We use an online panel of Mother Earth Living readers to determine your interest in potential article topics. This year, we discovered readers were curious about soup cleansing. As the Food Editor, it’s my job to investigate nutrition fads before recommending anything trendy to our readership. I’ve often found “cleanse” is just an acceptable way of saying “diet” or “starve yourself to lose weight fast,” which we don’t recommend.
But in my research and personal experience, I found soup cleansing to be different. Turns out, it’s actually about food — about flooding our bodies with powerful nutrients and enjoying nourishing foods. For me, soup cleansing provided a welcome opportunity to take a break from default routines and recalibrate habits.
The Benefits of “Souping”
Souping is an easy way to eat a ton of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices, all in a single day (or a few consecutive days) — which means power-loading vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antioxidants. As fans of juicing know, it’s easier to ingest a ton of nutrients if we drink them rather than eat them. But compared with juicing, soup cleanses tend to have more fiber and less sugar. Some cleanses are very low-calorie, but souping shouldn’t be. The goal is not to flush ourselves through starvation. Rather, we’re assisting our natural cleansing process with whole foods, especially fiber, which is naturally detoxifying. The extra hydration from all the liquids also boosts our natural detox systems.
The main difference between souping and simply eating lots of healthy food all day is the absence of chewing. Because blended soups have already been broken down, our bodies get the nutrition without expending much digestive energy. This means giving the digestive system a little break and allowing our bodies to focus on other tasks, such as long-overdue repairs. Souping also means giving our bodies a break from substances known to cause problems for many people, including alcohol, caffeine, dairy and refined grains.
Nada Milosavljevic, an instructor at Harvard Medical School and the physician who oversees the Integrative Health Program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, thinks of souping as “an easy and cost-effective way to combat inflammation, heart disease, weight gain, fatigue and joint pain while promoting glowing skin and hair, improved memory, reduced stress, organ regeneration and more natural energy.”
How to Do a Soup Cleanse
Soup cleansing is not necessarily easy, but that’s not because you will struggle through it hungry and cranky. The process will likely make you feel full and fabulous, as it has done for me. Several recent studies support the anecdotal notion that soups are more filling than solid food, and that soup consumption is correlated with healthy weight. But soup cleansing requires upfront planning, and perhaps some advanced habit modification.
What follows is an explanation of the method of soup cleansing recommended by Angela Blatteis and Vivienne Vella, authors of The Soup Cleanse and founders of Soupure, a mail-order supplier of whole foods-based organic soups and bone broths. The program involves enjoying hot and cold soups, smoothies and broths (mostly blended and vegan) throughout the day. You can also have as much water (or infused water) and decaffeinated herbal tea as you’d like. If you feel you need some snacks during your cleanse or even a “real meal,” you can incorporate it into the plan. (Check out “Modifications & Allowances at left for some ideas.) Soupure recommends one day of souping for anyone who has not tried a detox or elimination diet before, or who isn’t used to eating many vegetables. Try a three-day cleanse if you’re looking to kick a bug, and five days if you are hoping to reduce uncomfortable symptoms, such as stomach or skin problems, or are aiming to kick off a healthy weight-loss journey.
Blatteis and Vella believe a healthy body is about nourishment, not deprivation. I agree. They claim their step-by-step instructions will nourish your body, mind and spirit. I found all these things to be true. With the basic instructions for one day of the Soupure program below, I have included my thoughts about each phase of the process.
Before the Cleanse: Get Ready.
Mostly, getting prepared for a soup cleanse will involve sourcing ingredients, and making or buying soups, broths and infused waters. (Note: If you choose to buy soups and smoothies instead of making your own, be on the lookout for excess sugar, sodium and preservatives.) Just as important, if you have some deeply entrenched habits, such as caffeine in the morning, sugar in the afternoon or wine with dinner, it will be helpful to spend a few days in advance of the cleanse finding ways to curb dependence on those items. Ideally, your cleanse day(s) will be free of alcohol and caffeine.
What I Thought: For me, the preparation turned out to be the most health-promoting aspect of the program. At first, I jumped into a soup cleanse without trying to wean from coffee, thinking the soups would provide enough natural energy. I was wrong! When it became obvious that an afternoon headache was affecting my mood and productivity, I chucked the soup plan for that day with the intent to try again later. I should mention that I had already been abstaining from alcohol for the month prior to souping, turning instead to exercise, meditation and herbal teas for stress relief. If I had not been prepared in this way, the alcohol prohibition may also have been difficult as I love a good glass or two of wine with dinner.
Step 1: Morning Starter
Begin your day with 16 ounces of warm water, plain or with a squeeze of citrus. Or try infused water. This will help your body flush what’s been in the mucus membranes and digestive tract overnight, plus whatever your body is already working on detoxifying.
What I Thought: This morning habit has been part of my routine for a long time, but I enjoyed mixing up my usual warm lemon water with the flavors of infused waters.
Step 2: Hot Morning Chaser
Enjoy a hot broth (bone- or vegetable-based) spiked with miso or seaweed. According to Blatteis and Vella, hot broths are healing for the gut, especially eaten on an empty stomach. Kombu is rich in iodine, which is integral to good thyroid function. Miso (if not heated above approximately 110 degrees) is also full of living probiotic microbes, enzymes and protein.
What I Thought: I like using nutritious bone broths in place of water whenever I see an opportunity in cooking. One of my favorite things about this soup cleanse has been finding yet another way to enjoy broth. I’ve now appropriated this cleansing step into my daily morning ritual. I find it semi-filling and uplifting.
Step 3: Chilled Breakfast
About an hour after the broth, enjoy a nut, seed and superfood smoothie blended with nut milk. This provides healthy fats, which have multiple benefits, from improved heart health to reduced inflammation, and a big energy boost. The many minerals and vitamins will also rev up your metabolism. (For those allergic to nuts, The Soup Cleanse has alternative recipes.)
What I Thought: The Superhero Smoothie (recipe at left) left me feeling satisfied and full of energy. I especially love this smoothie’s adaptability—it’s easy to mix in various nuts, nut milks, seeds, fruits and superfood powders so you don’t get bored.
Step 4: Hot Lunch
Lunch is a hot, vegetable-based soup that includes a healthful fat, such as olive oil, to help your body access the fat-soluble vitamins in the vegetables. The fiber will help you feel full, and you’ll be feeding the microflora in your gut. Plus, hot soup is always soothing.
What I Thought: I was ready for a nice hot lunch by this point. A simple soup of puréed zucchini, basil and olive oil left me feeling full (it’s hard not to feel full when you’ve been consuming so many liquids) but without any post-meal sluggishness. I actually had so much natural energy by this point in the day that I was enjoying a light feeling almost like floating.
Step 5: Afternoon Snack
Many people need more energy by the afternoon, and a fruit-based smoothie provides a quick hit of healthful energy, plus the sweetness many of us crave. If you’re in a savory mood, enjoying another cup of warm broth can keep you from snacking on unhealthy foods until dinnertime.
What I Thought: When it was time for the afternoon smoothie, I wasn’t hungry, to my surprise. I made a smoothie anyway — from strawberries, mango, kale, hemp seeds and coconut milk. In retrospect, I think it kept me from reaching for a sugary snack later on. I typically drink smoothies in the morning, but now I sometimes make an extra one, so it’s ready to grab for an afternoon lift.
Step 6: Hot Dinner
Dinner is like lunch, except the soup of vegetables and healthy fats should also include legumes or starchy vegetables, such as lentils or sweet potatoes, to help you feel sated through the night.
What I Thought: I was ready for another hot meal by dinner, but I was surprised to find I wasn’t feeling desperate for solid food. After a big bowl of lentil, chickpea and spinach soup, I noted again the delightful paradox of feeling light and full at the same time.
Step 7: Nightcap
You may include an optional warm vegetable broth, decaf latte made with nut milk or a relaxing herbal tea at night before bed.
What I Thought: I am in the habit of having a cup of tulsi (holy basil) or chamomile tea before bed, so this fit into my natural routine. And I certainly felt hydrated by the time I went to bed! I also felt calm, relaxed and clear-headed.
Since initially trying the soup cleanse, I have incorporated the first two to four steps into most of my days, plus often the afternoon fruit smoothie. I’ve also enjoyed doing a mini-cleanse (souping until dinner) from time to time. I haven’t felt the need to do a complete soup cleanse for more than two consecutive days.
What I have noticed from doing a soup cleanse of any length is an infusion of energy and a feeling of being lighter on my feet and clearer in my head. I have also welcomed the heightened awareness of what I’m eating and how it makes me feel, especially in the days following a soup cleanse. I’ve been able to be more mindful about how I am fueling my body — whether through caffeine, sugar or nutritious food.
Modifications & Allowances
If you need a snack…
Listen to your body. If it tells you that you need to chew something, munch on a small serving of low-sugar, nutrient-dense foods, such as nuts, edamame, apples with peanut butter, strawberries with whipped coconut cream, chopped melon, avocado, bitter dark chocolate, a hard-boiled egg or hummus with carrots.
If you need a real meal…
If you feel you need solid food, don’t ditch your plan to eat healthfully. A few meals you might turn to: oatmeal with nuts, berries and chia seeds; an omelet with roasted vegetables; a mixed green salad with nuts and a soft-boiled egg on top.
If you have an especially active lifestyle…
Don’t starve yourself. Add another fruit- or protein-rich soup or smoothie daily. Have another mug of warm broth while you’re at it.
If you need caffeine or alcohol…
If you try for a few days and find that you can’t get by without caffeine, consider drinking half the amount you normally do, or switching from coffee to tea for the duration of the cleanse. If you find you cannot go a day without alcohol, then preparing for the cleanse has already improved your health, because it’s time to look for more ways to decompress.
If you can’t do it all day long…
Try a mini-cleanse. Follow Steps 1 through whatever you want! Every stage offers benefits.