purpose of slimming down or jump-starting a longer-term diet plan.
The Cabbage Soup Diet is also known by other names, such as the Sacred Heart Hospital Diet or the Mayo Clinic Diet, supposedly because it was developed in a hospital for quick weight loss before surgery for heart patients.
But the implicated hospitals have denied these claims.
No one knows exactly where this unique diet originated from, though it first gained popularity during the 1980s and has stuck around ever since.
Summary The Cabbage Soup Diet is a one-week weight loss diet that promises to help you lose up to 10 pounds (4.5 kg).
Homemade cabbage soup forms the basis of this diet.
In order to start, you need to prepare large batches of soup to eat for the entire week.
Keep in mind that specific ingredients for the soup may vary.
The Cabbage Soup Recipe
- 2 large onions
- 2 green peppers
- 2 cans of tomatoes
- 1 bunch of celery
- 1 head of cabbage
- 3 carrots
- 1 package of mushrooms
- 1–2 bouillon cubes (optional)
- 6–8 cups of water or vegetable cocktail, such as V8
- Chop all vegetables into cubes.
- In a large stock pot, sauté onions in a small amount of oil.
- Then add the remaining vegetables and cover with water or vegetable cocktail and add bouillon cubes or other seasonings, if desired.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat. Let simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30–45 minutes.
You may season the soup with salt, pepper, hot sauce, herbs or spices. You may also add other non-starchy vegetables, such as spinach or green beans.
Every day, you should eat as much cabbage soup as you want — at least for several meals.
Rules of the Diet
You are allowed to eat 1–2 other low-calorie foods daily in addition to the soup. However, it is important not to make any other substitutions and to drink only water or other calorie-free beverages, such as unsweetened tea.
A daily multivitamin is often recommended because the diet may be low in certain nutrients.
These are the rules for each day of the Cabbage Soup Diet.
- Day 1: Unlimited cabbage soup and fruit, but no bananas.
- Day 2: Only soup and vegetables. Focus on raw or cooked leafy greens. Avoid peas, corn and beans. You may also have one baked potato with butter or oil.
- Day 3: As many fruits and vegetables as you can eat, in addition to the soup. However, no baked potato and no bananas.
- Day 4: Unlimited bananas, skim milk and cabbage soup.
- Day 5: You are allowed 10–20 ounces (280–567 grams) of beef, which you may substitute for chicken or fish. You may also have up to six fresh tomatoes. Drink at least 6–8 glasses of water.
- Day 6: Soup, beef and vegetables. You may substitute the beef for broiled fish if you did not do so the day prior. Focus on leafy greens. No baked potato.
- Day 7: You may have vegetables, brown rice and unlimited fruit juice — but no added sugar.
You should not continue the diet for more than seven days at a time. However, you may repeat the diet as long as you wait at least two weeks before starting it again.
Summary To follow the Cabbage Soup Diet, you need to prepare large batches of cabbage soup to eat multiple times per day. You are also allowed to eat 1–2 other foods each day.
The Cabbage Soup Diet has never been studied, so it’s impossible to truly confirm its effectiveness.
Yet, because the Cabbage Soup Diet is very low in calories, it will probably cause weight loss.
While you’re allowed to eat unlimited amounts of soup and certain other foods during this diet, the choices are so limited and low in calories that it would be very difficult to eat enough to maintain your body weight.
Although the Cabbage Soup Diet will probably help you lose weight, most of that weight is likely to come back as soon as you stop the diet.
Notably, when you severely restrict your calorie intake or lose a lot of weight, your body responds by lowering your metabolic rate, reducing the number of calories you burn per day (, , ).
This lowering of metabolism is a common cause of weight loss plateaus in long-term diets.
However, your metabolism may start to diminish as early as three days into a very-low-calorie diet. This slowdown may explain why it is so hard to prevent weight gain after going off your diet (, ).
Nevertheless, very-low-calorie diets also have some benefits.
Studies indicate that when obese people follow very-low-calorie diets for 4–12 weeks under the supervision of a doctor, they can experience significant short-term improvements in weight loss and metabolic health (, 4, ).
A few studies show that even short-term, very-low-calorie diets can temporarily decrease insulin resistance, even though they are too short to produce large changes in body fat (, ).
Another potential positive of the Cabbage Soup Diet is that you are not forced to go hungry, as you may eat as many of the allowed foods as you want each day.
The diet also includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are low in calories and high in fiber.
What’s more, the diet is very cheap to follow.
Unlike other diets that force you to purchase expensive supplements or books, this diet only requires you to buy the low-cost ingredients for the soup and a few other basic foods.
Summary The Cabbage Soup Diet is very low in calories, so it should cause you to lose weight if you can stick with it. However, it is likely that any weight loss will be temporary.
Although the Cabbage Soup Diet may help you lose some weight, its drawbacks may outweigh its benefits.
One of the main problems with the Cabbage Soup Diet is that it can only be followed for one week, which is not long enough for meaningful weight loss.
Your body can only burn so much fat per week. In the first week of a low-calorie diet, only about 34% of the weight lost is actually from fat ().
The other two-thirds comes from lost water weight and muscle mass ().
Water weight comes from your glycogen stores, which are your body's quick energy reserves. Normally, glycogen binds to water molecules in your body.
When you don't eat enough calories, your body uses up the stored glycogen as energy and also sheds that extra water (, ).
However, as soon as you return to a less restrictive diet, your body will rebuild those emergency stores and take on water weight again — even if you continue with a healthy diet ().
Another big problem with the Cabbage Soup Diet is its lack of nutrients.
The Cabbage Soup Diet has so few food choices that it is deficient in many vitamins and minerals and offers no real source of protein on most days.
Without much protein, you will struggle to prevent muscle loss during the diet.
Moreover, the diet is incredibly bland, making it hard to endure for an entire week.
It also requires frequent large-batch cooking in order to prepare enough cabbage soup, which may be a drawback for some people.
Summary The Cabbage Soup Diet is bland, hard to stick to and deficient in many nutrients. Since it lasts only a week, most of the weight you lose is only water weight that will return once you stop the diet.
The Cabbage Soup Diet is not recommended for more than one week at a time because of how restrictive and nutritionally imbalanced it is.
Very Low in Calories
Although the Cabbage Soup Diet is not a starvation diet, the foods are so low in calories that it would be difficult to reach 1,000 calories per day.
Very-low-calorie diets under 800 calories per day are only recommended for obese people under the close supervision of a physician.
May Not Provide Enough Nutrients
Low-calorie diets that are used under the supervision of a physician are typically designed to be nutritionally adequate (, ).
However, the food choices of the Cabbage Soup Diet are very limited and unbalanced. The diet includes almost no protein and is also very low in carbs, fat and calories. Additionally, it’s deficient in many vitamins and minerals.
There is not a serious risk of vitamin and mineral deficiencies if you only follow the diet for one week, especially if you decide to take a multivitamin. But this doesn't make up for the diet's lack of calories and protein.
Consequently, many people on the Cabbage Soup Diet complain of dizziness, weakness and lightheadedness while on the diet.
May Cause Flatulence and Cramping
Because this diet is very high in fiber, many people complain about flatulence and cramping as major side effects. These effects may be bothersome enough to stop the diet ().
May Cause Gallbladder Issues
There have been a few anecdotal reports of gallstones and gallbladder blockages in people who used the Cabbage Soup Diet over the long term.
Gallstones can be the unintended consequence of any rapid weight loss.
Normally, when you eat high-fat foods, your gallbladder releases digestive juices to help break them down.
However, if you hardly eat any fat, your gallbladder may not empty for longer periods of time, making it more likely that stones will form.
Gallstones may be more common among people following a very-low-calorie diet or a low-fat diet, such as the Cabbage Soup Diet ().
May Change Your Blood Sugar Levels
If you have diabetes and you're interested in going on the Cabbage Soup Diet, proceed with caution. The low carb and calorie content may cause big changes in your blood sugar levels.
That said, the diet is not likely to have dangerous side effects for most healthy people as long as it is only used for one week, as intended.
Summary The Cabbage Soup Diet is not suitable for long-term use because it lacks key nutrients. Despite some uncomfortable side effects, going on it for one week is probably not dangerous for most healthy people.
Like other very-low-calorie diets, the Cabbage Soup Diet is likely to cause weight loss if you can stick to it for one week.
However, because it is only a short-term diet, you will likely gain most of the weight back unless you make permanent changes to your lifestyle.
Additionally, it’s unwise and nutritionally unbalanced to eat only cabbage soup. Many people find the diet unappealing and hard to stick to.
While this diet may help you drop excess weight quickly, you're better off with other options if you want to achieve long-lasting weight loss and better health.