What to eat and when

People following the military diet may need to substitute foods that do not appeal to them or do not fit their dietary requirements. There are many alternative food options that suit diets such as vegan and gluten-free diets.

The military diet restricts calories on 3 days of the week. Many proponents of the diet claim that it can help people lose weight.

However, there is no evidence to suggest that military personnel eat this way. The recommendations derive from a website that outlines the diet without providing any research-based evidence to support its effectiveness.

This article explores the military diet, how it supposedly works, and substitutes for military diet foods that may not suit a person’s tastes or dietary restrictions. This article also explores whether or not the military diet is effective and whether or not it is healthy.

People following the military diet eat a low calorie meal plan for 3 days and have 4 days off, during which they eat as normal.

A website for the military diet details an eating plan for each of the 3 diet days, ranging from 1,100–1,400 calories per day. The website claims that people can lose 10 pounds (lb) in a week, but there is no evidence for this.

The website’s main page only lists foods for 3 diet days, so without substitutions, people following the diet for longer than a week need to eat the same foods each week.

However, the website does also have a page of military diet substitutions. The following section looks at some alternative foods that the military diet permits.

Some people may want to choose a substitute because they find a particular food unappealing. Other people may need to substitute because they have dietary requirements.

The website provides replacement ideas for the following diets:

  • gluten-free
  • lactose-free
  • vegetarian
  • vegan

Here is a list of the common substitutes that people can choose on the 3 days of restricted eating each week:

Grapefruit

The military diet website suggests that someone can drink half a teaspoon (tsp) of baking soda in water to replace grapefruit.

It says that baking soda and grapefruit affect the body’s pH levels, creating the alkaline conditions that someone needs to burn fat. However, the website does not provide any evidence for this.

Tuna

According to the website, instead of tuna, someone can use any very lean meat. However, fish is preferable.

In addition, people following a vegan or vegetarian diet can choose cottage cheese, tofu, or avocado.

Coffee

The website advises that caffeine is an integral part of the military diet but suggests that the diet still works if people cannot tolerate caffeine.

People can substitute decaffeinated coffee, green tea, or other herbal teas.

Cottage or Cheddar cheese

Plain Greek yogurt, ricotta cheese, or other cheeses with similar nutrient profiles are suitable substitutes.

People can also choose eggs or ham as an alternative to cottage or Cheddar cheeses.

In addition, people following a vegan diet can substitute a cup of unsweetened plant-based milk such as soy or almond and 2 tablespoons (tbsp) of hummus.

Toast

People who choose not to eat bread or who follow a gluten-free diet can substitute any of the following:

  • one gluten-free corn tortilla or two rice cakes
  • one-eighth of a cup of sunflower seeds
  • one-quarter of a cup of yogurt with half a tsp of flax seeds
  • half a cup of gluten-free whole grain cereal
  • half a cup of oats
  • half a high protein bar

Peanut butter

Some people have a peanut allergy and may want to substitute peanut butter.

Instead, they can choose an alternative nut butter or seed butter, such as pumpkin seed, almond, or cashew (as long as they do not have allergies to these). They can also substitute a hummus or bean dip.

Meat

Instead of meat, vegetarians or vegans can substitute the following:

  • beans
  • lentils
  • tofu
  • Portobello mushrooms
  • soy-based meat substitutes

Green beans

People can substitute the same calorie amount of any other green vegetable, such as spinach, kale, or lettuce. They can also choose tomatoes instead.

Banana

As long as someone eats the same amount of calories, they can choose any of the following instead of a banana:

  • two kiwis
  • plums
  • grapes
  • applesauce
  • 1 cup of papaya
  • two apricots

Vanilla ice-cream

A cup of fruit flavored yogurt or apple juice is a suitable substitute for vanilla ice-cream.

In addition, people following a vegan or lactose-free diet can choose plant-based or lactose-free versions of ice-cream.

Hard-boiled eggs

For people who do not eat eggs and those who have allergies to them, the website suggests the following substitutions:

  • 1 cup of milk
  • half a cup of baked beans
  • two slices of bacon
  • one chicken wing

Hot dogs

Someone can choose luncheon meat, deli meat, or turkey dogs.

People who follow a plant-based diet can substitute tofu dogs, a Portobello mushroom, vegetarian burgers, or lentils.

Broccoli and carrots

A person can choose a different vegetable in place of broccoli, such as cauliflower or asparagus.

Likewise, they can substitute carrots with squash, parsnips, or beets. Celery and bell peppers are also suitable.

Saltine crackers

According to the website, each saltine cracker has 13 calories, so people should choose a substitute food with the same total calories.

For example, people following a gluten-free diet can choose gluten-free crackers. Other people can choose quinoa or couscous instead.

Apple

The following are suitable substitutes for apples:

  • peaches
  • grapes
  • plums
  • pears
  • dried apricots
  • zucchini

The following section provides an example 3-day meal plan, detailing a day for the regular diet, a day for a vegan version, and a day for a gluten-free version.

When making substitutions, people should make sure that the food has the same amount of calories as the food they are replacing. People can find more details by visiting the website.

Day 1 (regular diet)

Breakfast

  • half a grapefruit
  • one slice of toast with 2 tbsp of peanut butter
  • 1 cup of coffee or tea (with caffeine)

Lunch

  • half a cup of tuna
  • one slice of toast
  • 1 cup of coffee or tea (with caffeine)

Dinner

  • 3 ounces of any type of meat
  • 1 cup of green beans
  • half a banana
  • one small apple
  • 1 cup of vanilla ice-cream

Day 2 (substitutions for a vegan diet)

Breakfast

  • half a cup of baked beans
  • one slice of whole wheat toast
  • half a banana

Lunch

  • 1 cup of unsweetened soy, hemp, or almond milk
  • half an avocado
  • 2 tbsp of hummus
  • five saltine crackers

Dinner

  • two vegan hot dogs (without buns)
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • half a cup of carrots
  • half a banana
  • half a cup of vegan vanilla ice-cream

Day 3 (substitutions for a gluten-free diet)

Breakfast

  • gluten-free crackers totaling 65 calories
  • one slice of Cheddar cheese
  • one small apple

Lunch

  • one hard-boiled egg
  • two gluten-free rice cakes

Dinner

  • 1 cup of tuna
  • half a banana
  • 1 cup of gluten-free vanilla ice-cream

There is no scientific evidence to suggest that the military diet works or enables someone to lose 10 lb per week. The diet adheres to intermittent fasting or caloric restriction, which some advocates recommend for weight loss.

A 2019 review looked at the effects of intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding on weight loss compared with those of continuous energy restriction. The researchers found that 9 out of the 11 studies they reviewed showed no difference between the two approaches.

However, the studies did have limitations, so scientists need to conduct more research to draw firm conclusions.

People should also be aware that the military diet recommends processed foods that contribute sugar, fat, and salt to the diet.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise that people mainly consume nutrient dense whole foods. Therefore, eating foods such as hot dogs, ice-cream, and saltine crackers every week as part of the military diet may not benefit health.

Also, the repetitive nature of the diet may limit the variety of foods that someone eats.

For example, the government’s MyPlate resource recommends that people vary the vegetables they eat to include different colors and types. However, the military diet is quite limited in the kinds of foods it suggests.

That said, someone could try varying the types of foods they eat on the remaining 4 days of regular eating to account for this.

There are various substitutions that people can choose when following the military diet.

For example, using alternative foods may allow someone who follows a vegan or gluten-free diet to try the plan. Using substitutions can also prevent the diet from becoming repetitive and help make meals more appealing.

However, there is no evidence to suggest that the military diet works better for weight loss than other programs that reduce overall daily calorie intake.

A person can consult a dietitian or nutritionist for advice about which diet and exercise plan is healthy and suits them best.