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Diabetic Food Exchanges

Food Fitness. Nourish your body.

The food exchange system was developed in 1950 to make meal planning easier for diabetics.

Food exchanges can confuse many when they are first diagnosed with diabetes -- any doctor or nutritionist can confirm this.

Diabetic Food Pyramid

The food exchange system categorizes foods into three main groups:

  1. Carbohydrate Group
  2. Protein Group
  3. Fat Group

Carbohydrate Group:


Protein (Meat) and Protein Substitutes (Eggs, Cheese, Soy, etc.)

The carbohydrate group is further broken down into bread/starch, fruit, milk, other carbohydrate (sugar and sweets), and vegetables. It somewhat like a sub-folder on your computer!

Therefore, if a meal plan says 2-1/2 carbohydrate (one bread/starch, one fruit, 1/2 milk), it means as many servings for that type of carbohydrate.

You will need a food exchange list for the exact measurement of the food. See our Food Exchanges Chart for an example.

For example, those 2-1/2 carbohydrate exchanges may consist of one slice of bread, one medium fresh peach, and 1/2-cup of skim milk. You could choose 1/2-cup of cooked pasta, 1-cup of cubed melon, and 1/2-cup of nonfat yogurt.

Protein Group

The Protein group is broken down into very low-fat protein, medium-fat protein, and high-fat protein. A protein exchange provides seven grams of protein and varying amounts of fat. Again, look to a food exchange list or the exchanges listed at the end of diabetic recipes.

Fat Group

The Fat group is divided into monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and saturated fats. One fat exchange provides five grams of fat and 45 calories. One exchange only means 1-teaspoon of oil, butter, stick margarine, or mayonnaise. For the same fat exchange, you could choose 1-tablespoon of reduced fat margarine or mayonnaise, 1-tablespoon salad dressing, 1-tablespoon cream cheese, eight large black olives, or one slice of bacon. These can add up fast, so be careful!

Even if you are only counting carbs, it is still a good idea to familiarize yourself with the serving size of different foods that equal one exchange. This way you will know how much you may eat to equal 15 grams of carbohydrates. Once you have done so for a while, you will no longer need your list-when you look at a baked potato or a serving of cooked rice as you will know just how many exchanges that will use.

Recommended: The Official Pocket Guide to Diabetic Exchanges: Choose Your Foods#

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