The military diet is a calorie-restricted fad diet that claims to help you lose 10 pounds (4.5 kg) in a week.
It offers detailed instructions on what, when, and how much to eat. Its primary foods include toast, canned tuna, eggs, apples, bananas, cheese, cottage cheese, saltine crackers, hot dogs, vanilla ice cream, peanut butter, tea, coffee, and grapefruit.
However, due to aversions, sensitivities, medical reasons, and dietary or religious practices, some people don’t eat some of these foods. Therefore, you may be curious about food swaps that are permitted on this diet.
Here are 10 common food substitutions on the military diet.
The military diet allows food substitution and lists several swaps for each food item on its website. For example, you can swap 1 cup (113 grams) of canned tuna for 1/2 cup (83 grams) of chickpeas, or half a grapefruit for 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and a glass of water.
However, the diet’s website doesn’t provide detailed measurements for each alternative food, suggesting that the original and the substitute have the same number of calories.
You may notice that some food substitutions don’t match up nutritionally with the original food item. As such, calorie and macronutrient info is offered below to help you choose the most comparable food swaps.
Furthermore, you may want to steer clear of some swaps, such as baking soda and water in place of grapefruit, since some approved alternatives aren’t good sources of nutrients.
The military diet includes a list of approved food swaps on its website. Although these foods may align with the diet’s own methodology, they’re often nutritionally unequal to the foods that they’re replacing.
Foods that people frequently want to swap on the military diet include fish, meat, and eggs. All of these animal products are high in protein, so the swaps below are comparably protein-rich.
Although the alternatives mentioned are also naturally gluten-free, there may be a risk of cross contamination. If you must avoid gluten, be sure to check the packaging for a label that certifies your foods as gluten-free.
1. Substitutes for canned tuna
The military diet often prescribes 4 ounces (113 grams) of canned tuna. This amount typically contains 131 calories and 29 grams of protein (1).
Fish or meat alternatives
- Sushi-grade tuna, cooked, 3 ounces (85 grams): 142 calories, 25 grams of protein (2)
- Fish (pollock), cooked, 4 ounces (113 grams): 133 calories, 28 grams of protein (3)
- Pork loin (sirloin, chops, boneless, lean), broiled, 3 ounces (85 grams): 137 calories, 24 grams of protein (4)
- Lamb, lean, roasted, 2.5 ounces (71 grams): 139 calories, 19 grams of protein (5)
- Beef, ground, 97% lean, 4 ounces (113 grams): 137 calories, 25 grams of protein (6)
- Chicken breast, skinless, grilled, 3 ounces (85 grams): 128 calories, 26 grams of protein (7)
Keep in mind that the military diet simply recommends substituting tuna with lean meat or fish instead of providing specific meats and quantities.
- Cottage cheese, low fat, 3/4 cup (165 grams): 139 calories, 18 grams of protein (8)
This amount of cottage cheese provides a similar number of calories but only half the protein found in 1 cup (113 grams) of canned tuna.
Vegan and lactose-free alternatives
- Tofu, regular, 3/4 cup (186 grams): 143 calories, 15 grams of protein (9)
- Almonds, whole, 1 ounce (28 grams), or around 23 nuts: 164 calories, 6 grams of protein (10)
- Half an avocado (68 grams) and 2 tablespoons (34 grams) of hummus: 196 calories, 4 grams of protein (11, 12)
Much like cottage cheese, this serving size of tofu provides similar calories but less than half the amount of protein found in 1 cup (113 grams) of tuna.
Almonds and avocados are not very rich in protein, so they’re not an ideal swap for tuna.
2. Substitutes for lean meat
The military diet calls for lean meat, though it doesn’t specify the type.
Just 4 ounces (113 grams) of turkey, lean beef, and lean pork provide 130–138 calories and 22–26 grams of protein (13, 14, 15).
- Lentils, cooked, 1/2 cup (100 grams): 116 calories, 9 grams of protein (16)
- Pinto beans, cooked, 1/2 cup (86 grams): 123 calories, 8 grams of protein (17)
- Mushroom, shiitake, cooked, 1 cup (145 grams): 81 calories, 2.2 grams of protein (18)
- Tofu, regular, 1/2 cup (124 grams): 94 calories, 10 grams of protein (19)
Keep in mind that shiitake mushrooms are particularly low in protein, and the other plant foods in this list contain less than half of the protein as 4 ounces (113 grams) of lean meat.
3. Substitutes for bunless hot dogs
Two low fat, bunless hot dogs — a common item on the military diet — provide 160 calories, 14 grams of protein, and 11 grams of fat (20).
- Turkey sausage, 1.5 sausages (68 grams): 150 calories, 8 grams of protein, 12 grams of fat (21)
- Chicken sausage, 1.5 sausages (68 grams): 150 calories, 10 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat (22)
- Spam, 2 ounces (56 grams): 180 calories, 7 grams of protein, 16 grams fat (23)
- Vegan sausage, meatless, 1 sausage (70 grams): 163 calories, 14 grams of protein, 10 grams of fat (24)
- Beyond sausage, 3/4 link (56 grams): 165 calories, 11 grams of protein, 11 grams of fat (25)
- Black beans, cooked, 3/4 cup (129 grams): 170 calories, 11 grams of protein, 1 gram of fat (26)
- Lentils, cooked, 1/3 cup (149 grams): 173 calories, 13 grams of protein, 0.5 grams of fat (27)
Since the vegan sauce items are processed foods, you may need to check the packaging if you need to avoid gluten, lactose, or particular food allergens.
Beans and lentils are less processed and contain similar amounts of protein per serving.
4. Substitutes for eggs
One large, hard-boiled egg contains 76 calories and 6 grams of protein (28).
- Bacon, cooked, 2 strips (12.6 grams): 63 calories, 5 grams of protein (29)
- Milk, skim, 1 cup (240 mL): 84 calories, 8 grams of protein (30)
- Half an avocado (100 grams): 161 calories, 2 grams of protein (31)
- Baked beans, canned, 1/3 cup (84 grams): 87 calories, 4 grams of protein (32)
Bear in mind that half of an avocado isn’t an apt substitute for an egg since it has far more calories and less protein. You may prefer baked beans, skim milk, or bacon.
Simply avoid the milk if you’re lactose intolerant.
You can substitute various meat products on the military diet with other meats, dairy, or plant-based protein sources. However, keep in mind that vegan substitutes may not provide enough protein if you’re substituting calorie for calorie.
Dairy is a good source of dietary protein, so the substitutes in this category are sorted by both total calories and protein content.
5. Substitutes for cottage cheese
The military diet often calls for cottage cheese. Just 1 cup (220 grams) of this dairy product provides 180 calories and 24 grams of protein (33).
Vegetarian and dairy alternatives
- Greek yogurt, Greek, plain, nonfat, 1 cup (312 grams): 184 calories, 32 grams of protein (34)
- Ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup (124 grams): 186 calories, 9 grams of protein (35)
- Mozzarella cheese, shredded, 1/2 cup (57 grams): 169 calories, 13 grams of protein (36)
Meat and egg alternatives
- Large eggs, boiled, 2.5 eggs (125 grams): 194 calories, 16 grams of protein (37)
- Ham steak, 5 ounces (142 grams): 173 calories, 28 grams of protein (38)
- Tofu, 1/2 block (232 grams): 176 calories, 19 grams of protein (39)
- Soy milk, unsweetened, 1 cup (240 mL), plus 2 tablespoons (34 grams) of hummus: (74 calories, 11 grams of protein (40, 41)
- Almond milk, unsweetened, 1 cup (240 mL), plus 2 tablespoons (34 grams) of hummus: 122 calories, 3.5 grams of protein (42, 43)
While the military diet recommends substituting 1 cup (22 grams) of cottage cheese with 1 cup (240 mL) of unsweetened plant milk and 2 tablespoons (34 grams) of hummus, this swap is less than ideal since these milks are very low calorie.
Only if you double or triple the amount of milk and/or hummus can you can approach the desired calories — and you may still fail to reach the protein content of cottage cheese.
Tofu is a much more comparable alternative to cottage cheese in terms of both calories and protein.
6. Substitutes for vanilla ice cream
Only 1/2 cup (66 grams) of vanilla ice cream packs 137 calories and 16 grams of carbs (44).
- Greek yogurt, low fat, strawberry flavored, 1/2 cup (123 grams): 129 calories, 15 grams of carbs (45)
Flavored Greek yogurt also boasts far more protein than the same amount of ice cream.
- Apple juice, 1.25 cups (296 mL): 143 calories, 35 grams of carbs (46)
- Almond milk, vanilla flavored, 1.5 cups (360 mL): 137 calories, 24 grams of carbs (47)
For dairy products on the military diet, animal foods and vegan products alike make good alternatives. Bear in mind that animal-based products often match dairy’s protein content better than vegan ones.
Since the military diet calls for several carb-rich baked goods, such as bread and crackers, the alternatives below contain similar amounts of carbs.
They’re also lactose-free except for yogurt, and all are vegan except for yogurt and tortillas, which may contain lard. Always check the ingredient list to be sure.
7. Alternatives for toast
A single slice of toast offers 71 calories and 13 grams of carbs (48).
- Tortilla, flour, 1/2 medium (23 grams): 69 calories, 11 grams of carbs (49)
- Cereal, Kashi, 7 whole grain, 1 cup (19 grams): 64 calories, 15 grams of carbs (50)
- Tortilla, corn, 1 medium (28 grams): 61 calories, 13 grams of carbs (51)
- Rice cake, plain, 2 cakes (18 grams): 70 calories, 15 grams of carbs (52)
- Sunflower seeds, 1/8 cup (16 grams): 104 calories, 3 grams of carbs (53)
- High protein bar, 1/2 bar (17.5 grams): 72 calories, 7 grams of carbs (54)
- Yogurt, plain, whole milk, 1/4 cup (61 grams), plus 1/2 teaspoon (2.5 grams) of flaxseed: 52 calories, 5 grams of carbs (55, 56)
8. Alternatives for saltine crackers
Around 5 saltine crackers pack 63 calories and 11 grams of carbs (57).
- Wheat crackers, 2 pieces (15 grams): 66 calories, 10 grams of carbs (58)
- Couscous, cooked, 1/2 cup (79 grams): 88 calories, 18 grams of carbs (59)
- Rice cake, plain, 2 cakes (18 grams): 70 calories, 15 grams of carbs (60)
- Gluten-free crackers, 5 pieces (15 grams): 68 calories, 10 grams of carbs (61)
- Quinoa, cooked, 1/3 cup (62 grams): 74 calories, 13 grams of carbs (62)
When substituting for toast and saltine crackers on the military diet, you can choose any number of grain products — both gluten-free and not.
One of the military diet’s primary foods is grapefruit, though the diet’s only suggested swap is an item that contains almost no nutrients.
Thus, you’re better off swapping grapefruit for another citrus fruit.
Alternatives for grapefruit
Half of a grapefruit contains 41 calories, 1.4 grams of fiber, and 44 mg of vitamin C (63).
The military diet’s suggested swap
- Baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon, in a glass of water: 0 calories, 0 grams of fiber, and 0 mg of vitamin C (64, 65)
The diet’s proponents claim that this swap is necessary because baking soda makes your body more alkaline, which is said to be conducive to fat burning.
However, your body’s pH is naturally slightly alkaline, and your body and all its systems work to keep it that way (66).
No concrete evidence suggests that any food or ingredient can alter your pH significantly. The claim that alkalinity is tied to weight loss is likewise unsubstantiated.
For a diet that includes very few fruits and vegetables and supports the regular intake of empty calories like ice cream and saltines, substituting a nutrient-rich fruit with a bicarbonate salt like baking soda is unreasonable. It’s best to avoid this swap.
Baking soda and water isn’t a nutritionally comparable alternative for grapefruit. You’re better off swapping for a different citrus fruit.
The military diet sets no limits on your intake of coffee and black tea.
Still, if you avoid these drinks for any reason, you can try both caffeinated and caffeine-free alternatives.
Alternatives for common caffeinated beverages
Brewed black tea and coffee both are great sources of caffeine. Just 1 cup (240 mL) of brewed coffee provides 96 mg of caffeine, while the same amount of black tea offers 54 mg (67, 68).
- Green tea, 1 cup (240 mL): 32 mg of caffeine (69)
- Red Bull, sugar-free, 1 cup (240 mL): 72 mg of caffeine (70)
- Hot chocolate, sugar-free, 1 cup (240 mL): 0 mg of caffeine
- Herbal tea, 1 cup (240 mL): 0 mg of caffeine
Hot chocolate doesn’t provide enough caffeine to be a comparable coffee alternative. Still, if you’re simply craving a hot drink, it’s a good option.
Other than herbal tea, beverages made with guarana, yerba mate, or green coffee beans may be equally effective pick-me-ups, but the military diet doesn’t mention any of them.
You can substitute coffee and black tea on the military diet with green tea, caffeinated energy drinks, or a few other caffeine-free beverages.
There are many reasons why you might be interested in looking at alternative food options on the military diet.
Restricted eating patterns like the military diet often prescribe particular foods. You may simply dislike one of these items and want other options.
Complementary eating patterns
Food swaps are necessary for some people who follow an additional eating pattern that restricts a certain food or food group. Some of the more popular diets done in tandem with the military diet include:
- The vegan diet. No foods of animal origin, such as meat, eggs, or dairy, are allowed.
- The paleo diet. This eating pattern limits grains, legumes, milk, and processed foods.
- The ketogenic diet. This popular diet severely restricts your carb intake in favor of fat.
Faith-based dietary restrictions
Religions may incorporate dietary laws that prohibit certain military diet foods. Faiths with dietary restrictions include (71):
- Mormonism. Mormon doctrine prescribes the avoidance of caffeinated beverages like coffee and tea.
- Judaism. Practitioners may avoid foods that aren’t kosher.
- Islam. Adherents may not eat foods that aren’t halal.
- Hinduism. Most Hindus are lacto-vegetarians — and for those who do eat meat, most avoid beef and pork.
- Buddhism. Some sects may mandate strict vegetarianism.
- Jainism. Most people who follow the Jain faith are strict lacto-vegetarians who also avoid eating any root vegetables, such as onions, garlic, and potatoes.
Food sensitivities and intolerances occur when your body has trouble digesting certain foods. Common substances that cause intolerance include (72):
- Lactose. Lactose is a sugar found in milk. People with lactose sensitivity or intolerance may need to limit or avoid milk products.
- Gluten. Gluten is a protein found in cereal grains like wheat, oats, rye, and barley. People with gluten intolerance or celiac disease may need to avoid all gluten-containing products, as well as foods processed in facilities that handle gluten.
Unlike intolerances and sensitivities, a food allergy is an immune reaction and may be life threatening. More than 160 foods have been known to cause allergenic reactions. Of those, here are some of the major allergens (73):
- tree nuts
Someone who is allergic to any of these foods can still follow the military diet plan if they carefully swap foods.
Health conditions and medicinal interactions
Managing a medical condition sometimes involves following a certain diet. For example, people with diabetes may be advised to limit their carb intake, while those with heart disease may need to limit foods high in sodium or cholesterol.
Certain medications may also negatively react with foods. For instance, grapefruit — which the military diet prescribes — is known to interact with numerous drugs, such as cholesterol-lowering, anti-anxiety, and blood pressure medications (74).
There are a number of reasons you may be looking to swap certain items out on the military diet, including food aversion, allergies, complementary diets, or restrictions related to health conditions.
For all its easy instructions and simple menu planning, the military diet is an unbalanced eating pattern that encourages a regular intake of ice cream, saltine crackers, canned tuna, and toast. It’s also particularly low in fruits and vegetables and high in processed foods.
While certain substitutes, such as lean meat or tofu for tuna, rice cakes for saltines, and yogurt for ice cream, may be equal in terms of calories and even slightly more nutritious, this isn’t true for every swap.
In fact, some of the swaps that this fad diet recommends have no nutritional value. For instance, baking soda mixed with water isn’t a viable swap for grapefruit.
Given that the military diet’s approved food substitutes aren’t in line with nutritional science, you’re better off following an eating pattern that’s rich in nutrient-dense, whole foods.