If you want to lose weight, a food exchange diet plan can be a healthy and nutritious part of your overall weight loss program. Food exchange diet plans categorize foods into groups, such as very lean protein, lean protein, medium fat protein, vegetables, fruits, fat-free and very low-fat milk, starches and fats. Specific foods are linked to a quantity, such as 1 cup or 1 ounce, to control intake of calories, proteins, carbohydrates and fats.
The American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the U.S. Public Health Service developed food exchange lists in the 1950s to simplify the diet for those with diabetes. Health care professionals and others saw this technique as a tool to help those struggling in their efforts to lose weight. The Weight Watchers plan was based on a food exchange diet for many years, and food exchanges are the mainstay of weight loss programs developed and popularized by Richard Simmons.
Before starting a program to lose weight, see and discuss your weight loss options—including a food exchange diet plan—with a health professional such as a doctor, nutritionist, dietitian or nurse. Agree on your goals. For example, how much weight should you lose, and over what period of time? Will you realistically be able to live with the proposed plan? If not, how can it be made more flexible and suitable to your lifestyle? In addition, discuss the end game: how will you maintain your new weight for life?
A food exchange diet plan has its foundation in a well-balanced diet. The diet plan specifies how many exchange units of each food group to consume daily. When you leave your health care provider’s office, you should have at least two items: a diet plan specifying how many calories you can consume each day with the number of food exchanges from each food group constituting that caloric total and a list of food exchanges. For example, you might have a 1,500-calorie-a-day food plan specifying daily consumption of five starches, eight proteins, four vegetables, three fruits, two milks and three fats. The number of calories per day selected by you and your health provider as the basis for your diet plan should be based on factors including your height and weight, health, age and weight loss goal.
Food exchange diet plans can work for weight loss because the food “equivalents” on the list of food exchanges are similar in nutrient content. For example, in the fruits group, half a mango is the equivalent of a small banana. Both contain 60 calories, 15g of carbohydrates and no protein or fat. In the vegetables group, a cup of salad greens is equivalent to a half cup of cooked broccoli or cabbage: Each contains 25 calories, 5g of carbohydrates and no protein or fat. Food exchange plans enable users to include never-tried as well as favorite foods, reducing the chances for boredom, loss of interest and diet failure.