Cabbage Soup for all

A recipe for cabbage soup was posted on twitter recently, positing that this soup – eaten twice a day for 4 days – would see someone nicely fed for only £1 per day. Obviously that is excluding breakfast.

The recipe was 1kg bacon for £1.49(!?), 99p of potato, 59p of cabbage, 80p of split peas, and 57p of swede.

These sorts of menus rarely come with the crucial information of what it would actually provide in terms of nutrition. Could a person survive on it? Of course the answer is no.

The soup recipe relies very heavily on the sheer quantity of potatoes, which comes out at 300g per portion – and with 2-3 portions of soup per day, you could be eating close on to a kilogram of potatoes in a single day! Of course your vits and mins are inadequate; this could be improved by reducing the potatoes and increasing the cabbage and swede or other root vegetables, but cabbage and swede are, gram for gram, higher in price and lower in calories.

I found that the calories were so inadequate that the portions needed to be about 50% bigger than the OP suggested (this has resulted in daily consumption of 3/8ths of the total soup, because I started by assuming one portion was 1/8th or 1/4 per day, and then added another 50%). This came out as 79p/portion for the potato-heavy version and £1.38 for the veg-heavy version. Now, these are not bank-breaking prices. Unfortunately, they’re health-breaking nutrition, because of the deficiencies in vitamins and minerals.

I didn’t follow the exact recipe above, because it simply isn’t sensible to expect to get a kilogram of bacon for £1.49. I did the best I could, which was £1.29 for 300g of bacon from Aldi. As smoked bacon was no more expensive than unsmoked, I ‘purchased’ smoked bacon for the extra flavour. I got 2.5kg of potatoes for the cited 99p. Aldi cabbage was 61p rather than 59p, but that’s close enough, and I took an estimated weight of 540g. Aldi didn’t have split peas so I replaced them with lentils, which at £1.05 for a 500g bag meant that 80p-worth weighed 380g. The swede was available at the cited 57p, and I estimated its weight as 700g. In doing the nutritional calculations, I treated the potato as having been baked with the skin as there was no option in the database that I was using to consider boiled-with-skin, and I’m not about to remove the most nutritious part of the potato.

Two portions of the soup, using my weightings rather than the assumed kilogram (!!) of bacon, gave 1000 calories. If the rest of the calories are to be made up from breakfast, then that breakfast is doing some very heavy lifting and is rather belying the attempt to claim that eating is cheap. The kind of person who recommends a menu like this one may also be the same kind of person who claims that a portion of oats (cooked in water; no additions) makes breakfast. But because that’s silly, I’ve repeated the calculations of daily nutrition with my own breakfast (porridge oats with banana, mixed berries, sultanas, a tablespoon of yoghurt and cocoa). Feel free to try what it looks like with the breakfast of your choice, but cereal with milk is unlikely to add enough nutritional value for you.

The calories are still inadequate (93% of a woman's daily needs. Sorry, men, you're going very hungry), even with a nutritrious breakfast, but hey poor people don’t need to exercise, do they?, so they can eat less. We’ll ignore the extra energy they’re burning in an attempt to keep warm. We'll also ignore the need to eat more calories because the lack of vits and mins means that the person's metabolism is struggling, and they're tending to put energy down as fat rather than burn it for fuel, which means that they're both struggling with weight and struggling to eat enough to not be constantly tired.

Having said that, of course calories aren’t the only thing that matters. Fortunately, this soup has so many potatoes in it, as well as lentils and bacon, that there’s plenty of protein (less protein if the potatoes are skinned, but we need the skins for their vits and mins). There’s a shortfall in fat, though, and whilst you may think that this makes the menu healthy it actually means a difficulty in getting fat-soluble vitamins. There’s far too much fibre, so be prepared for an upset stomach. Soup alone, 3/8ths per day:

Calories 1513; Carbs 94%; Sugar 43%; Protein 116.5%; fat 41%; Fibre 200%

Soup with porridge (40g oats, 80g banana, 80g mixed berries, 30g sultanas, 1tbsp yoghurt, 1bsp cocoa)

Calories 1873; Carbs 125%; Sugar 80%; Protein 139%; fat 51.5%; Fibre 224%

Minerals wise, the soup even with only two portions a day has enough magnesium and phosphorus (thank you, potatoes). Three portions gets the copper up to scratch and nearly enough zinc (thanks again to the potatoes). But even adding in a nutritious porridge leaves substantial lacks in sodium, selenium and iodine, and an insufficiency of calcium. And you need that nutritious porridge to get adequate iron levels. The bacon is doing its best to get the sodium levels up, but without any stock or salt actually added to the soup, it can’t get us there.


Na 25%; Ca 65%; Mg 196%; K 170%; Fe 76%; Cu 109%; Zi 95%; Se 40%; I 17%

Soup with porridge:

Na 25%; Ca 79%; Mg 293%; K 230%; Fe 105%; Cu 190%; Zi 130%; Se 43%; I 17%

The lack of sodium is causing nausea, headache, confusion, fatigue, irritability, muscle weakness and cramps. These cramps are exacerbated by not having enough calcium, whilst the muscle and mental fatiue is exacerbated by the lack of selenium. The person also has a weakened immune system (insufficient selenium) and struggles with weight gain, fatigue, weakness, memory problems, slowed heart rate and feeling colder than usual because of insufficient iodine.

So our poor person is feeling extra cold, struggles to be active due to mineral-deficiency, gains weight because of mineral deficiency, and then is stigmatised for being fat and tired when the issue is that they not only can't afford to eat healthily, but they're being told that unhealthy diets like this one are good for them.

Vitamins wise, Vits K1, Thiamin, Niacin (equivalents), B6 and C are fine (thank you potatoes, which are almost single-handedly responsible for all of these, with some help from cabbage and swede for the Vit C). But there are serious deficiencies in Vit A, Vit D, and Vit E, and inadequate amounts of Riboflavin and B12. We could go for the 1kg of bacon option, which would more than triple our Vit D (bacon being the only source of Vit D in our soup), but that would also increase the price, and still wouldn’t be enough Vit D.

Vit A equiv 3%; Vit D 10%; Vit E 16%; Vit K1 880%; Thiamin 270%; Riboflavin 35%; Niacin eq. 170%; Vit B6 140%; Vit B12 75%; Vit C 540%

Retinol Equiv 7%; Vit D 10%; Vit E 26%; Vit K1 970%; Thiamin 350%; Riboflavin 47%; Niacin eq. 190%; Vit B6 180%; Vit B12 77%; Vit C 710%

The Vit A deficiency is causing a weakened immune system. Vit D deficinecy is adding more fatigue, bone pain, muscle weakness and depression to the mix. Insufficient Vit E is causing problems with numbness in the limbs, poor body movement control, muscle weakness, and a weakened immune system. This poor person is not doing well at all.

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