It’s that time of year again, where we use the autumn months to regretfully farewell summery juices and prepare our bodies to cope with the onset of a cooler climate by switching our dietary focus to soups.
A well-made soup can be hearty, nourishing and homely. Consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet, we know that soups are also packed with nutritional goodness. But can they help us to lose weight and battle seasonal bulge?
Dr Xand van Tulleken and his team put the soup diet to the test in episode three of The Diet Testers, airing on SBS on Thursday 15 March at 8.35pm.
The purpose of the road-test was simple: to examine whether there’s any truth to the popular dieting belief that consuming vegetable soups – all day, every day for a short period of time – could help you to lose weight.
“Your blood sugar should be stabilised and it’s better for you. That’s what the makers of the diet claim."
“Souping has been called the ‘new juicing’ [diet] in the New York Times and Hello Magazine,” Xand says on the show. “This is supposedly a body detox.”
Of course the big difference between a juice diet and a soup diet is that the latter involves eating ingredients whole, while the juice diet only uses the liquid from fruit and discards the pulp – the main source of fibre. In theory then, the soup diet should keep you fuller for longer and be more sustaining than the juice diet, as it retains the fibre from your veges.
“Because there’s not as much as sugar in [the soup diet], you shouldn’t feel hungry,” he says. “Your blood sugar should be stabilised and it’s better for you. That’s what the makers of the diet claim."
The diet tested on the show was based on Soupelina's Soup Cleanse, created by Elina Fuhrman – a US journalist-turned soup advocate.
“In 2009 I began cooking my healthy soups in my own kitchen while fighting an aggressive breast cancer,” Fuhrman says on her website.
“What began as a healing experiment for myself turned into gourmet magic that had my friends not only calling me “the soup guru” but asking to buy my one-of-a-kind creations. And just like that, Soupelina was born.”
The ‘Soupelina’ diet tested on the show features five vegetarian soups a day – three main meal soups and two vegetable broths as snacks between main meals.
An example of a daily meal plan, according to the Soupelina site, is beetroot or butternut pumpkin soup for breakfast; two veggie healing broths as snacks; a sweet coconut Thai soup for lunch and kale soup for dinner.
According to the New York Times, soup diets are generally quite low in calories, checking in at the 1200 mark per day.
“This might be a bit of baby food or something you get in prison?”
The weight loss promise, Xand explains, is that “it will reboot your metabolism and strengthen the immune system”.
There is no of research to back up the benefits or explain the disadvantages of this exact diet over a cross-section of the population.
The show also only tests the diet on one participant: single mum, Alicia from the UK, who wants to lose weight quickly before she goes on holiday.
Alicia tests the diet for the cameras over a period of five days. In that time, she consumes 25 soups and is only allowed to nibble on pumpkin seeds, cucumbers and celery sticks.
"So I’ll be having the same snacking diet as my rabbit?” asks Alicia on the show pre-diet, appearing to have regrets.
Alcohol, coffee and tea are not allowed. Fruit, fruit juices, sugar and all animal products must also be eliminated.
Not impressed by the look of a bowl of soup, Alicia comments: “This might be a bit of baby food or something you get in prison?”
Even still, the diet tester reluctantly endures the soup diet and sticks to the rules, as prescribed.
So how did she go? Before the diet, Alicia weighed 12 stone nine pounds (80.2 kilograms). After five days on the soup diet, she weighed 12 stone three pounds (77.5 kilograms), dropping six pounds (2.7 kilograms).
“For me, being a single mum [who is] busy working, it’s a diet that takes a lot of time. I may go back to it but it won’t be anytime soon.”
Again, as there is no widespread proof that 'souping' for a set number of days will help you lose weight. The impact of a soup diet will depend on the state of your health before dieting, the amount of exercise you do and lifestyle changes made during the dieting period. It's also unclear from the test why Alicia dropped the kilos: was it because of what she was eating or due to what she stopped eating?
The diet tested is a ‘crash diet’, which can prove unhealthy for some people. As mentioned by Xand in the show, losing a lot of weight quickly can be dangerous so if you are looking to diet, always consult a doctor first to discuss your options.
Of course, there’s no need to be so drastic if you want to include more soups into your autumnal diet as a way to boost your vegetable intake or lose weight. Just add them to your diet in moderation as the cooler days set in.
A US study shows that eating a low-calorie soup before a meal can help you to cut back on how much food and calories you eat during your meal. During the study, participants ate a soup and then consumed an entrée and main meal. The research results showed that they reduced their total calorie intake by 20 percent if they had soup before their two-course meal.
Note: Always consult a medical professional before dieting to ensure the diet is right for you.
Want to know more about what's behind some of the most popular dieting methods around? Watch the new season of 'The Diet Testers', airing on Thursdays at 8.35pm on SBS from 1 March.
Episodes will be available to watch after broadcast on SBS On Demand.