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4 Systems for Diabetes Meal Planning

Meal plans can help you eat a balanced diabetes diet. It's the natural way to manage your blood sugar levels.
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Exchange Lists

Exchange lists are another means to control carbs, protein, and fat. Exchange lists provide several food choices that you can "exchange" for other foods within a category.

The exchange list from the American Dietetic/Diabetes Associations is organized this way:

  • Carbohydrates:
    • Starches: beans/peas/lentils; bread/cereals/grains; starchy vegetables; crackers/snacks
    • Fruits, nonstarchy vegetables, other carbs (sweets)
    • Milk and yogurt
  • Meat and meat substitutes:
    • Very lean, lean, medium-fat, and high-fat (this includes poultry, fish, shellfish, game, cheese)
  • Fats:
    • Saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fats.

Within each category (like "carbohydrate") the exchange list will provide a chart of your exchange options.

Example: In the "carbohydrate" category, 1 carb serving = 15 grams carbs = 1/3 cup pasta or 1/2 cup potatoes or 1 cup milk. You can choose, in your meal, which of these carb options you like.

A dietitian can provide you with an exchange list chart, and teach you how to calculate the exchanges in each group. Your dietitian can also set goals for the number of servings you should have in each food category.

"If you need tight blood sugar control, the exchange list system may not be as specific as you need," says Davis.

"It's OK if you have type 2 diabetes and your body is making some insulin, so you don't need to be quite as precise in your carb intake. But if you want tight control, you might need a meal system that is more accurate, like carb gram counting."

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Reviewed on January 15, 2010
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