Carbohydrate Exchanges for Diabetes

Learn what common carb-containing foods count as a single exchange

Food exchanges can help you plan your meals -- and planning your meals is important when you have diabetes. This article focuses specifically on carbohydrate exchanges. Learn more about diabetic food exchange lists here.

When you use the exchange system to keep track of your carbohydrate intake, 1 carbohydrate exchange equals 15 grams of carbohydrate. An alternate method of diabetic meal planning, carbohydrate counting, has you read food labels to see the number of grams of carbohydrate per serving. Know that you can always calculate the carbohydrate exchange for a food by dividing the total grams of carbohydrates by 15.

Foods that contain carbohydrates include starches, such as bread and pasta, fruit, milk and milk products, snack foods and most desserts.

If you don't have an exchange list handy, it can be difficult to know how much food equals 1 exchange. This list provides a quick overview of the different food categories that include carbohydrate exchanges and what a serving size looks like for the various foods. If you choose to plan your meals through diabetic exchange lists you can find a more extensive resource here.


Dave King/Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Starches refer to starchy foods, including bread and pasta, other grains, starchy vegetables, beans and other legumes. It can also include some starchy snack foods, such as pretzels and crackers. This list tells you what serving size of each food is considered one starch exchange:

Bread - 1 slice (1 ounce)

Cereals (cold, unsweetened) - 3/4 cup

Rice, brown or white (cooked) - 1/3 cup

Pasta (cooked) - 1/2 cup

Beans and lentils (cooked) - 1/2 cup

Potatoes - 3 oz.

Corn - 1/2 cup

Pretzels - 3/4 ounce

Popcorn - 3 cups

Oatmeal (cooked) - 1/2 cup

Whole-wheat crackers - 3/4 ounce

Baked beans - 1/3 cup

Winter squash - 1 cup 


Brett Stevens/Cultura/Getty Images

Fruit has natural sugars in it, and so it is a source of carbohydrate that you need to factor into your diabetic meal plan. When you're selecting fruit, become familiar with portion sizes. Most fruit is not small...find a truly small apple and small orange to get a good baseline idea of what a small piece of fruit looks like. Here are the serving sizes of different fruits that are each considered one carbohydrate exchange:

Apple, banana, orange, nectarine - 1 small

Peach - 1 medium

Grapefruit - 1/2

Berries - 1 cup

Melon - 1 cup or 1/3 5" cantaloupe

Juice, unsweetened - 1/2 cup

Raisins - 2 tablespoons


milk and cookies
Tom Grill/The Images Bank/Getty Images

Dairy contains a natural sugar called lactose. Because of that, dairy products also need to be factored into your meal plan as carbohydrates. These servings of dairy products are considered one exchange:

Milk - 1 cup

Yogurt, plain, nonfat - 3/4 cup


pumpkin pie
Iain Bagwell/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Let's not forget desserts! You can have them in your meal plan as long as you factor them in. Here are serving sizes for various desserts and how many carbohydrate and fat exchanges each are worth:

Cookies - 2 small (1 carbohydrate; 1 fat)

Ice cream - 1/2 cup (1 carbohydrate; 2 fats)

Pudding, sugar-free with lowfat milk - 1/2 cup (1 carbohydrate)

Brownie - 2" square 1 carbohydrate; 1 fat)

Pumpkin pie - 1/8th pie (1 carbohydrate; 2 fats)


Food Exchange Lists. Retrieved May 7, 2009, from National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute - Obesity Education Initiative Web site:

Kulkarni, Karmeen D., MS, RD, BC-ADM, CDE (2005 ). Carbohydrate Counting: A Practical Meal-Planning Option for People With Diabetes . Retrieved May 7, 2009, from Clinical Diabetes Web site:

Continue Reading