The military diet is a “3-days on, 4-days off” program, which supporters claim can help people lose 10 pounds per week. Individuals can also substitute some foods on the military diet for more preferable options.

Some people may also know the military diet as the:

  • navy diet
  • army diet
  • 3-day diet
  • ice cream diet

As this program is very low in calories, it is important for a person to consult with a doctor before starting the military diet. People may also wish to speak with a dietitian to identify a more balanced diet.

This article examines military diet substitutions before exploring the 3-day meal plan and whether it works over the long term.

The military diet involves undergoing a restrictive diet for 3 days, then eating normally for 4 days. The diet’s 3-day plan consists of foods such as:

  • toast
  • bananas
  • saltine crackers
  • hot dogs
  • vanilla ice cream

People often describe the program as a way for military recruits to lose weight quickly.

However, the exact origins of the military diet are unknown. No branch of the United States military claim credit for designing this diet. There is also no known author of the program, which may put its validity and nutritional value into question.

If a person wishes to try the military diet but is allergic to specific foods or prefers other foods, they could try alternatives.

The following substitutions may help people stay within the caloric range for the military diet.

Substitutions for apple

Alternative options for apples in the military diet include:

  • dried apricots — 1/4 cup
  • grapes — 1 cup
  • peach —1/2 cup
  • pears — one medium
  • plum — 1 cup, sliced
  • zucchini — 1 cup, cooked

Substitutions for egg

Options for egg substitutions in the military diet include:

  • avocado — 1/2 cup
  • bacon — 2 slices
  • baked beans — 1/2 cup
  • chicken wing — one piece
  • milk — 1 cup
  • seeds or nuts — 1/4 cup

Substitutions for grapefruit

A person can substitute grapefruit with 1/2 teaspoon (tsp) of baking soda in an 8-ounce (oz) glass of water.

According to the Military Diet website, baking soda is an alkaline food that encourages fat burning. However, there is no scientific evidence to confirm whether this substance can help a person lose weight.

The site also explicitly mentions avoiding oranges as a substitution for grapefruit due to the fruit’s acidity.

Substitutions for green beans, carrots, or broccoli

Examples of substitutions for green beans, carrots, or broccoli include:

  • bell pepper — 1 cup, chopped
  • cauliflower — 1 cup
  • green vegetables of choice — 1 cup
  • lettuce — 3 oz
  • spinach — 1 cup
  • squash — 1/2 cup
  • tomato — 1 small

Substitutions for peanut butter

Alternatives for peanut butter include 2 tbsps of any of the following:

  • almond butter
  • cashew butter
  • pumpkin butter
  • soy butter
  • sunflower seed butter
  • bean dip
  • hummus
  • sunflower seeds

Substitutions for toast or saltine crackers

Substitutions for toast or saltine crackers include:

  • tortilla — one piece
  • protein bar — 1/2 bar
  • rice cakes — two pieces
  • sunflower seeds — 1/8 cup
  • whole grain cereal — 1/2 cup
  • yogurt with 1/2 tsp of flax seeds — 1/4 cup

Substitutions for tuna

Several substitutions are available for tuna in the military diet. Vegan options include half an avocado or 2 tablespoons (tbsps) of hummus.

Other tuna substitutions include:

  • grilled sushi-grade tuna — 3 oz
  • lean meat, such as chicken — 3 oz
  • cottage cheese — 1/2 cup
  • tofu — 3 oz
  • almonds — 2 tbsps

Substitutions for cottage cheese

People who follow vegan diets can substitute cottage cheese in the military diet for:

  • soy, hemp, or almond milk — 1 cup
  • hummus — 2 tbsp

Alternatives to cottage cheese include:

  • Greek yogurt, plain — 1 cup
  • ricotta cheese — 1 tbsp
  • cheddar cheese — 1 oz
  • egg — one, cooked

Substitutions for coffee

If a person does not drink coffee, they can drink green tea or herbal tea as an alternative.

Substitutions for hot dogs

Hot dog substitutions for people following a vegetarian diet include:

  • beans — 1/2 cup
  • lentils — 1/2 cup
  • portobello mushroom — 1 whole

A 300-calorie serving of most protein foods can also substitute hot dogs. Examples include:

  • turkey hot dogs
  • deli meats
  • bratwurst

Substitutions for vanilla ice cream

Non-dairy substitutions for vanilla ice cream include:

  • almond milk, flavored or plain — 1 cup
  • dairy-free ice cream — 1 cup
  • fruit-flavored yogurt — 1 cup
  • apple juice — 1 cup

However, the military diet does not recommend using chocolate almond milk as a substitution.

The following 3-day meal plan describes each day of the military diet. A person should note the diet is very low in calories and would not support their energy needs if they follow the plan for more than 3 days.

Day 1

Breakfast

  • grapefruit — one half
  • toast — 1 slice
  • peanut butter — 2 tbsps
  • coffee or tea — 1 cup

Lunch

  • tuna — 1/2 cup
  • toast — 1 slice
  • coffee or tea — 1 cup

Dinner

  • choice of protein, such as chicken, beef, turkey, or fish — 3 oz
  • green beans — 1 cup
  • banana — one half
  • apple — one small
  • vanilla ice cream — 1 cup

Day 2

Breakfast

  • one egg
  • toast — one slice
  • banana — one half

Lunch

  • cottage cheese — 1 cup
  • one hard-boiled egg
  • five saltine crackers

Dinner

  • hot dogs — two with no bun
  • broccoli — 1 cup
  • carrots — 1/2 cup
  • banana — one half
  • vanilla ice cream — 1/2 cup

Day 3

Breakfast

  • saltine crackers — five
  • cheddar cheese — one slice
  • apple — one small

Lunch

  • one hard-boiled egg
  • toast — one slice
  • vanilla ice cream — one cup

Dinner

  • tuna — 1 cup
  • banana — one-half

The military diet is a very low calorie diet (VLCD). Most days, the plan’s caloric total amounts to around 1,000 calories. Researchers have not conducted studies that specifically analyze the military diet, while few VLCDs studies track long-term outcomes.

However, researchers conducting a 12-week study of older adults on VLCDs versus low fat diets found that VLCDs result in 11.1% weight loss compared with 3.7% with low fat diets. However, people on the VLCD experienced a statistically significant loss in bone mineral density.

As such, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics highlight potential issues around VLCDs, stating that they could be:

  • lacking in nutritional value
  • ultimately slowing down metabolism
  • causing sluggish brain functioning
  • increasing the risk of gallstones

The National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM) also voice concerns relating to the long-term effects of VLCDs, saying that many people who follow these diet types eventually regain the weight they lose.

The NASM also suggest that less severe dietary restrictions may prove more successful over time because these programs may be easier to follow and cause fewer side effects.

The military diet is not scientifically proven. It is a VLCD that may result in weight loss, but the long-term health effects are unknown.

The diet may also appear initially challenging to follow because it contains very few food types. However, people have a choice of food substitutions.

Always speak with a doctor before starting a new diet, especially one that involves restricting calories.