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 it can help you lose up to 10 lbs (4.5 kg) in one week.
But many health experts warn that the diet is unhealthy and its results are unsustainable.
This is a comprehensive review of the Cabbage Soup Diet and whether it works or not.
What Is the Cabbage Soup Diet?
The Cabbage Soup Diet is a fast weight loss diet. Supposedly, following the diet for seven days can lead to weight loss of up to 10 lbs (4.5 kg).
The diet works exactly as it sounds. For seven days, you eat almost nothing but homemade cabbage soup. Each day, you can also have one or two other foods, such as skim milk, fruit or vegetables.
Many sources claim the diet works not by acting as a starvation diet, but rather because cabbage is such a low-calorie food that your body ends up burning more calories digesting it than the cabbage itself contains.
Therefore, the more soup you eat, the more weight you lose.
The diet is intended to last no longer than one week at a time, for the purpose of slimming down before an event 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. In the end, the consensus seems to be that it first gained popularity during the 1980s and 1990s and has stuck around ever since.
Bottom Line: The Cabbage Soup Diet is a one-week weight loss diet that promises to help you lose up to 10 lbs (4.5 kg).
How to Do the Cabbage Soup Diet
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.
The ingredients vary based on the source, but this is the basic recipe:
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 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 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. Supposedly, the more soup you eat, the more weight you lose.
Rules of the Diet
Each day of the diet, you are allowed to fill up on one or two other low-calorie foods 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 can limit nutrient intake.
These are the rules for each day of the Cabbage Soup Diet.
- Day one: Unlimited cabbage soup and fruit, but no bananas.
- Day two: 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 three: As many fruits and vegetables as you can eat, in addition to the soup. However, no baked potato today and still no bananas.
- Day four: Unlimited bananas, skim milk and cabbage soup.
- Day five: You are allowed 10–20 oz (280–567 grams) of beef, which you may substitute for chicken or fish. You may also have up to six fresh tomatoes and unlimited cabbage soup. At least 6–8 glasses of water.
- Day six: Soup, beef and vegetables. You may substitute the beef with broiled fish if you did not yesterday. Focus on leafy greens. No baked potato today.
- Day seven: You may have vegetables, brown rice, unlimited fruit juice, but no added sugar. And of course, cabbage soup.
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.
Bottom Line: In order 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 one or two other foods each day.
Does the Cabbage Soup Diet Work?
The Cabbage Soup Diet has never been studied, so it is not possible to truly confirm its effectiveness.
Yet because the Cabbage Soup Diet is very low in calories, it will probably cause you to lose weight.
Despite the fact that you are 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.
Unfortunately, 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.
A big problem with very-low-calorie diets like this one is that when calorie intake is restricted, or when you lose a lot of weight, your body responds by lowering your metabolic rate, meaning you burn fewer calories per day than you used to (, , ).
Interestingly, this lowering of metabolism is a common cause of weight loss plateaus in longer-term diets.
However, your metabolism may start to slow down as early as three days into a very-low-calorie diet. This is often part of the reason why it is so hard to prevent weight gain after stopping a crash diet (, ).
Nevertheless, very-low-calorie diets also have some benefits.
When obese people follow very-low-calorie diets under the supervision of a doctor, the diets typically last 4–12 weeks and can cause significant short-term improvements in weight loss and metabolic health (, , ).
But a few studies have shown that even short-term diets that are very low-calorie 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. You may eat as much as you want of the foods that are allowed each day.
The diet also includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are low in calories and high in fiber.
Another positive point is that the Cabbage Soup Diet is very cheap to follow.
Unlike other diets that require you to purchase expensive supplements or books, this diet only requires you to purchase the low-cost ingredients for the cabbage soup and a few other basic foods.
Bottom Line: The Cabbage Soup Diet is very low in calories, so it should cause you to lose weight if you can stick with it. However, the weight loss is usually only temporary.
Drawbacks of the Cabbage Soup Diet
Although the Cabbage Soup Diet may have a few benefits and will probably help you lose some weight, the drawbacks may outweigh them.
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 ().
This so-called water weight comes from your glycogen stores, which are your body's quick energy reserves. Normally, glycogen binds to water molecules when it's stored in the 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 the water weight will come right back, even if you continue with a healthy diet after finishing the Cabbage Soup 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.
The fact that it is frequently low in protein also means that it will be harder to prevent muscle loss during the diet, which is especially important for keeping your metabolism up.
The final drawback of the Cabbage Soup Diet is that it is very bland by nature, which means it is very hard to stick with for an entire week.
Many people complain that the cabbage soup is tasteless and unappetizing from the start. Having to eat the same thing day after day may be enough to make most people cheat or even quit before achieving the results they want.
It also requires frequent large-batch cooking in order to prepare enough cabbage soup to eat for the entire week. This may be a drawback for some people.
Bottom Line: The Cabbage Soup Diet is bland, hard to stick to and deficient in many nutrients. Since it is only one week long, most of the weight you lose is only water weight and will come back once you stop the diet.
Safety and Side Effects
The Cabbage Soup Diet is not recommended for more than one week at a time because of how restrictive and nutritionally imbalanced it is.
It Is a Very-Low-Calorie Diet
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.
This is below the estimated minimum calories needed to maintain a stable weight. That minimum is typically 1,200 calories for women and 1,500 calories for men, on average ().
Very-low-calorie diets under 800 calories per day are only recommended for obese people under the close supervision of a physician.
It May Not Provide Enough Nutrients
Low-calorie diets that are used under the supervision of a physician are typically designed to be nutritionally adequate (, ).
Yet the food choices of the Cabbage Soup Diet are very limited and unbalanced. The diet includes almost no protein for five out of seven days and most days it is also very low in carbs, fat and calories. It is also 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 feeling light-headed during the diet.
Flatulence and Cramping
Because this diet is also very high in fiber, many people also complain of flatulence and cramping as major side effects. These effects may even be bothersome enough to stop the diet ().
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 inside it.
Gallstones may be more common among people following a very-low-calorie diet or a low-fat diet such as the Cabbage Soup Diet ().
Big Changes in 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.
But for most healthy people, the Cabbage Soup Diet is not likely to have dangerous side effects as long as it is only used for one week, as intended.
Bottom Line: 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.
Take Home Message
Just like other very-low-calorie diets, the Cabbage Soup Diet is likely to cause weight loss if you can stick to it for the entire week.
However, it is only a short-term diet, so unless you make permanent changes to your lifestyle, you will likely gain most of the weight back.
Additionally, the Cabbage Soup Diet is extreme and nutritionally unbalanced. Many people also find it unappealing and hard to stick to.
While this diet may help you shed a few pounds quickly, you're better off trying something else if you want to achieve long-lasting weight loss and better health.