Diabetic Exchange Diet


If you have diabetes, your doctor may put you on a diabetic exchange diet to help control both your weight and the amount of sugar and cholesterol in your blood. You will need to measure your food while on this diet, and you will probably need to eat 3 meals and 1 to 3 snacks daily. This diet divides the foods you can eat into 6 groups and measures each food by exact serving size to help you eat the right amount from each food group daily.

Your dietitian will give you a meal plan that lists the number of servings you may eat from each food group shown below. The plan will give examples of a typical selection from each group. You can exchange any food in a group for any other from the same group, always limiting yourself to the specified serving sizes. For example, 1 slice of bread can be exchanged for 3/4 cup dry cereal. Or you can exchange 1/2 cup fruit juice for 1/2 of a 9-inch banana. Ask your dietitian for the correct serving size if a food you want is not listed below. At first, weigh or measure all of your foods and beverages so that you eat only the specified amounts. Do not use sugar and avoid foods on the "Do Not Eat" list.

Breads and Starches for Diabetics

  • 1/2 of a 3-inch bagel
  • 1 slice bread (4-inch square)
  • 1/2 cup cooked cereal
  • 1/2 cup corn or 1 medium corn on the cob
  • 6 saltine crackers or three 2-1/2-inch square graham crackers
  • 1 small (2-inch square) dinner roll
  • 1/2 cup cooked dried beans (such as kidney, pinto, lentils, chick peas, white, or navy)
  • 1/2 of an English muffin
  • 1/2 cup cooked green peas
  • 1/2 of a hamburger or hot dog bun
  • 1/2 cup cooked lima beans
  • 1/2 cup cooked pasta
  • 1/2 of a 6-inch piece of pita bread
  • 1/2 cup mashed potatoes or a 3-inch baked potato
  • 1/3 cup cooked rice
  • 2 rice cakes
  • One 6-inch round tortilla
  • 1/2 cup cooked winter squash


  • 1 medium (3-inch) apple
  • 1 small (5-inch) banana or 1/2 of a 9-inch banana
  • 17 small or 12 large grapes (any kind)
  • 1 kiwi fruit
  • 1 cup cubed melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, or others)
  • 1 small (3-inch) orange
  • 1 medium (3-inch) peach
  • 1/2 of a large (4 1/2-inch) pear
  • 1/2 cup canned pineapple
  • 2 small plums
  • 3 dried prunes
  • 2 Tbs. raisins (any kind)
  • 1-1/4 cup whole strawberries
  • 1-1/4 cup cubed watermelon


You can have 1 cup raw or 1/2 cup cooked portion of most vegetables. Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, winter squash, peas, and dried beans are on the bread and starch list.

  • Asparagus
  • Green or wax beans
  • Beets
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Collard greens
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Green beans
  • Kale
  • Mixed vegetables (without corn or peas)
  • Mushrooms
  • Mustard greens
  • Onions (all kinds)
  • Pea pods
  • Peppers (all kinds)
  • Radishes
  • Salad greens (lettuce, romaine, spinach)
  • Summer squash
  • Tomatoes (fresh or canned)
  • Turnip greens
  • Turnips
  • Zucchini squash


  • 1 cup skim, 1-percent, or 2-percent milk
  • 1 cup nonfat plain or sugar-free yogurt
  • 1/3 cup dry nonfat milk 1 cup skim or low-fat buttermilk

Meat and Meat Substitutes

The amounts listed below refer to cooked serving sizes.

  • 1/4 cup canned tuna or salmon
  • 1 ounce chicken without skin
  • 1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute (no more than 3 each week)
  • 1 ounce fish (not breaded or fried)
  • 1 ounce lean beef or pork
  • 1/4 cup low-fat cottage cheese
  • One 1-inch cube or 1 ounce low-fat solid cheese
  • 1/2 cup tofu
  • 1 ounce turkey without skin


  • 1/8 of a medium avocado
  • 1 Tbs. regular cream cheese or 2 Tbs. low-fat cream cheese
  • 1 tsp. regular margarine or 2 tsp. low-fat margarine
  • 1 tsp. regular mayonnaise or 1 Tbs. low-fat mayonnaise
  • 6 almond or cashew nuts, 10 peanuts, or 4 pecan halves
  • 1 tsp. oil, such as safflower, canola, corn, or olive
  • 2 tsp. peanut butter
  • 1 Tbs. regular salad dressing or 2 Tbs. low-fat salad dressing

Foods People with Diabetes Should Avoid

  • Cake
  • Candy
  • Cookies
  • Frosting
  • Granola bars
  • Ice cream
  • Jelly and jam
  • Pastries
  • Pie
  • Regular sodas and colas
  • Sugar covered cereals
  • Sweet rolls
  • Products containing:
    • Corn syrup
    • Dextrose
    • Fructose
    • Glucose
    • High fructose corn syrup
    • Honey
    • Maltose
    • Molasses
    • Sucrose
    • Sugar (brown, corn, or powdered)
    • Syrup
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What decade was this written in? My Certified Diabetes Educator says there is NO food a diabetic can't eat, if it is worked into a meal plan, with other things adjusted for. It simply isn't true diabetics can't safely eat ice cream sometimes. Portion control is important. Nutrition is important. But pleasure is important, too. And the "don't eat" list is based on sugar. No real consideration of refined flour is made. The American Diabetes Association dropped sugar from the restricted list in the 1990s. Obviously NO ONE should base their diet on lots of empty calories and highly refined foods. But to say never to eat a cookie is absurd.
Jeannegibbs, I'm no expert, but my sister in law is a type 1 diabetic and has been part of an international study for many years, she is allowed to eat anything she desires as long as she uses common sense and adjusts her insulin accordingly.
I do wonder sometimes how some of these Aging Care articles are vetted.
I want to ammend my earlier statement. The ability to be flexible in a diabetic diet plan requires a fairly sophisticated level of knowledge surrounding carbs, sugars and diet in general. This website is focused around the elderly and their caregivers and they are probably dealing with type 2 diabetes due to organ failure or a lifetime of obesity and poor diet choices. One only has to watch those reality t.v. shows to realize that a large proportion of the population has no idea what a healthy diet looks like let alone how to achieve it. Unfortunately their food choices are either feast or famine and their diet advice is centred around whatever fad is trending at the moment.
The mayo clinic has a good post on diabetic diets, including the diabetic exchange diet. Each individual needs to tailor a plan makes sense for them, and sometimes abstinence is the best option, at least until they learn the a b c's of a healthy lifestyle.