The American Diabetes Association Exchange Diet: An Overview

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The American Diabetes Association exchange diet categorizes foods into groups with similar nutritional values. Foods within each group can be exchanged with on another because they contain roughly the same amount of calories, fats, protein and carbohydrates. Food groups on the exchange diet include starches, non-starchy vegetables, carbohydrates, fats, meat, dairy and fruit.Diabetics work with nutritionists to determine the appropriate number of exchanges they should include at each meal and what groups the exchanges should come from.

The exchange diet makes it simple for diabetics to control their calorie, fat and carbohydrate intake, keep their blood glucose levels under control and plan the amount of diabetes medications they need to take. Several sites, including the Mayo Clinic, have free exchange lists based on the recommendations of the American Diabetes Association.

Exchange LIsts

The exchange lists don’t list every food, but they do include many of them in each category. Some exchange lists will come with tips and tricks to remember for using that list.

It is important when using exchange lists to pay close attention to portion sizes and the specifics regarding the foods listed (whole, fat free, etc) for optimal accuracy.

Some examples of items found on some of the exchanges lists, along with their amounts are listed below.


In the starches category, some of the exchanges include:

  • 1/4 large bagel
  • 1/3 Cup cooked barley
  • 1/2 large cob of corn
  • 1/2 cup plain sweet potato or yam
  • 2 rice cakes


In the fats exchange grouping, the following are some of the foods allowed:

  • 6 almonds
  • 8 large black olives
  • 1 teaspoon regular mayonnaise
  • 1 slice cooked bacon
  • 2 tablespoons regular sour cream


Meat exchanges include items such as:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 6 oysters
  • 1 ounce veal
  • 1 ounce fried fish


In the milk exchanges, the foods are:

  • 1 cup fat-free chocolate milk
  • 2/3 cup plain fat-free yogurt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup eggnog (made with whole milk)


The fruit exchanges include:

  • 1 small apple
  • 4 dried apple fruit rings
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • 1/2 cup orange juice

Free Foods

Free foods include such items as lemon juice, cooking spray, diet soda, sugar-free gelatin, spices and salad greens.Remember that because these items are free foods, they can be used as much as is desired.

Other Helps and Resources

For those using the American Diabetes Association exchange diet or other diabetic eating plans, the American Diabetes Association offers multiple resources online to help diabetics plan meals, determine portion sizes and track their eating.

In 2010, they revealed MyFoodAdvisor to help diabetics more easily add up nutrients, save recipes and find healthy alternatives to favorite foods.


Your Diabetes Diet: Exchange Lists. Mayo Clinic. May 4, 2010.

Do You Know What You are Eating? American Diabetes Association.