How to use the diabetic exchange list?

diabetic exchange list with diabetic diet background

What is the diabetic exchange list?

A diabetic exchange list is a list of food groups and their serving sizes that you eat. The name is given as the diabetic exchange list because it is initially developed for diabetic patients to control their carbohydrate intake. Exchange lists are beneficial for creating a diet for diabetic patients.

Why do you need a diabetic exchange list?

A person having diabetes needs to control the blood glucose level by controlling the amount of carbohydrates they consume. A diabetic food exchange is an easy way to count the carbohydrates you are eating. To make the process much more comfortable, I have developed a diabetic exchange list calculator to calculate your carbohydrates, protein, and fat servings and the calories that you eat every day.

In the food exchange list, there are mainly three food groups, namely, are foods with carbohydrates, foods with proteins (such as meat and meat substitutes), and fats[1]Krause and Mahan’s Food & the Nutrition Care Process, 15th Edition, https://www.elsevier.com/books/krause-and-mahans-food-and-the-nutrition-care-process/raymond/978-0-323-63655-1. You can use the diabetic exchange list to choose your foods for diabetes.

Diabetic exchange list for meal planning

Although the diabetic exchange list is developed for diabetic patients to easily count the carbohydrates[2]Carbohydrate Exchanges, Diabetes Education Online, https://dtc.ucsf.edu/living-with-diabetes/diet-and-nutrition/understanding-carbohydrates/counting-carbohydrates/carbohydrate-exchanges/, it can also be used for meal planning. If that is your intent, my diabetic exchange list calculator will be ideal for you. You can even plan a weight loss meal using a food exchange list. You can do this by calculating the number of servings from each food group you should consume, using the diabetic exchange list or our calculator.

In the diabetic exchange list, the foods are grouped because they have approximately the same amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fat in the same serving size. For example, all the fruit group foods have the same amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in one serving.

Now let see what the food groups containing carbohydrates and food groups that do not contain carbohydrates on the diabetic exchange list are. Each of these food groups has a similar amount of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.

Food groups containing carbohydrates

If you eat the foods in the food groups listed below, you will take carbohydrates in different amounts.

  • Fruits
  • Milk and milk products
  • Sweets, desserts, etc
  • Starchy vegetables such as corn, pumpkin, and potatoes,
  • Non-starchy vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, and green beans
  • Fast foods and a combination of foods such s lasagna

Food groups that do not contain carbohydrates

  • Meat and meat substitutes such as beans and lentils
  • Foods with minimal carbohydrates and calories are known as “free foods” because you will not get carbohydrates if eaten in a small amount.

The following food exchange table 01 shows the food group list with their serving sizes. The servings are measured after cooking each food. The following table will show you the number of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in each serving of food.

Table 01: Diabetic food exchange list food groups and the grams of nutrients in one serving of each food group

Table 01: Diabetic food exchange list food groups and the grams of nutrients in one serving of each food group

Carbohydrate exchange list

The carbohydrate food group includes foods such as cereals, pasta, bread, snacks, etc. If you take one serving of foods from this group, you will be taking 15 g of carbohydrates and 2g of protein only. There is little or no fats in this group.

The following table 02 will show you what is equal to one serving of carbohydrate-rich foods.

Table 02: Carbohydrate food group serving sizes of exchange list

Table 02: Carbohydrate food group serving sizes of exchange list

The following table 03 will show you what is equal to one serving of starchy vegetables. Starchy vegetables are also rich in carbohydrates. One serving of starchy vegetables will provide you with 10g of carbohydrates and 2g of proteins. Table 3 also contains beans, peas, and lentils (pulses and legumes) serving sizes. Pulses and legumes are also rich in carbohydrates. Additionally, it has more protein. If you take one serving of pulses and legumes, you will get 15g of carbohydrates and 5 g of protein.

Table 03: Starchy vegetables and pulses/ legumes food groups serving sizes of exchange list

Fruit exchange list

The fruit food group includes fresh fruits, dried fruits, juices, fruit juices, and canned fruits. If you take one serving of fruits from the fruit food group, you will get 15g of carbohydrates only. You will not get any proteins or fats by eating fruits generally. The diabetic exchange list suggests taking citrus fruits, berries, and melons because they typically have low carbohydrates and are a good source of vitamin C.

The following table 04 will show you what is equal to one serving of fruits

Table 04: Fruit group serving sizes of exchange list

Table 04: Fruit group serving sizes of exchange list

Milk exchange list

The milk food group includes milk and nondairy beverages. But cheese, cream, and other dairy fats are not included in the milk exchange list because cheese is high in proteins, and cream and other dairy fats are rich in fats. There are three categories of milk food group, according to the fat amount they have. They are low-fat milk, non-fat milk, and whole milk.

The following table 05 will show you what is equal to one serving of foods from the milk food group in low fat, non-fat, and whole milk categories.

Table 05: Milk food group serving sizes of exchange list

Table 05: Milk food group serving sizes of exchange list

Sweets, desserts, and other carbohydrates exchange list

You can also substitute foods from this group for carbohydrate, fruit, and milk groups. However, the amount of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in this group varies with foods. When counting the servings, you should be careful. Be cautious when adding these foods to your diet because they contain many fats and sugars.

In the exchange list, you can use these combination foods, but using them will be tricky.

Non-Starchy vegetable exchange list

Non-starchy vegetables are leafy vegetables, raw vegetables that do have minimal carbohydrates and calories. But they are rich in essential nutrients. It is necessary to eat at least three servings of non-starchy vegetables daily. This nonstarchy vegetable group does not include the starchy vegetable choices. Starchy vegetables are listed under the carbohydrate-rich food group.

One serving of this food group equals ½ cup of cooked vegetables or vegetable juice, 1 cup of raw vegetables.

The following table 06 will show you what is in the Nonstarchy vegetable food group.

Table 06: Nonstarchy vegetable food group serving sizes of exchange list

Table 06: Nonstarchy vegetable food group serving sizes of exchange list

Meat and meat substitute exchange list

Foods in the meat and meat substitute food group are rich in proteins. This food group is again divided into four parts, considering the amount of fat. These groups are lean meat, medium-fat meat, high-fat meat, and meat substitutes, plant-based proteins. If you take one serving of these foods, it will give you 7 g of proteins. Meat substitutes contain carbohydrates other than proteins.

The following table 07 will show you what is equal to one serving of foods from the meat food group.

Table 07: Meat food group serving sizes of exchange list

Table 07: Meat food group serving sizes of exchange list

Fats exchange list

Mainly there are three groups of fats. They are saturated fats, unsaturated fats, and trans fats. Unsaturated fats are known as good fats. Saturate and polyunsaturated fats are bad fats.

It is essential to limit the saturated and unsaturated fats you are taking. If you take one serving of fat, you will get 5 g of fat. You will not get any carbohydrates or proteins. It is essential to limit the serving sizes of fats you take per day because fats give the high-calorie amount to us.

The following table 08 will show you what is equal to one serving of fatty foods

Table 08: Fatty food group serving sizes of exchange list

Table 08: Fatty food group serving sizes of exchange list

Free foods exchange list

“Free” food group contains less than 20 calories and 5 g or less than 5g of carbohydrates per serving. It is better if you can limit these foods to 3 servings per day. Distribute the servings of foods in this group throughout the day and do not take three servings at once because it can raise blood glucose levels.

The following table 09 will show you what is equal to one serving of “free” foods.

Table 09: “Free” food group serving sizes of exchange list

Table 09: "Free" food group serving sizes of exchange list

There are some free foods that you can consume whenever you like but in a moderate amount. Following is a list of those foods.

  • Unsweetened tea or tea with a sugar substitute
  • Club soda
  • Unsweetened coffee without sugar or with a sugar substitute
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder (1 Tablespoon)
  • Sugar-free diet soft drinks

You can consume seasoning in a moderate amount. Following is a list of these foods.

  • Flavors
  • Spices
  • Wine used in cooking
  • Herbs
  • Garlic
  • Cooking spray
  • Hot pepper sauce

Combination foods exchange list

Combination foods contain different types of foods from other food groups, such as a casserole. These combination foods will not fit into the specific food groups. It is a mix of carbohydrate-rich foods, dairy, meat, fats likewise.

In the exchange list, you can use these combination foods, but using them will be tricky.

Fast foods exchange list

We have to admit that we all love fast foods but what matters is the quantity you eat. You can also check out the nutrients in the fast foods from the fast-food outlet itself or its website.

In the exchange list, you can use fast foods, but using them will be tricky.

Alcohol exchange list

If you are drinking alcohol, you can limit it to 2 drinks or less if you are a male; you can modify it to 1 drink or less if you are a woman.

The following table 10 will show you what is equal to one serving of alcoholic beverages. One serving of alcoholic beverage will give you about 100 cal.

Table 10: alcohol beverages serving sizes of exchange list Table 10: alcohol beverages serving sizes of exchange list

How to use a diabetic exchange list?

Now you know all the fuss about the diabetic exchange list, the serving sizes, and the number of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in them. But how can you use the diabetic exchange list?

Of course, you can add the number of carbohydrates, proteins, and lipids in each food group you are consuming for each serving. There is so much data, and you do not need to worry; I have got you covered.

There is an easy way to use the diabetic exchange list by creating the following calculator. I have created this calculator by adding the three primary nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fat in all the main food groups.

Using this calculator, you can determine the types of foods you can eat and how many servings in those foods. Using this calculator, you can calculate the number of servings of different food groups. This calculator is ideal for you to plan a healthy meal plan using the diabetic exchange list.

5 steps to use the diabetic exchange list calculator

Step #1

First, you need to calculate your energy requirement. You can calculate this using our calorie calculator.

Step #2

Then, Play around with the serving sizes until you obtain your required calorie amount. But, there are some guidelines that you can follow when thinking about the number of servings from each food group.

  • Carbohydrate-rich food group; Eat three or more servings of carbohydrate-rich foods. Try to get these servings from whole grains.
  • Fruit; Eat about 2 – 3 servings of fruits daily because they are packed with fiber. Also, choose fruits over fruit juices because fruit juices have a low amount of fiber than fruits.
  • Milk; you can choose 1-2 servings of milk daily. Milk or milk products are good sources of calcium and proteins. Also, the higher the fat content, the more saturated fat and cholesterol in them. It is better if children above age two and adults opt for low-fat milk or non-fat milk.
  • Vegetables; Try to eat at least 2-3 servings of non-starchy vegetables daily. It is important to choose dark green and dark yellow vegetables every day, such as carrots, spinach, broccoli, squash, and chilies.
  • You can take vitamin C from non-starchy vegetables by eating broccoli, cauliflower, greens, tomatoes, and Brussels sprouts. Starch vegetables have more carbohydrates and calories. Starchy vegetables include winter squash, potatoes, peas, and corn.
  • Meat and meat substitutes (Pulses/legumes); It is better to consume about 3-4 servings from this group. When choosing foods from these food groups, choose lean meat. It is better to consume fish rich in omega-3 such as mackerel, salmon, sardine, trout, herring, and tuna. When cooking these foods, choose methods like baking, roasting, broiling, poaching, steaming, and grilling. You can also trim the fatty skin of the meat.

It is better if you can limit foods high in saturated fat, such as bacon.

  • Fats; you can limit the fat servings that you take per day. Limit the number of fried foods you eat. Also, take fats from nuts and seeds, which are good sources of unsaturated fat, which is healthy. Make sure you eat them in moderation.
  • These nuts and seeds also have omega-3. As an example, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds are high in omega-3. Always consider replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats. If you are taking coconut, take 1/5 of one coconut per day if necessary. 1/5th of coconut contains about 25g of fat.

Step #3

When you add serving sizes, you also need to balance your carbohydrates, proteins, and fats if you plan a whole day meal because it is better if you can consume a balanced meal.

Balancing carbohydrates, balancing proteins, and balancing fats is easy with the diabetic exchange list calculator. You will need to keep an eye on the percentage of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in the total servings you have added to the calculator. This value will automatically display as you are adding the servings.

Try to balance the percentage of calories from carbohydrates, proteins as below;

  • Carbohydrates = 55% of the total energy
  • Protein = 15% from total energy
  • Fat= 30% from total energy

 Step #4

Check whether the calories in the servings you have added match your total calorie requirement calculated with our calorie calculator.

Here, I have used the diabetic exchange list calculator to make, diabetic exchange list for a 1200 calorie diet. If you add the serving sizes that I have added, you will get 1214kcal of total calorie diet with, 58% carbohydrates, 16% percent proteins, and 25% fat. This is just a perfectly balanced diet for a 1200 calorie diet made using the diabetic exchange list.

Step #5

Now, it is time to see what foods you are going to eat. Now you got serving sizes that you need to eat from each food group. Then, go back to the tables where I have listed the serving sizes for different foods in a food group. You can choose any food in the same food group according to your serving size.

For example, you have calculated you need six servings of carbohydrates daily. So you can take either six slices of bread or four slices of bread and two pancakes per day. Likewise, you can choose any food within the serving size.

You can also refer to the American Diabetes Association food exchange list.

Estimated servings for 1500 calorie diabetic exchange list

  • Vegetable – 5
  • Fruit- 2-3
  • Bread, cereals, and starchy vegetables – 6
  • Legumes -1
  • Fats-5
  • Milk -1
  • Meat fish, cheese, and eggs- 2

Estimated servings for 2000 calorie diabetic exchange list

  • Vegetable – 5
  • Fruit- 2-3
  • Bread, cereals, and starchy vegetables – 13
  • Legumes -2
  • Fats-7
  • Milk -1
  • Meat fish, cheese, and eggs- 2

1500 calorie diabetic exchange list for vegans

  • Vegetable – 5
  • Fruit- 2
  • Bread, cereals, and starchy vegetables – 9
  • Legumes -2-3
  • Fats-4

2000 calorie diabetic exchange list for vegans

  • Vegetable – 5-6
  • Fruit- 2
  • Bread, grains, and starchy vegetables – 11
  • Legumes -5
  • Fats-8

You can calculate the exchange list servings for any number of calories using our diabetic exchange list calculator.

Dilini Tharaka

Dilini Tharaka

BSc. (sp.) in Food Science and Nutrition, Specializing in Applied Nutrition (Founder, Editor, and an Author)
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