Subbing USA: How to Substitute Good Food for Bad

Dr. Don Rose, Writer, Life Alert


Eat Less, Move More” would be the ultimate one sentence diet book, if an author was really pressed for time. Now comes the next great four-word food aphorism: “Eat This, Not That!” A recent book that bears this title makes the case for how to replace bad foods with similar sustenance that is better for you. In addition to this book, there is an informative article (discussed in the text below) that lists ten bad foods and how to substitute other foods which weigh in as wiser choices. Read on, and discover how to deal with such choice choices (or, choices when dealing with food choices, or however you’d like to word it).  --Don Rose



Many people don’t like diets because they feel they are losing out (as opposed to losing weight, which is the ultimate goal, of course). The thought of losing out on foods they love to eat by substituting other foods different in taste, texture, “fillingness” or other criteria make many rather “not try it” than diet.

Food Subbing

Luckily for those wishing to lose pounds and gain a healthier lifestyle, there is a new movement enjoying increasing popularity that turns “good substitutions” into a more palatable process. The main idea: eat foods that are healthy, yet similar to your guilty gastronomic pleasures. Eating similar-yet-better foods instead of the bad ones makes it easier to complete the transition over time, since a gradual change of habit is easier and more likely to succeed than a big shock to your food flow.

A popular book (now in paperback) encapsulates this philosophy. Its title: “Eat This Not That!: Thousands of Simple Food Swaps That Can Save You 10, 20, 30 Pounds - or More!” by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding.

Ten Subbing Examples: Fatty Food Faves

While “Eat This Not That!” is probably the best place to start for learning about this “subbing” movement, there is another good source of information on this front: an article entitled “Give It Up: Top 10 Worst Foods”. Below we discuss some highlights from that article.

Some general points to remember:

(a) When we mention fat, always read the food labels, because it is the bad fats that matter most. For example, trans fats are a no-no (the label word “hydrogenated” is the dead giveaway), and saturated fat is worse than the non-saturated or poly-unsaturated kind because they tend to make an artery ornery (that is, clogged, which over time can make you more likely to get a heart attack). One example: palm oil is worse than canola or safflower oil. Your motto should be: “I [heart] Non-trans Non-sat Fat.”

(b) Whenever brand names are mentioned below, you can also “substitute for the substitutes” by trying out the grocery chain store’s own brands instead, which are often just as good or very close, and are almost always cheaper. This means you can trim a bit off your budget as you trim your waistline.

(c) The American Heart Association (one brand we should all take to heart) recommends that only 30% of our diet come from fat, meaning about 65 grams in a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Keep that magic number 65 in mind when you read food labels and do the math.

1. Skip Chips

One ounce of potato chips has 152 calories and 10 grams of fat (3 grams of which are saturated fat). Eating a one-ounce handful three times a week means you will have added 23,400 calories to your diet over a year (and gained about seven pounds).

Subbing: Rice and popcorn cakes. Now available in a variety of flavors to satisfy a salty craving without “chipping” away at your goal. Brands: Quaker’s Quakes Rice Snacks, Orville Redenbacher’s Popcorn Cakes (both have less than 100 calories per serving).

More subbing: Edamame (steamed soybeans with salt), often found in the freezer section of your local grocery store. One-half cup provides 11 grams of protein, 10 grams of carbs and six grams of filling fiber.

2. Scary Non-Dairy

Non-dairy toppings for the surface of desserts are, on the surface, a healthy choice, since they are often lower in calories than real whipped cream, and/or contain less sugar. However, the down side is they use corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil (remember that word to avoid, hydrogenated). One tablespoon is typically around 32 calories. Plus, most folks with less than perfect discipline tend to use a lot of topping – often for the ironic reason that it doesn’t quite taste as good as the real thing, so we compensate by using more.

Subbing: Low-fat vanilla yogurt. The same amount has half the calories, plus a healthy dose of calcium.

3. Do-nothing Donuts

Donuts not only do practically nothing for you (other than a temporary taste fix), they can ruin your calorie counting and fat figuring. Look at the fat facts: white flour, vegetable shortening, white sugar, deep fried. If you want to gain weight and feel less than great, this is the ticket. Example: one glazed Krispy Kreme means 200 calories and 12 grams of fat, including saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol (a trio of no-no’s). A regular cake donut has 300 calories, 28 grams of carbohydrates and 19 grams of fat, including 5 grams of saturated fat and 4 grams of trans fat.

Subbing: Whole grain bagels (which look similar to donuts, but are a “hole” lot healthier). Half of a Pepperidge Farm multi-grain bagel has 125 calories, 3 grams of fat and 3.5 grams of cholesterol-lowering fiber. Add a little Sub#2 (that low-fat yogurt we mentioned earlier) if you really crave that little sweet touch.

4. Afraid of Alfredo

That’s alfredo as in Fettuccine Alfredo. No wonder it makes tastebuds say bravo: pasta strips with butter, cream and parmesan cheese equals Yum, right? For your tongue, yes; heart, no. A three-ounce serving (about fist-size) has 543 calories and 33 grams of fat (19 saturated).

Subbing: Whole-wheat fettuccine with marinara sauce. Healthier pasta, healthier sauce. One cup of whole-wheat pasta has 197 calories and almost 4 grams of fiber. Add half a cup of marinara sauce only adds 92 calories and three grams of fat (one saturated).

5. Sabotage Sausage

Paired with eggs, sausage is a breakfast bestseller, but alas, one pork link contains 217 calories and 19.5 grams of fat. Snacking on sausage can sabotage your svelte self.

Subbing: If you must have sausage, try the chicken or turkey variety rather than pork. Example: five links of Aidell’s chicken apple sausage have only 100 calories and 8 grams of fat (2.5 saturated). Even better: veer toward vegetarian: Boca Italian sausage made from soy protein has 130 calories per 2.5 ounce serving, six grams of fat and 13 grams of lean protein. To my tastebuds, veggie sausage is the one food that tastes closer to its meaty twin than any other meatless substitute food. Try it, you’ll like it.

6. Lickin’ Fried Chicken

That’s lick as in kick the habit. Let finger-licking be just a fond memory. If all we did was the finger-licking, we might be okay, but the actual eating always tends to be part of this ritual -- and a fried chicken breast has nearly 400 calories and 22 grams of fat.

Subbing: Grilled, skinless chicken. Face it, feeding your face with fowl is the meat of the matter anyway, not the skin. So skin ‘er to get thinner. For flavor, brush or marinate chicken with spice rub or seasoning, then grill for a thrill at 189 calories per four-ouncer.

7. Take Fake Cheese, Please

That’s take as in take it away! Yes, cheese in a can is an actual item, and yes, people do buy it. We love convenience, right? But two tablespoons adds 276 calories and 21 grams of fat to your daily intake, and 13 of them grams are saturated. Add fatty crackers, and you double the damage.

Subbing: A can of chickpeas, blended with a quarter cup of tahini (a tasty paste made of sesame seeds), garlic gloves (good for keeping both illness and Dracula away), lemon juice, olive oil, ground cumin. When done, you have hummus. Scoop with warm pita bread for a smart snack, perfect for partaking alone or providing a party platter some pizzazz. Hummus is heart-healthy, full of fiber and protein, and a quarter cup has only 60 calories and five grams of fat.

8. Flee Fast from Fast Food Fries

One large order (six ounces) of fast food fries has 570 calories, half from fat. Thinking of subbing 8 or 9 onion rings? Wrong; that answer equals 276 calories and 16 grams of fat.

Subbing: Sautéed tempeh, a fermented rice and soy mixture. Many grocery stores and health foods stores carry it, often in a refrigerated health-food area. I have eaten a tempeh burger; not only can it make a passing subber for a beef burger, but it can also be utilized to make a healthier form of French fries. Slice, sprinkle with soy sauce, and sauté in a little olive oil until brown. A half cup (roughly three or four half-inch slices) contains 197 calories, packed with protein as well as iron, magnesium, zinc, and vitamin B6.

9. Win the Weight War without White Bread

Think of white bread as candy in a loaf. You get 65 calories per slice of white flour, a simple and rapidly digested carbohydrate that causes your blood sugar to rise and crash, like any simple sugar.

Subbing: Whole grain bread. For the same calorie count, a whole-wheat bread slice offers enhanced flavor, two grams of heart-healthy fiber, protein, selenium, magnesium and potassium. This is a good example of subbing substances for supersized health. Here, the whole grain bread is better (containing ingredients that digest slowly, releasing energy to the body gradually, as it’s needed) compared to white bread (which digests fast, hence unloading its energy quickly). This latter scenario can lead to sugar swings that are not only inefficient (too much energy now, too little later) and inconvenient (drowsiness at work) but can even be dangerous (sugar crashes can lead to unconsciousness or other emergencies).

10. Be Gone, Fried Wonton

Crispy crunchy triangles of terrific taste, terrible for you. They typically contain meat, shrimp and/or cream cheese, usually deep-fried. Now the bad news: four crab and cream cheese wontons equals 311 calories and 19 grams of fat. Remember, we want fit, not fat.

Subbing: Crunchy brown-rice sesame crackers. Five have just 140 calories and six grams of fat, one gram of fiber and calcium. Just don’t bogart the bag.


Another criterion to use for substitution is to go with fare that’s fair to the environment. This also applies to how we carry and consume food and liquids. Here are a few tips.

1. Go Green, Eat Greens

Eating vegetarian food is not only healthier for you than beef, but uses much less resources as well. Thus, it is better for the environment as well as your heart.

Subbing: Green foods (vegetables, nuts, breads, seeds, fruits) for beef.

2. Go Loco for Local

Fuel, especially today, is expensive, and you need tons of it (literally) to ship all the food we eat every day. One eco-solution: substitute locally grown/made food for food from far away.  Not only will the nation’s economy be better for it (saved gas means less dependence on foreign oil, over time), but our health will be better off too, since local food is often fresher and higher in nutrients than food that gets shipped long distances. Case in point: local fruit can remain on the vine longer before being picked, so it contains higher amounts of vitamins and other nutrients. One great way to get local food frequently: frequent farmers markets.

Subbing: local food for “faraway food”; farmers markets for grocery chains.

3. No Plastic’s Fantastic: Swig a Big Bottle

Water bottles waste resources (their plastic requires oil, which could fuel 100,000 cars in a typical year, and only about 16 percent of people recycle them). So, instead of buying bottled water, use your tap water (either with a filter or without, since many city water sources are as good or better than bottled), and buy a bigger bottle that you reuse every day. For those who believe in “eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day”, get a 64 ounce bottle, and now it’ll be easier to make your daily water quota while avoiding hundreds of plastic bottles over time.

Subbing: Large water jug (recycled plastic) and tap water filter for water bottles.

4. No Plastic’s Fantastic:  Reusable is My Bag

Same logic as with water bottles: plastic shopping bags use valuable oil when being made, and many people forget to recycle them. What a waste! Plus, you can save money at many stores, which give money back when you use reusable instead of plastic bags. Five cents back per reusable, assuming 8-bags-a-week shopping, equals $20 per year – not a fortune, but a nice little bonus (enough for holiday turkey – or vegetarian Tofurky).

Subbing: Reusable shopping bag (preferably made of recycled materials) for plastic store bags.

5. Styrofoam is No Style for Home

We all know styrofoam is bad, since plates and other household items that use this material cannot break down in landfills. Instead, look for Earth-friendly products made from bamboo and other recycled materials, which are becoming increasingly popular for use in plates and utensils.

Subbing: Biodegradable plates, forks, knives and spoons (made of bamboo, etc.) for Styrofoam.

Four Food F’s

Finally, I have cooked up Four Food F’s for you, designed to help you remember how to do this subbing stuff in the best possible way:

  • Forget fattening foods;
  • Find foods similar to your faves in taste, texture and fillingness, yet are chock full of healthier ingredients;
  • Figure out times to eat them during the day that work for your schedule, preferably eating Four or Five times a day (to keep your metabolism up);
  • Follow eco-Friendly trends when buying/carrying/consuming food and beverages.



The goal with “food subbing” is to eat enjoyable yet healthy alternatives to foods you love. These “alt foods” should be similar in taste and texture to the ones you crave and adore, so that you don’t feel like you are missing much when you embark on your new health-filled path. With books like “Eat This Not That!”and articles like “Give It Up: Top 10 Worst Foods,” plus many other resources available in print and online, you will find the journey to enlightened and lighter foods most palatable indeed.

The information provided in the article above is, to the best of our knowledge, reliable and accurate. However, while Life Alert always strives to provide true, precise and consistent information, we cannot guarantee 100 percent accuracy. Readers are encouraged to review the original article, and use any resource links provided to gather more information before drawing conclusions and making decisions.

Dr. Don Rose writes books, papers and articles on computers, the Internet, AI, science and technology, and issues related to seniors.
For more information about Life Alert and its many services for seniors and younger adults nationwide, please visit the following websites:


The article above is covered by a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License. The information provided is, to the best of our knowledge, reliable and accurate. However, while Life Alert always strives to provide true, precise and consistent information, we cannot guarantee 100 percent accuracy. Readers are encouraged to review the original article, and use any resource links provided to gather more information before drawing conclusions and making decisions.

Dr. Don Rose writes books, papers and articles on computers, the Internet, AI, science and technology, and issues related to seniors.

For more information about Life Alert and its many services for seniors and younger adults nationwide, please visit the following websites:


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