How Do I Calculate Diabetic Food Exchanges?

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If you have Type 2 diabetes, your doctor or dietitian may recommend a diabetic exchange meal plan to control your blood sugar and aid with weight loss. The exchange meal plan divides all foods into lists. The foods in each list contain a similar amount of carbohydrates, fats, protein and calories and can be swapped, or exchanged, for each other. You can plan meals by simply choosing a set number of items from each list. Ask for help from your doctor or a dietitian before developing your own version of the exchange meal plan.

How Do I Calculate Diabetic Food Exchanges?
(Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media)
Step 1

Determine how many calories a person of your gender, age and activity level should have each day to maintain a healthy weight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the average woman between 31 and 50 years old needs approximately 1,800 calories, while a man of the same age should have around 2,200. Older individuals typically need less: 1,600 daily calories for women over 51 and 2,000 calories per day for men. If you're very physically active, talk to your doctor since you may need more each day.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 2

Ask a dietitian to help you break down your recommended daily calorie intake into a set number of exchanges for meals and snacks that keeps your carbohydrate consumption steady over the course of each day. Ideally, you want a diet that includes approximately the same number of carbohydrate-rich exchange foods like breads and starches, fruits and dairy products at each meal.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 3

Plan on a typical breakfast for a 2,000-calorie diet containing about five carbohydrate exchanges and one meat exchange, such as 3/4 cup of low-sugar, high-fiber cereal and 1 cup of nonfat milk, a slice of whole-wheat toast spread with 1 tablespoon of nut butter and a piece of whole fruit such as a banana.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 4

Aim for lunch on a 2,000-calorie diabetic exchange diet to consist of two meat or meat substitute exchanges, two vegetable exchanges, two breads or starches, two fats and one fruit. A sample lunch could be a cup of mixed greens topped with 1 cup of chopped raw vegetables and 2 ounces of grilled chicken breast tossed with 4 tablespoons of reduced-fat salad dressing paired with a piece of whole fruit and 1 cup of bean soup.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 5

Organize the dinner menu for a 2,000-calorie diet to include three meat exchanges, two starches, two vegetables, three fats and one fruit. A 3-ounce serving of baked salmon served with 1 cup of cooked mixed vegetables, 1 cup of baked winter squash, two small pieces of whole fruit like tangerines and a whole-wheat dinner roll spread with 3 teaspoons of margarine would fulfill these requirements.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 6

Opt for snacks that consist of a dairy product and a fruit or meat exchange. Examples include graham crackers with nonfat milk or yogurt mixed with fruit. Substitute soy milk or yogurt if you are lactose-intolerant or a vegan or vegetarian.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media
Step 7

Check the carbohydrate, protein, fat and calorie content of any food you want to eat that is not specifically detailed in the diabetic exchange lists. Breads and flour products, grains and pasta, high-starch vegetables, meat substitutes like beans, fruit, and low- or nonfat dairy products should all contain approximately 15 grams of carbohydrates per serving, though their calorie, fat and protein content may vary slightly. Avoid foods that contain a higher concentration of carbohydrates per serving, such as desserts or energy drinks, until you've consulted your dietitian.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media

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Tips & Warnings

  • Watch your portion sizes carefully. Even if you're eating the right mix of foods from each exchange list, you'll gain weight -- and experience increased diabetic symptoms -- if you eat more than the recommended amount.

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