Cleanses have been around for ages now, and they don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, especially for those looking for a way to reset their eating habits. During the winter months when a juice or smoothie cleanse may not be so appealing, soup cleanses seem to get a lot more attention. These soup cleanses take on many forms, but typically involve eating soup for a single day or a few days in a row, and are usually low in calories—often somewhere around 1200 calories for an entire day. The ingredients vary, and many claim to help you detox your body, give you more energy, and lose weight.
But is a soup cleanse actually good for your body? Experts say sometimes, but there are a lot of other ways to “detoxify” your body than restricting your diet to nothing but soup for days on end. In reality, your liver is designed to filter and remove toxic substances from the body—you don’t need a soup cleanse to do that.
Here’s what else health and nutrition experts have to say about soup cleanses.
Your body can detox itself without a soup cleanse.
Many soup cleanses promote that they will “detoxify” your body, but how they will accomplish this is often explained in vague terms (if at all). In reality, your body has systems in place to detox itself without spending heaps of money on a cleanse—your kidneys, liver, and skin all help your body remove toxins. Michael Roizen, a board-certified internal medicine doctor and emeritus chief wellness officer at Cleveland Clinic, says that the fundamental idea of staying away from sugar, salt, fat, and alcohol via shifting your diet to (healthy) soup can be helpful, but there are other ways to give the body a break from these so-called toxins.
“The problem with most cleanses is they are very hard to do and don’t really offer any benefit that you wouldn’t get from simply cutting out excess fat, sugar, and salt from your diet and eating a healthy, satisfying, and filling plant-based meal,” Roizen says.
Janette Nesheiwat, a board-certified family and emergency medicine doctor agrees. “The best approach to cleanse your body is to drink plenty of water, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. “This is what’s most beneficial to our bodies and especially our digestive systems.”
A soup cleanse can potentially be "healthy".
If you're still itching to give a soup cleanse a go, all hope is not lost if it's done thoughtfully. “If [a soup cleanse] is set up in a well-rounded, thoughtful way, it can be healthy,” explains Abbie Gellman, a registered dietitian and chef based in New York City. So what exactly would that look like? Gellman says a soup cleanse should include an appropriate balance of carbohydrates, fat, and protein, and not be ultra restrictive in terms of nutrients or calories.
“The soups would need to include adequate beans, legumes, nuts, and more to ensure that there is adequate fat and protein,” Gellman says, emphasizing that the way you approach a soup cleanse will determine how “healthy” it is. If you’re restricting calories or nutrients in an extreme way, or only eating clear broth and vegetables, Gellman would consider your soup cleanse unhealthy. But when approached with a mindfulness to adequate nutrients and caloric intake, a soup cleanse can be a delicious and simple way to eat a variety of whole foods in one meal. “Overall, a soup cleanse can be a good way to become more mindful about food choices, curb some less healthy cravings, and kick-start a healthier eating lifestyle,” Gellman says.
Take a close look at the ingredients in your soups.
Soup can be full of healthy vegetables and other whole ingredients, but it’s important to look out for unhealthy ingredients, like high amounts of saturated fat in cream-based soups or excessive levels of sodium, which is common in a lot of soups and one of the biggest gripes nutritionists and physicians have with soup. Some soups have more than half the recommended daily intake of sodium in one serving alone.
“The problem with soup is that it traditionally is very salty,” Nesheiwat says. “So if you have high blood pressure, kidney disease, or heart disease, this is not an option for you.”
A soup cleanse can be unhealthy if it’s too restrictive.
Some soup cleanses are very restrictive on calories, and can make it difficult for you to consume enough calories each day. Gellman says it’s important to choose a soup cleanse that allows you to consume an appropriate amount of calories each day. She recommends eating at least 1200 to 1500 calories per day, but this number might be higher or lower depending on your weight, gender, and how much you exercise.
If you’re not taking in enough calories on your soup cleanse, you may feel side effects such as fatigue, headaches, and dizziness, and, on the contrary, you might even end up overeating. “You may lose a few pounds initially, but most people will gain it right back and even more,” Nesheiwat says. “The key is consistency."
You may get hungry quickly after eating puréed soups
Many pureed soups are packed with nutrients, vitamins, and fiber—all key components to a healthy diet. And they’re often delicious too—it can be hard to beat a bowl of butternut squash or carrot soup on a cold winter day. But when you eat soft food that you don’t have to chew, you may notice that you get hungry more quickly.
“Have you ever been hungry more quickly after drinking a smoothie versus eating a bowl of yogurt with whole fruits and nuts? It’s the same premise,” Gellman says. “Most soup cleanses contain primarily puréed soups, so this may be something to watch out for.”
You might miss chewing.
Yes, you read that right. It’s totally possible to miss the physical concept of chewing, especially when you’ve been slurping liquids for a few days–sometimes you just need that crunch. “Not using our teeth or having a meal where chewing is involved can create a sense of missing out,” Gellman says. “You may find yourself missing the actual sensation of eating food.”
Try taking it one meal at a time.
If you’re a generally healthy person, soup can be a great choice for lunch, dinner, or really whenever you want it, as long as it’s not loaded with sodium, saturated fat, or other nutrients that can be problematic when consumed in large amounts. Long story short: Soup doesn’t need to be part of a cleanse to benefit your health—but you will need to keep an eye on the ingredients to make sure you’re choosing something that’s good for your body.