Poppy Barach / Getty Images
The cabbage soup diet is a fad diet that requires its users to eat cabbage soup several times a day for seven days. On the plan, you can also eat a few other low-calorie foods—like any fruit (except bananas), beef, vegetables, and skim milk—on specific days.
As a result of the diet, your calorie count will drop so that you reach the calorie deficit needed for weight loss.
The diet promises a 10-pound weight loss by the end of the week. But it is unclear how many dieters actually stay on the diet long enough to enjoy that result.
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
This restrictive program has been popular among dieters for years, but its origins are unknown. It became popular in the 1980s and has been called Military Cabbage Soup, TJ Miracle Soup Diet, and Russian Peasant Diet, among other names.
How It Works
The cabbage soup diet comes in 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 multiple bowls of 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, experts suggest you wait two weeks between cycles.
Since soup recipes vary, there isn't one standard set of nutrition facts for cabbage soup, but on average, a bowl has about 50 to 100 calories. If you use a specific recipe, you can use a recipe analyzer to get a complete set of nutritional data.
Keep in mind that cabbage soup can be very high in sodium, providing nearly 100 percent of your recommended daily allowance if you consume several bowls.
The good news, however, is that because the soup is made with plenty of vegetables, you'll get a few grams of fiber in each bowl—approximate 3 to 5 grams—which can help you to stay fuller longer. Most recipes also provide a bit of protein (about 5 grams), roughly 13 grams of carbohydrate, and only about 1 gram of fat.
This is also similar to the M-Plan diet where you eat a mushroom-based meal 3 times a day with the plan to lose weight.
What to Eat
The cabbage soup diet has a seven-day meal plan that allows specific foods only on certain days, plus at least one serving of the soup. While there are many different versions of the diet, here is one example:
Day 1: Unlimited fruit (except bananas)
Unlimited fruit (except bananas) Day 2: Unlimited fresh, raw, or cooked vegetables, except for dry beans, peas, and corn. Large baked potato with butter for dinner.
Unlimited fresh, raw, or cooked vegetables, except for dry beans, peas, and corn. Large baked potato with butter for dinner. Day 3: Unlimited fruit (except bananas) and vegetables.
Unlimited fruit (except bananas) and vegetables. Day 4: Up to eight bananas and unlimited skim milk.
Up to eight bananas and unlimited skim milk. Day 5: Between 10 ounces and 20 ounces of beef or poultry and up to six fresh tomatoes.
Between 10 ounces and 20 ounces of beef or poultry and up to six fresh tomatoes. Day 6: Unlimited beef and vegetables.
Unlimited beef and vegetables. Day 7: 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 weeklong plan.
Compliant Foods Homemade cabbage soup
Unsweetened cranberry juice Non-Compliant Foods Alcoholic beverages
Regular or diet soda
There is no special timing or fasting required for the cabbage soup diet, however, there are specific foods allowed on specific days, as outlined above.
Resources and Tips
The single most important feature of the diet is the soup. There are several different recipes available online that are variations of the basic recipe. Here are some tips to make it easier and add variety so 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Add Italian seasoning mix, basil, or oregano to the soup, or use canned tomatoes with Italian seasonings. Use a mix: Some people like to flavor the cabbage soup using onion soup mix.
Some people like to flavor 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.
Pros and Cons
The cabbage soup diet is considered a fad diet that can provide quick, short-term weight loss, but is not necessarily healthy.
Pros Quick weight loss
Fairly easy to follow Cons Not nutritionally or medically sound
Repetitive meals can be boring
Short-term results not lasting
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. While no research studies have examined its effectiveness, the diet consists of mostly low-calorie foods, and reduced calorie diets are known to promote weight loss.
The diet is also easy to follow, with simple rules that take the guesswork out of dieting. 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.
The top complaint among people following the cabbage soup diet is that it is boring and repetitive. Not many people like cabbage soup enough to enjoy it every day for an entire week.
The plan is also 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 that are often advertised in the diet's description.
The greatest concern expressed by weight-loss experts is that many versions of the cabbage soup diet restrict calories to less than 1,200 calories a day, which is the minimum generally recommended for weight loss. In fact, the calorie count may drop so low that it's considered a fasting program rather than a diet.
In general, no one should follow a diet plan under 1,200 calories without participation from your health care provider. So any plan providing so few calories should be avoided. Doing so could lead to serious health issues and at the very least, can cause your weight to rebound when the diet is complete.
In addition, the diet plan provides no advice for dealing with emotional eating or developing skills that are required for long-term weight loss such as changing eating habits or controlling portions. So after the diet is over, you're likely to gain back any weight you lose.
How It Compares
As a short-term weight-loss plan, the cabbage soup diet can be effective. However, it isn't a long-term weight loss solution or a healthy eating plan, nor does it teach skills, like healthy meal planning and preparing, 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)
While the cabbage soup diet is high in vegetables, the overall diet does not fit these 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.
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. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories for you.
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 weeklong meal plan is almost identical to the cabbage soup diet. If you are not a fan of cabbage, this is a good alternative.
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 by swapping out meat for mushrooms reduces daily caloric intake to help you lose weight.
The 3-Day Military Diet
This plan provides a specific list of foods to eat on certain days, including things like two hotdogs 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.
A Word From Verywell
Some people will lose weight on the cabbage soup diet. But it's the extremely low-calorie intake that is responsible for the weight loss experienced in this short time. There is nothing magical or special about cabbage soup that makes weight loss happen.