What Is the Cabbage Soup Diet?

cabbage soup diet

Verywell / Debbie Burkhoff 

At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The cabbage soup diet is a fad diet that suggests eating cabbage soup several times a day for seven days for quick weight loss. On the plan, you can also eat a few other select low-calorie foods on specific days. These include any fruits (except bananas, which are only allowed on day four), as well as beef, vegetables, and skim milk. 

This restrictive program has been popular among people wanting to lose weight for years, but its origins are not known. It became mainstream in the 1980s and has also been called "military cabbage soup," the "TJ miracle soup diet," and the "Russian peasant diet," among other names.

As a result of the seven-day diet plan, your daily calorie intake will drop so that you reach the calorie deficit needed for weight loss. The cabbage soup diet promises a 10-pound weight loss by the end of the week, but it is unclear how many people actually stay on the cabbage soup diet long enough to achieve that result. It is also highly unlikely that this diet is an effective method for long-term weight management.

What Experts Say

"The cabbage soup diet promises quick weight loss, but experts agree it's not a sustainable option. Protein and vegetables are a focus, but any weight lost is likely to be gained back. Plus, cutting food groups can lead to nutrient imbalances."

Leyla Shamayeva, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

The cabbage soup diet includes a seven-day meal plan that allows specific foods only on certain days, plus at least one serving of cabbage soup. The diet has a few different versions, but the basic premise is a recipe for homemade, fat-free cabbage soup and a list of specific, low-calorie foods to eat on different days in addition to the soup.

The basic soup recipe includes a head of cabbage, canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, and other vegetables, along with broth, water, or tomato juice. The diet lasts for one week. Every day you will consume cabbage soup and the allotted foods for that day.

It is not recommended to stay on the plan for more than seven days. If you have success on the diet and want to repeat it, it is advised that you wait two weeks between cycles.

What You Need to Know

The single most important feature of the diet is the soup. Several different recipes available online are variations of the basic recipe. Here are some tips to help make the diet a little more manageable so that you don't get bored with eating the same basic soup for a week:

  • Use pre-shredded cabbage: Instead of shredding cabbage by hand, buy a bag of pre-shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix.
  • Make it purple: Switch things up by adding red cabbage, which has more antioxidants.
  • Add chunky vegetables: Rough-cut zucchini, squash, cauliflower, or carrots will change the basic texture of the soup to add variety.
  • Spice it up: If you like hot and spicy food, add Tabasco sauce, Sriracha, or cayenne pepper and chili powder to the soup.
  • Go Italian: Add Italian seasoning mix, basil, or oregano to the soup, or use canned tomatoes with Italian seasonings.
  • Use a flavored mix: Add more flavor to the cabbage soup using onion soup mix.
  • Make it a curry: For an Indian flair, add curry, cumin, cardamom, cloves, ginger, or other flavorful spices.

Most recipes also provide a bit of protein (about 5 grams), roughly 13 grams of carbohydrates, and only about 1 gram of fat. Because the soup is made with plenty of vegetables, you'll get a few grams of fiber in each bowl—approximately 3 to 5 grams—which can help you stay fuller longer.

Keep in mind that cabbage soup can be very high in sodium, providing nearly 100% of your recommended daily allowance if you consume several bowls.

What to Eat
  • Homemade cabbage soup

  • Fruit

  • Vegetables

  • Beef

  • Tomatoes

  • Potatoes

  • Brown rice

  • Unsweetened cranberry juice

What Not to Eat
  • Alcohol

  • Regular or diet soda

  • Sweetened juice

  • Artificial sweeteners

  • Avocado

  • Dried fruit

There is no special timing or fasting required for the cabbage soup diet. However, specific foods are only allowed on specific days while other foods are to be avoided for the duration of the diet. While there are many different versions of the diet, here is one example:

  • Day 1: Cabbage soup and unlimited fruit (except bananas)
  • Day 2: Cabbage soup and unlimited fresh, raw, or cooked vegetables, except for dry beans, peas, and corn. Large baked potato with butter for dinner
  • Day 3: Cabbage soup and unlimited fruit (except bananas) and vegetables
  • Day 4: Cabbage soup and up to eight bananas and unlimited skim milk
  • Day 5: Cabbage soup and between 10 ounces and 20 ounces of beef or poultry and up to six fresh tomatoes
  • Day 6: Cabbage soup and unlimited beef and vegetables
  • Day 7: Cabbage soup and unlimited brown rice, unsweetened fruit juice, and vegetables

Aim for several bowls of soup and at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Avoid real and artificial sugar and alcohol for the week-long plan.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Quick weight loss

  • Fairly easy to follow

Cons
  • Not nutritionally or medically sound

  • Repetitive meals can be boring

  • Short-term results not sustainable

  • Doesn't encourage healthy habits

The cabbage soup diet is considered a fad diet that can provide quick, short-term weight loss, but it is not necessarily healthy. Review the pros and cons so you can make an informed decision about trying this diet plan.

Pros

  • Quick weight loss: Proponents of the cabbage soup diet claim you can lose 10 pounds in one week, but there is a lack of evidence to support those claims.
  • Easy to follow: The diet is also fairly easy to follow, with simple rules that take the guesswork out. With unlimited amounts of cabbage soup, the diet can be filling. As a short-term diet, you only need to stick with it for a week.

While the plan may provide quick weight loss results, it is not a long-term solution for managing your weight.

Cons

  • Lack of versatility: People following the cabbage soup diet often complain is that it is boring and repetitive. Not many people like cabbage soup enough to enjoy it every day for an entire week.
  • Severe calorie restriction: The greatest concern expressed by nutrition and weight-loss experts is that many versions of the cabbage soup diet restrict calories to fewer than 1,200 calories a day, which is the minimum generally recommended for healthy weight loss.

In general, no one should follow a diet plan under 1,200 calories without guidance from a healthcare provider.

Is the Cabbage Soup Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

As a short-term weight-loss plan, the cabbage soup diet can be effective. However, it is not a long-term weight loss solution or a healthy eating plan, nor does it teach skills like healthy meal planning and preparing, which are needed for sustained weight loss.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) dietary guidelines include recommendations and tips for a healthy, balanced diet. The following nutrient-dense foods are recommended as part of a healthy diet:

  • Vegetables and dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, green beans) 
  • Fruits (apples, berries, melon)
  • Grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)
  • Lean meats (chicken breast, fish, turkey breast)
  • Beans and legumes (all beans, lentils, peas)
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds)
  • Dairy (reduced-fat milk, cheese, yogurt) 
  • Oils (olive oil, avocado oil

The USDA recommends consuming roughly 1,500 calories per day for weight loss, but this number varies based on age, sex, weight, and activity level. Because cabbage soup diet recipes vary, there isn't one standard set of nutrition facts for cabbage soup, but on average, a bowl has about 50–100 calories. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories for you and your weight loss goals.

While the cabbage soup diet is high in vegetables, the overall diet does not adhere to USDA guidelines. The diet is highly restrictive and does not provide a wide variety of nutrients or calories. It is not considered a healthy eating plan.

Health Benefits

While no research studies have examined the effectiveness of the cabbage soup diet, the seven-day plan consists of mostly low-calorie foods. Research has shown that reduced-calorie diets can help promote weight loss.

Health Risks

The cabbage soup diet is not based on any nutritional or medical science. There is no scientific proof that cabbage or cabbage soup has any of the fat-burning properties often advertised in the diet's description.

Additionally, the daily calorie count on the cabbage soup diet is so low that it could be considered a type of fast rather than a diet, which could lead to unhealthy eating habits.

The cabbage soup diet provides no advice for those with emotional eating issues, nor does it offer suggestions for long-term weight management, such as developing healthy eating habits or controlling portion sizes. So after the diet is over, you're likely to gain back any weight you lose. The diet is also unsafe for anyone with a history of disordered eating.

Any diet plan providing so few calories should be avoided. Doing so could lead to serious health issues and nutrient deficiencies, and at the very least, will likely cause your weight to rebound when the diet is complete.

Similar Diets

Much like the cabbage soup diet, these other fad diets limit the foods you eat to specific days. While each plan promises you’ll drop pounds quickly, they are unlikely to provide long-term, sustained weight loss.

The Sacred Heart Diet

Swap out cabbage soup for a different vegetable soup recipe and you have the Sacred Heart diet. In fact, the week-long meal plan is almost identical to the cabbage soup diet. If you are not a fan of cabbage, this could work as an alternative. However, this fad diet is also not recommended by nutrition experts.

The M-Plan

On this diet, the M stands for mushroom, and you will replace one meal a day for two weeks with a low-fat or fat-free mushroom-based dish. It doesn’t otherwise limit calories or other food groups, but swapping out meat for mushrooms reduces daily caloric intake and could help you lose weight. The diet also makes false promises of spot-reducing body fat, however, which health and nutrition experts say is not possible.

The 3-Day Military Diet

This plan provides a specific list of foods to eat on certain days, including things like two hot dogs without buns, five saltine crackers, and a cup of vanilla ice cream. Despite the name, the diet isn’t limited to three days or associated with the military. You eat specific foods for three days, with calories restricted to 1,500 a day on the four "off" days. This diet is also not recommended as a healthy method for weight loss.

A Word From Verywell

Some people will lose weight on the cabbage soup diet—but that's only because of the extremely low calorie intake on this short-term diet plan. There is nothing magical or special about cabbage soup that makes weight loss happen.

When you lose weight this quickly, you generally lose water weight, not fat. As soon as you return to your normal eating habits, all the weight comes back and in some cases, even more. Talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian before beginning this or any other restrictive diet plan.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, and budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Article Sources
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