Here’s Everything You Need to Know About the Diabetic Exchange List

We break down everything you need to know about the diabetic exchange list—including what it is and how to use it.

If you’re a new diabetic or you struggle to manage your blood sugar, a diabetic exchange diet could help you stay on track. Here’s everything you need to know about this food swap system.

What Are Diabetic Exchanges?

Simply put, diabetic exchanges can help you see how foods fit into your daily meal plan. They make it easier to add variety to your diet while ensuring your blood sugar stays under control. (These rules can also keep blood sugar steady.)

Exchange foods are listed together because they are nutritionally comparable. That is, each measured serving of food on that list has about the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, fat and calories as do the other foods on that list. Therefore, any of those foods can be “exchanged” or traded for another food on the same list. For example, a slice of bread for breakfast could be traded for 1/2 cup of cooked cereal if you preferred. Either would be equal to 1 starch.

However, some foods may not seem to belong to the exchange group to which they have been assigned, such as:

  • Many non-meat foods appear as meat exchanges because of their protein and fat levels. Cheese and peanut butter are two common examples.
  • Vegetable exchanges do not include all vegetables. For example, vegetables such as lima beans, peas and corn are listed as bread/starch exchanges because of their carbohydrate and protein content.
  • To add to the confusion, not all bread/starch exchanges are breads. This group also includes starchy vegetables, cereals, pasta and other grain products.

How Do I Use a Diabetic Exchange List?

First, you’ll need to meet with a registered dietitian nutritionist or a certified diabetes educator to come up with an appropriate meal plan. Then, pick your desired foods from each exchange list, paying close attention to serving size. Here are a few exchanges, as outlined by a committee of the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to get you started. You can view the entire exchange list here.

Freshly baked delicious bread on a rustic wooden worktop Stock-Asso/Shutterstock

Diabetic Exchanges for Bread/Starches:

  • 1/2 cup cooked cereals
  • 1/2 cup cooked pasta
  • 1/3 cup cooked rice
  • 1/3 cup cooked beans
  • 1/2 cup corn
  • 1/2 cup mashed potato
  • 1 slice bread
  • 3 cups plain popcorn
  • 6 saltine crackers

Assorted grilled meats and vegetables on a white wooden table bitt24/Shutterstock

Diabetic Exchanges for Meat/Protein:

  • Lean: 
    • 1 oz. lean beef
    • 1 oz. lean pork
    • 1 oz. chicken, no skin
    • 1 oz. fish
    • 1/4 cup cottage cheese
    • 3 egg whites
  • Medium-fat: 
    • 1 oz. ground beef
    • 1 oz. chicken, with skin
    • 1 oz. mozzarella cheese
    • 1 egg
    • 4 oz. tofu
  • High-fat:
    • 1 oz. beef ribs
    • 1 oz. fried fish
    • 1 oz. cheddar cheese
    • 1 oz. sausage

Flat lay of fresh fruits and vegetables for backgroundPeangdao/Shutterstock

Diabetic Exchanges for Vegetables:

  • 1/2 cup cooked vegetables
  • 1 cup raw vegetables

Diabetic Exchanges for Fruits:

  • 1 apple
  • 1/2 banana
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 12 cherries
  • 1 kiwi
  • 15 grapes
  • 1 orange
  • 3 prunes

Serving breakfast milk with a jug in a glass on a white wooden kitchen tableDavizro Photography/Shutterstock

Diabetic Exchanges for Milk:

  • Skim
    • 1 cup skim milk
    • 1 cup 1% milk
    • 8 oz. plain, nonfat yogurt
  • Low-fat
    • 1 cup 2% milk
    • 8 oz. plain, low-fat yogurt
  • Whole
    • 1 cup whole milk
    • 8 oz. whole milk yogurt

Selection of healthy fat sources on wooden backgroundCraevschii Family/Shutterstock

Diabetic Exchanges for Fats:

  • 1/8 avocado
  • 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 6 almonds
  • 1 tsp. butter
  • 1 slice bacon

As always, please consult with your dietitian and doctor before starting any kind of diet plan. Then, check out our delicious, diabetic-friendly dinner recipes.

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