Fads such as the seven-day Sacred Heart diet play on the eternal struggle between knowing that it takes commitment and hard work to lose weight and wishing with all your heart that it didn't. Before-and-after photos make it seem easy, because you don't actually see the effort that went into achieving the end result — which means you have no sense of the hard work it took.
But no matter how tempting the promise of instant weight loss with very little effort sounds, no matter how slickly produced the ads are and no matter how powerful the word of mouth might seem, there is no magical or miracle combination of foods that will melt off pounds through some kind of fat-melting alchemy.
On the other hand, while it is not possible to achieve any sort of sustainable weight loss with a severely restrictive fad diet, if your goal is simply to drop a few pounds of water weight for a special occasion or to kick-start a more comprehensive weight loss plan, the Sacred Heart diet gives you a more nutritious choice than something like a maple syrup, lemon and cayenne pepper fast or any other extreme fad.
Facts About Weight Loss
Weight loss basically boils down to making sure you burn off more calories than you take in, as well as ensuring that the calories you eat are nutrient dense rather than empty. According to the experts at the University System of Georgia, avoiding processed meats and sodas, as well as vending machine snacks, is a good place to start.
These experts also recommend that women take in 46 grams of protein per day and men 56 grams, which would be a challenge on the Sacred Heart diet. While this diet plan is based around a soup made with broth, chicken broth only contains 1.4 grams of protein per cup. Unless you add meat or plant proteins to this diet, you will not meet your protein needs.
However you decide to approach your Sacred Heart diet, the good news is that losing even a little bit of weight will have a positive effect on your health. Losing only 10 percent of your body weight, advise the experts at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, can help lower your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.
Read more: Recommended Caloric Intake for Weight Loss
Concerns About Fad Diets
Before starting on the seven-day Sacred Heart diet, it is a good idea to know what you are getting yourself into. When sugar is stored as glycogen, explains Leia Wedem, nutrition and wellness educator, at the University of Illinois Extension, each gram of glycogen binds to 3 or 4 grams of water. When you suddenly and dramatically cut your calorie intake, your body uses this stored glycogen and releases the water.
This is why you will generally lose at least 5 pounds during the first week of a diet. Unfortunately, this is not actual fat burned for energy; it is just stored water. To burn stored fat, you have to reduce the number of calories you take in and also increase the number of calories you burn through physical activity.
Sacred Heart Diet Basics
While many claim that the Sacred Heart diet was created at a hospital for cardiac surgery patients, no hospital by that name is willing to confirm this. Therefore, there are several different versions of the Sacred Heart diet — which is also sometimes confused with the cabbage soup diet. But in most recipes for Sacred Heart diet soup, cabbage is not included.
The basic recipe consists of:
- Fat-free chicken or beef broth
- Fat-free powdered soup mix
- Green beans
- Green onions
- Green peppers
- Stewed tomatoes
According to the food enthusiasts at Panlasang Pinoy, you can have as much of the soup as you like, along with certain foods on certain days. For example, some versions of the diet allow all fruit except bananas on the first day; no fruit, but a baked potato, on the second day; all fruit and vegetables but no potato on the third day and so on. You can repeat this pattern until you reach your goal weight. Though this is not a well-balanced diet plan, it does offer some beneficial nutrition.
Benefits of Broth
Most Sacred Heart diet soup recipes start with either chicken or beef broth, though you could use vegetable broth if you are a vegetarian or vegan. If you want to increase your diet's nutritional profile, consider making the soup with homemade bone broth. This is simply a broth or stock make with bones instead of bouillon or just the meat. One of the benefits of bone broth, according to Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN in Today's Dietitian magazine, is that it contains slightly more protein than regular broth made with vegetables and aromatics.
Amidor goes on to explain that bone broth contains as much as 6 grams of protein per serving. The amino acids in protein are necessary for the building and repairing of your muscle tissue. Protein also takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, so keeps you feeling full for longer after a meal.
Making the bone broth at home also means you can control the level of sodium and avoid sugar, preservatives and other additives. Also, a meal you prepare to your own taste is less likely to get boring if you are eating it every day and can change the seasonings for each batch.
Value of Vegetables
Vegetables contain fiber, which not only helps you feel full, but is necessary for efficient elimination. According to the experts at Oregon State University, a diet high in vegetables can help reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Vegetables also have fewer calories per serving than meat, poultry or fish and contain no saturated fats.
Oregon State University goes on to explain that the antioxidants in deeply colored vegetables — such as carrots, green beans and green peppers — can help reverse the effects of free radicals, which are sort of like rust on your cells. If left unchecked, they can lead to heart disease, stroke and certain types of cancer, and are responsible for some of the visible signs of aging.
Because there is no magical combination of foods that will melt fat, don't be afraid to experiment with the vegetables in your soup. Broccoli adds color, texture and solid nutrition, as do spinach and kale. Substitute yellow or orange bell peppers for the carrots for a soup that is slightly less sweet. Add garlic if you like, to step up the flavor.
Read more: The 18 Most Nutritious Vegetables
Truth About Tomatoes
Tomatoes are a fruit rather than a vegetable, but their nutritional profile is solid. According to Dr. Stephen Sinatra, MD, FACC, FACN, CNS, CBT, of the Heart MD Institute, tomatoes are high in vitamins A, C and K, and the B vitamins. Vitamins A and C are powerful antioxidants, while the B vitamins help regulate cholesterol and protect against heart disease. Vitamin K is necessary in order for your blood to clot.
The most important nutrient in tomatoes, Dr. Sinatra explains, is lycopene. This is what makes tomatoes red, and it shows great promise in protecting against certain types of cancers — including breast, colorectal, gastric, lung and especially prostate cancer.
Unlike with most fruits and vegetables, which are healthiest eaten raw or as close to it as possible, the lycopene in tomatoes is more readily used by your body if it is cooked. Instead of stewed tomatoes in your soup, consider adding fresh tomatoes that you'll cook yourself, which also allows you to control the sodium and sugar and avoid the preservatives and other artificial ingredients in mass-produced foods.
Putting It All Together
Broth keeps well in the refrigerator, so if you are using homemade, consider making a large batch the day before you start your diet. While the diet calls for powdered or canned soup mix, according to which version you are following, think about leaving those out and using fresh or dried herbs and spices for flavoring instead.
Powdered and canned soups can be high in sodium and also contain hidden sugars, as well as preservatives and artificial colors and flavors. There is no real nutritional value to using powdered or canned soups in this diet.
Vegetables lose their nutritional value with continued reheating and can also degrade into an unpleasantly mushy texture. Consider roasting your vegetables beforehand, so that you can add them to your broth when you are ready to enjoy the soup.
Pros and Cons
The best thing about the seven-day Sacred Heart diet is the amount of fruits and vegetables you will be consuming, as well as the amount of protein. While the diet offers you 10 to 20 ounces of beef on day 5 and unlimited beef on day 6, it is best to stick to grilled or broiled chicken and fish to keep your calories and saturated fat counts down.
This is a convenient diet for someone living alone or cooking only for herself, but may not be all that practical if you are on a tight budget or cooking for the whole family. One way around that is to plan your meals carefully so that you can offer protein, vegetables and complex carbohydrates to the table without depriving or tempting yourself.
The main things working against this diet, according to the diet enthusiasts at Free Dieting, are that there is no suggested portion size for any meal, which means that you could easily overeat or undereat. While the vegetables and broth provide sound nutrition, it is not complete nutrition, and this diet is not one that you could stay on indefinitely.
- Free Dieting: Sacred Heart Diet: Soup Based 7 Day Meal Plan
- University of Illinois: Fad Diets May Have Merit, But Not in the Way You Think
- Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis: Moderate Weight Loss Improves Heart Health
- University System of Georgia: Lose Weight in a Healthy Way
- Today's Dietitian: Ask the Expert - What's the Deal With Bone Broth?
- Oregon State University: Linus Pauling Institute: Fruit and Vegetables
- Heart MD Institute: Why Tomatoes Are Nutritional Powerhouses
- Panlasang Pinoy: Pros and Cons of the Sacred Heart Diet