What Is the Sacred Heart Diet?

sacred heart 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 Sacred Heart diet is a popular diet plan based around a soup recipe that proponents say will help you lose 10 to 17 pounds in one week. Allegedly, the diet was developed by a medical center called Sacred Heart to help patients with obesity lose weight to prepare for surgery.

However, there is no evidence that any hospital, weight-loss specialists, or physicians developed this diet. Nor is there evidence to suggest that the Sacred Heart diet is effective for weight loss. It is unclear who came up with the Sacred Heart eating plan, but it is highly unlikely that it was developed by medical professionals.

There is no verifiable record of Sacred Heart hospital affiliation and no legitimate source at any medical center with that name has claimed ownership of the diet. So where did it come from?

It's possible the plan and its many variations were developed as a marketing scheme to generate revenue through online advertising. There are many diets, like fake versions of a Mayo Clinic Diet, that claim to be affiliated with a reputable source to attract people who want to lose weight. In fact, many of these programs make false claims and are often promoted through the media to generate income.

What Experts Say

"By following a restrictive diet that includes special soup recipes, the Sacred Heart diet promises quick weight loss. While you may lose a few pounds, experts agree this is an unsustainable fad diet. The limited daily food intake is also likely to lead to nutrient imbalances."
Chrissy Carroll, RD, MPH

What Can You Eat?

There are many different variations of the so-called Sacred Heart diet, but most require you to prepare a special soup that becomes the basis of your week-long eating plan. Every day, you'll eat at least one bowl of Sacred Heart soup. Then you will eat a few permitted foods along with the soup, usually in unlimited amounts.

Though the recipes associated with the diet vary, the Sacred Heart soup generally includes:

  • Canned beef or chicken broth
  • Chicken soup mix (dry) or canned chicken soup 
  • Stewed tomatoes
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Yellow or green onions
  • Celery
  • Green bell peppers

What You Need to Know

To lose weight, the plan says you must follow a very restrictive and specific day-by-day eating plan. People who follow this diet plan are only allowed to eat the foods prescribed for that day.

It is important to keep in mind this is a fad diet and not recommended by health professionals or backed by scientific research.

What to Eat
  • Sacred Heart soup

  • Most fruits

  • Most vegetables

  • Beef

  • Brown rice

  • Unsweetened fruit juice

  • Coffee and tea

  • Nonfat milk

What Not to Eat
  • Bananas on certain days

  • Sweetened beverages

  • All other foods

Beverages including coffee, tea, water, and sometimes nonfat milk (but not sweetened drinks) are allowed. The diet restricts certain foods each day but doesn't make suggestions on when you should eat them.

One version of this weekly plan is as follows:

  • Day 1: Soup and any fruit except bananas
  • Day 2: Soup, vegetables, and one potato with butter at dinnertime
  • Day 3: Soup, fruits, and vegetables 
  • Day 4: Soup, bananas (at least three), and as much milk as possible
  • Day 5: Soup, beef (as much as possible), and up to six tomatoes
  • Day 6: Soup, beef, and vegetables
  • Day 7: Soup, brown rice, unsweetened fruit juice, and vegetables

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Simple to follow

  • Foods are readily available and inexpensive

  • Rich in fruits and vegetables

Cons
  • Rapid weight loss can be dangerous

  • Not nutritionally balanced, may lead to nutrient deficiencies

  • Long-term success is very unlikely

  • Not recommended by doctors or nutritionists

  • Overpromotes red meat consumption

The plan does have some benefits, as it's fairly easy to follow and accessible. But there are several downsides to the diet, including safety concerns, inadequate nutrition, and its sustainability over time.

Pros

  • Simplicity: With this diet plan, the foods you eat are clearly defined. There are few decisions to make and, beyond the soup itself (which is easy to prepare), there is little cooking or prep for meals.
  • Accessibility: All of the foods you need for this diet are easily found at any supermarket (or already in your pantry) and are generally inexpensive. There are no special foods or supplements to purchase.
  • Rich in fruits and veggies: On many days you'll consume fiber- and nutrient rich vegetables and some fruits including tomatoes and bananas.

Though the promise of rapid weight loss with a simple, accessible diet plan may sound enticing, the cons far outweigh the pros, according to nutrition experts.

Cons

  • Possible weight regain: Most experts agree that the rapid weight loss from restrictive diet plans like the Sacred Heart diet is often temporary. Worse still, losing weight quickly and unsustainably and gaining it right back afterward (which is very likely) is associated with health risks. Also, most of the weigh lost, especially in the beginning is likely to be water weight.
  • Eating disorder risk: This is a fad diet, and following fad diets may increase a person's risk of developing or exacerbating an eating disorder.
  • Overpromotes red meat consumption: Eating unlimited amounts of beef is not a great idea, according to heart health experts because research has shown an association between regular consumption of red meat and heart disease.

If you follow this diet exactly, you are likely to lose some weight, but when the weight loss involves unhealthy restriction as this diet does, the results are often temporary and come with risks.

Is the Sacred Heart Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

This eating program does not follow the accepted nutritional guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The current USDA guidelines suggest eating a daily variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and lean protein. On the Sacred Heart diet, you are getting only vegetables, chicken broth, and certain fruits on many of the diet days. While these are all healthy options, they are not enough on their own.

On some days, you are not likely to consume enough calories to fuel your body. And on many of the days, you may not get the important nutrients that your body needs. Daily calorie needs vary based on age, sex, current weight, and activity level, but 2,000 calories a day is typically used as an average or starting point.

Cutting back on the number of calories you consume every day is a safe and effective way to lose weight, but the Sacred Heart diet restricts calories far too much on some days and encourages binging on others (such as the instruction to eat "as much beef as possible"). A better option is to use this calculator to determine your ideal daily calorie intake for weight loss and follow a balanced diet and exercise routine that keeps your personal calorie goals in mind.

The Sacred Heart diet does not meet the recommended guidelines for healthy eating as defined by the USDA. It lacks a healthy amount of daily calories, is not nutritionally balanced, and could lead to unhealthy post-diet binge eating.

Health Benefits

While proponents of the Sacred Heart diet claim that rapid short-term weight loss is possible on this 7-day plan, there is no evidence to suggest this plan is a healthy or sustainable way to lose weight. What research does show is that similar fad diets do not promote weight management. What's more, fad diets often result in unhealthy eating habits.

Health Risks

The Sacred Heart diet includes almost no starch and limited carbohydrates. The calorie and carbohydrate restriction may result in water loss that will look like a fat loss on the scale but your body needs carbohydrates for energy and optimal brain function.

When your body doesn’t get enough calories, your metabolic rate will start to slow down and you'll likely experience a lack of energy, which may affect your ability to perform basic functions. Restricting calories for seven days on the Sacred Heart diet probably won’t cause any long-term damage to your health, but you are likely to experience fatigue and lightheadedness from not getting the fuel your body needs.

Severe calorie restriction is usually medically supervised to prevent nutrient deficiencies, which is what happens when the body doesn't absorb enough nutrients from food sources. Continuing a restrictive diet like the Sacred Heart diet for longer than seven days could result in deficiencies, which can lead to health issues including skin problems, poor digestion, and loss of bone and muscle mass.

Additionally, rapid weight loss may also slow the body's metabolism. So in addition to regaining any weight that was lost once your eating habits return to normal, you may have a harder time losing weight again in the future. Lastly, severely restrictive diets like this one put some people at risk for developing an eating disorder.

Very restrictive diet plans often backfire and can result in an unhealthy post-diet binge that causes weight gain.

A Word From Verywell

The Sacred Heart diet is not an effective method for long-term weight loss. You may lose weight on the diet, but you are likely to gain it back, and the plan comes with health risks. It's a healthier idea to find a program that fits your needs, allows you to eat your favorite foods in moderation, and provides your body with important nutrients that support your overall health.

Talk to your doctor or meet with a registered dietitian if you have a significant amount of weight to lose. Your healthcare team can provide you with tools that will make your weight loss journey successful.

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, 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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