7 Easy Substitutes to Make in Your Diet


Would you rather…

By Maria Urso, O2X Nutrition Specialist 

One of my favorite play-anywhere games is, “Would You Rather?” For those not familiar, it’s an informal game to generate discussion. Questions pose a dilemma, for example, “If you could save pizza from extinction, would you eat a cricket?” or “Would you rather live in a world without caffeine or a world with no meat?” In my role as an O2X Nutrition Specialist, I tend to play impromptu games of “Would You Rather” during classes and via discussion over the O2X Tactical Performance app. 

In day-to-day life, many of us play this game without even thinking about it. In fact, I am sure some of you stand in the grocery store aisle playing “Would I Rather” when filling your shopping cart with nutrition for the week. 

Whenever I need to choose between two options at the grocery store, my first solution is to compare foods based on their nutritional density. Nutritional density refers to the amount of beneficial nutrients in a food as compared to its calorie content, weight, or amount of unfavorable nutrients. A food that has a remarkably high nutritional density is salmon, while one that has low nutrient density is salad dressing. The reason for these classifications is due to the number of calories, macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate), and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) per serving. While a single serving of salmon (3 ounces) contains 177 calories, 20 grams of protein and tons of omega-3 fatty acids, a single serving (2 tablespoons) of blue cheese salad dressing, has 20g of fat and lacks protein, vitamins, and minerals (aside from sodium) at a whopping 200 calories.
So, let’s play our own game of “Would you rather?” Here are seven choices, and the foods I would rather eat to maximize nutrient density:

Would you rather? A Nutritional Specialist’s Point of View:

1. I would rather have 10 grilled shrimp than one hamburger patty (no bun). The shrimp provide about 20 grams of protein, little fat, and a host of vitamins and minerals (Phosphorus, Copper, Zinc, Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium, Selenium and Antioxidants). All that for about 100 calories. A hamburger patty, on the other hand, has similar protein, but 16g of fat, twice the calories, and very little vitamins and minerals outside of Iron, vitamin B6, and Cobalamin.

2. I would rather top my salad with half an avocado, half a chopped apple, and a serving of crumbled blue cheese than blue cheese salad dressing. While I already talked about the lack of nutrient density in blue cheese salad dressing, I did not help much in providing an alternative. For the same number of calories (~200), you get a flavorful mix of protein (8g), healthy fats (from the avocado), 9g of fiber (from the avocado and the apple), and calcium, vitamins C and K, potassium, and B-vitamins from the avocado and cheese.

3. I would rather snack on a cup of carrots with hummus instead of a snack size bag of potato chips. If you look at the two foods side by side, I think you can see the difference in vitamin content (that rich color in the carrots is from tons of vitamin A and Beta-Carotene) and the hummus and carrots provide almost 8g of fiber and 6g of protein. They satisfy the crunch you might get from the potato chips, minus the fat and excessive sodium.

4. I would rather have a bowl than a burrito no matter where you order from (or make at home). The benefit of a bowl is you add vitamins, minerals, and fiber when you introduce more healthy greens. You take away many calories (200 – 300) by eliminating the wrap, which has low nutrient density and lacks vitamins and minerals. If you are trying to lose weight, you can also substitute more vegetables for the rice or….(See number 5)

5. I would rather have riced cauliflower than plain rice. Riced cauliflower has become commonplace in many burrito or bowl shops (and you can get your own at any grocer or prepare it at home). It’s packed with vitamins and minerals (vitamin C, B6, K, Folate), and has only 10% of the calories as regular rice (25 calories in one cup of riced cauliflower, 200 calories in one cup of rice).

6. I would rather eat a piece of fruit than have a glass of juice. This is one that I cannot reinforce enough and not just for you, for children. The amount of fiber in whole fruit is significantly greater than juice, and since it is not concentrated, the amount of sugar is always less in the fruit versus the juice. There are so many micronutrients in fruit, especially in their skins and peels. When you juice a piece of fruit, a lot of the nutrient density is lost. Also, a single orange will satisfy you longer (at 80 calories) than a 12-ounce glass of orange juice (at 150 calories).

7. I would rather eat grass fed/free range meat than conventional meat (and eggs). As a start, grass fed beef has five times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, less fat (since the animal is more active), fewer calories, and more vitamins and minerals, as a result of the animal’s natural diet (versus grain, which is nutritionally void). While grass-fed and free-range animal products tend to be more expensive than conventional animal products, it is certainly an investment you should make into your nutrition.

Moving forward, you can use the principles above to keep up your own nutritional game of “Would I Rather?” I hope you enjoyed my little game, but it’s also quite applicable to everyday life. Compare labels, look for protein content, fiber content, overall calories, and how satisfied a particular food will make you. This doesn’t just apply to healthy foods, it can be a good tool when choosing treats, as well. Compare bakery or home-made cookies and cakes to those that are pre-packaged. When trying to decide between a “gluten free cookie” and a “regular one” (if you do not have celiac), look at the labels and the ingredients. Always opt for the one that provides more nutritional value, and fewer additives and preservatives.  Good luck, have fun, and bon appetEAT!

About the author:

Dr. Maria Urso is an O2X Nutrition Specialist. Dr. Urso is a scientific advocate for optimal health and nutrition. She followed her passion for science and health and obtained her PhD in human physiology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While that degree led her to a career as a scientist, first as an Active Duty soldier in the Army, then in Medical Affairs for industry, she continues to follow her passion for health and nutrition by serving as an advocate and educator. Her philosophy is that nutrition and fitness should be for life, not a single event (or outfit).