Food for the Final Four

Make smart substitutions, and improve on Eat This, Not That! the guys' guide to practical eating.

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Photo of "Eat This Not That!" by David Zinczenko, Editor-in-Chief of Men's Health.

All the Cinderella teams have been squashed in this year's NCAA tournament, leaving us with four No. 1-seeded powerhouses in the Final Four. CBS's ratings for the games are down, and some sportswriters have groused that March Madness is downright boring this year.

Still, come this weekend, millions of us will be settling down in front of the tube for the Final Four with our buddies, beer, and some cheese-drenched slices of Domino's. Maybe we'll wolf down some wings, or a sub, too, for good measure. We know eating junk food is a nightmare for our health and guts, but it's pretty much an unwritten and mandatory rule that as men we must heap on the fast food when we watch sports.

Thankfully, the editors of Men's Health have challenged us to eat better—even if just a little bit—during those times when health food just won't do. The recent book Eat This, Not That! written by the editor and nutrition editor of that magazine, offers hundreds of simple and concrete food substitutions for popular fast food items. You won't find tofu and carrots in it, but you will find hundreds of colorful pictures comparing calorie-laden burgers, slices of pizza, nachos, and burritos with slightly more healthful alternatives (determined by comparing calorie, fat, and sodium content) from the same restaurant. Eat a McDonald's quarter-pounder without cheese, for example, rather than the premium-grilled chicken club sandwich, and you'll spare yourself 160 calories and almost a thousand milligrams of salt, the authors, David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding, tell us.

It's a clever idea, and it has undeniably struck a nerve. While countless cookbooks flood the market each month, this one stands out in that it's enjoying a high ranking on Amazon's most popular list at the moment. And, certainly, the Men's Health editors deserve credit for getting guys to pay attention to nutrition—something we tend to avoid. But, let's not delude ourselves here: Eat This, Not That! is not a recipe for slimming up while eating junk food.

Understandably, some critics have pounced on the book for setting the nutritional bar so low. Portfolio suggests the book is a scam, the New York Times nitpicks some of its seemingly arbitrary choices, and the Hartford Courant points out that some readers will find it downright deceptive.

The book perpetuates the stereotype that men are simple-minded at best and imbeciles at worst when it comes to understanding nutrition. Of course, many men won't make the drastic changes that food gurus such as Michael Pollan make. Still, that doesn't mean we're capable only of the embarrassingly modest nutritional goals the Men's Health editors have set.

By clicking around on HealthyDiningFinder.com, a site that provides nutritional info about popular restaurants, and on the websites of fast food franchises, I quickly came up with "even better" options for five of the popular chains that the Eat This, Not That! editors explore. Why not give 'em a try this weekend?

(I've started with Zinczenko's calorie, fat, and sodium criteria for convenient comparison to Eat This, Not That! but, if you really want to do yourself good, look for products with whole wheat grains and plenty of fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats and oils. And avoid the trans and saturated fats that junk foods tend to be drowning in.) One of the major flaws of Eat This, Not That! is that it focuses only on calories, fat, salt, and sugar; it helps us trim our intake of a few bad things but doesn't direct us toward the healthy fats and nutrients that our bodies actually need.

Domino's

Men's Health says:


Eat two slices Crunchy Thin Crust Pizza with Ham & Pineapple (300 calories, 4 grams saturated fat, 630 mg sodium).
Not two slices Classic Hand-Tossed Pizza with Pepperoni (510 calories, 8 grams saturated fat, 950 mg sodium). On Men suggests:


Even better, eat two slices Crunchy Thin Crust Pizza with two or three veggie toppings (280 calories, 5 grams saturated fat, 570 mg sodium). Tell them to go light on the cheese, heap the veggies on, and get a side salad, too. It's not enough to trim out calories; you've got to replace them with foods that will actively help fight disease.

Soda

Men's Health says:


Oddly, Eat This, Not That! hardly mentions soda. Sodas come up in their page about caffeine, but there's no direct comparison of different sodas in their "Drink This, Not That" section. On Men says:


Such a glaring omission is surprising. Countless studies have shown sugary drinks to be a key contributor to obesity. A can of Coke, for example, has 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar, yet it does little to satiate us. Try water with lemon or tea (that's not loaded with sugar) instead. And if your buddies give you a hard time, point out that by drinking smart, you'll be able outrun them on a fast break.

KFC

Men's Health says:


Eat three Crispy Strips with green beans and corn on the cob (470 calories, 4 grams saturated fat, 1,775 mg sodium).
Not KFC Famous Bowl (740 calories, 9 grams saturated fat, 2,350 mg sodium). On Men suggests:


Even better, eat Honey BBQ Sandwich (290 calories, 1 gram saturated fat, 710 mg sodium). The Eat This, Not That! recommendation still has a staggering amount of sodium. Too much salt means high blood pressure, heart disease, and kidney stones—plus you'll need to eat even more potassium, which comes from veggies and fruits, to process all that salt.

Quiznos

Men's Health says:


Eat Small Honey Bourbon Chicken on Wheat Bread (310 calories, 1 gram saturated fat, 920 mg sodium).
Not Small Honey Mustard Chicken Sub (550 calories, 5.5 grams saturated fat, 1,140 mg sodium). On Men suggests:


Even better, eat Black Angus Steak Sammie (200 calories, 1 gram saturated fat, 480 mg sodium). This has a quarter the amount of artery-clogging saturated fat as the pick from Eat This, Not That! not to mention fewer calories and less sodium, too.

Subway

Men's Health says:


Eat 6-inch Double Roast Beef Sub (360 calories, 3.5 grams saturated fat, 1,300 mg sodium).
Not 6-inch Tuna Sub (530 calories, 7 grams saturated fat, 1,010 mg sodium). On Men suggests:


Even better, eat 6-inch Oven Roasted Chicken Breast Sub (310 calories, 1.5 grams saturated fat, 830 mg sodium). Always ask for whole wheat, get all of the vegetable toppings, and have your sandwiched topped with olive oil. Eat This, Not That! does a horrendous job of explaining that some types of fats and oils—including olive oil and canola oil—are actually good for you.

Beer

Men's Health says:


Drink Yuengling Light, Michelob Ultra, Rolling Rock Extra Pale, or Sam Adams Light (120 calories or fewer).
Not Corona Extra, Sam Adams Boston Lager, or Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (all more than 148 calories). On Men suggests:


Even better, drink red wine (an average glass contains about 80 calories). Beer's not going to kill you, but you might as well get some healthful resveratrol—a substance thought to stave off heart disease—when you're drinking.