Scoot over juice cleanses, and make room for… soup? Born in Brooklyn and spreading across the country, this hot trend in drinkable diets is a comforting alternative to its cold juice counterpart—especially in the wintertime. “Soup is warming, satisfying, and can be packed with fiber, so it fills you up on fewer calories,” says New York City-based nutritionist Marissa Lippert, MS, RD, owner of Nourish, a nutritional counseling company, and Nourish Kitchen + Table, a celebrity haunt for healthy bites and nibbles. Now soup cleanse companies (like Los Angeles’ Soupure) are positioning themselves on par with juicing, claiming that “souping” has similar benefits: helping to boost energy, detox, reduce bloating, improve immunity, and help with weight loss.
“Soup cleanses are meant to help people care more about what they are eating and to reflect on what they are putting into their bodies,” says Nicole Chaszar, founder of Brooklyn’s The Splendid Spoon Soup Cleanse, which delivers 1 to 3 day cleanses nationwide. Eating soup is both medicinal and meditative, according to Chaszar. For starters, homemade and certain ready-made soups can and should be created using seasonal, local vegetables with an eye on the supply chain. And unlike juice cleanses—where the fiber-rich pulp is left in your Breville and not in your belly—soups contain significantly more healthy carbohydrates (when properly prepared), eliminating the chance of sugar spikes, while also aiding in speedier digestion. There’s also little risk of food borne illnesses from raw, unwashed produce that can occur with juicing.
In fact, it’s the very act of warming veggies that gives soups their good-for-you advantage. “Simmering certain nutrients, like beta-carotene and lycopene, for short periods of time breaks down the cellulose fibers so that it’s easier on your digestive system,” says Chaszar. Just don’t overcook the veggies. “If you cook a vegetable to death—and you don’t consume the broth it was cooked in—then you are missing out on a lot of vitamins and minerals,” warns Lippert.
So, how do soup cleanses work? Soupure offers local delivery of 1, 3, or 5 day cleanses that include a mix of 8 drinks each day, from chilled Pineapple Basil or Pear Yuzu waters to hot soups like Pumpkin Miso and bone broth. Chaszar’s Splendid Spoon soups come in 1, 2, or 3 day cleanses with 5 different soup varieties each day. With soup cleanses, like Chaszar's, there is a recommended order for consumption (energizing Butternut Turmeric soup is best in the morning, while protein-heavy Lentil Kale is ideal to keep cleansers feeling full through the night), but there are no set rules. “A lot of nutritionists have actually suggested that folks soup cleanse one day a week, because city dwellers eat out a lot and have very high calorie meals or high calorie days,” notes Chaszar.
Just like juices, vegan soups tend to be low-calorie (Soupure totals approximately 1200 calories a day while The Splendid Spoon’s regimen contains 715 calories), which is why Chaszar does not recommend soup-cleansing for more than 3 days. “It’s important to be aware that a lot of these low-calorie cleanses can actually slow down your metabolism,” warns Los Angeles-based nutritionist Shira Lenchewski, MS, RD. She encourages supplementing your soups with healthy additions. “I would recommend adding a couple of snacks full of healthy fats, like half an avocado with some garlic salt, or even mixing in a glug of olive oil to the soup, particularly if you’re active,” says Lenchewski.
Lippert even suggests trying soup recipes that incorporate nutrient-dense animal bones, like bone broths. Soupure includes bone broths as part of each cleanse (there’s a vegetable miso option for vegans) and sells 6-packs of healing broths à la carte as well. (see Bone Broth Is The New Miracle Drink) Despite the meat- and dairy-free-status of her soups, Chaszar likes to say, “I’m not a vegan, I just veg a lot.” For her, taking time out of her regular diet to eat clean, plant-based meals means she can make allowances for tastier treats on the weekends.
One more thing to watch out for, especially if you are DIY-ing your soup cleanse? Sodium overload. The Splendid Spoon’s total is 2200 milligrams a day—just under the FDA’s recommended intake—but most pre-packaged options tally in much higher than that.
At the end of the day, soup cleanses are just as much as about the food as they are about the experience. “I have always felt that the simplest answer [to feeling better] is to eat more vegetables,” Chaszar notes. “Each of my soups contains two full servings of vegetables, so if you have one of them instead of a bag of chips, you are already improving your cardiovascular health.”
Lenchewski agrees. “With juicing, you’re gulping a meal and that can be very counterproductive when you’re trying to adopt a healthier relationship with food. Eating soup, especially if you can put it in a bowl and use your own spoon, is something you can enjoy.” And that’s before you even have a case of that amazing sensation known as soup belly.