Food Exchange Guide for a Diabetic Menu: Food Lists & Portion Charts

Arguably the most important part of treating type 2 diabetes is following a diet that works to control blood sugar and healthy body weight

The food exchange system is a tool recommended by the American Diabetes Association that provides people with guidance on how to customize effective diets to their personal preferences and cravings (1). 

How the Food Exchange System Works 

The principle of the exchange system is to group together foods with similar qualities that may provide the same nutritional value when exchanged for one another. There are 6 main categories that each have their own serving size guidelines. Each of the food choices in a category are accompanied by a predetermined portion size that meets an exchange option. 

For example: 

The ‘starch’ category includes food items with predetermined serving sizes that add up to 80 calories, 15 grams of carbohydrates and 3 grams of protein. One-half cup shredded wheat,  1/3 cup rice, and ¼ cup baked beans all are examples of food choices in the starch category with the same nutritional value. 

The amount of food in a serving size varies between many of the food items, however these are already measured out for you in many of the diabetic exchange lists. 

Instead of adding up the macronutrients in each item you eat, you count your daily number of food exchanges in each category.

By using the food exchange system, you are able to track and calculate: 

  • Calories 
  • Carbs 
  • Protein 
  • Fat 

The concept of an exchange system allows you to have flexibility in your diet while maintaining consistent high-quality balanced nutrition.  

Is the Food Exchange System Right For You? 

Food exchange is a great option for people who want to personalize their diet while  limiting that amount of individual macronutrient calculations required on a daily basis.  

How to Start a Diet Using the Food Exchange System

Each day everyone should eat a certain amount of protein, fat, and grams of carbohydrates. 

To calculate your daily macronutrient needs use our calorie and carbohydrate calculator below. 

Because everyone’s needs are different, you should talk with a doctor or registered dietitian if you’re diabetic or have pre-diabetes to make sure your personalized daily nutrition goals are on point.  One of these diabetes educators can give you your personalized daily goal exchanges for each category. Alternatively, you can calculate it yourself based on your daily macronutrient goals.

Then use the food exchange categories and lists as described below in your daily meal planning. 

What happens when a food isn’t on the list? You can add it to your own personalized list by measuring out the amount of food that matches the serving size nutritional values in each respective category. 

Food Exchange Categories 

  1. Protein 
    1. Very Lean Protein
    2. Lean Protein
    3. Medium-Fat Protein
    4. High-Fat Protein
  2. Milk 
    1. Skim 
    2. Low-Fat 
    3. Whole
  3. Fruits
  4. Vegetables
  5. Starches 
  6. Fats

Food Exchange Nutrition Facts by Category 






1. Protein


Very Lean Protein





Lean Protein





Medium-Fat Protein




High-Fat Protein





2. Fruits




3. Vegetables





4. Starches





5. Fats





6. Milk





Skim Milk





Low-Fat Milk











Food Exchange Lists for Meal Planning 

All of these values are taken from the diabetic exchange list created in accordance with the American Diabetes Association (2). 


Food Item Serving Size
Bran Cereals (flaked) 1/2 cup
Cooked Cereals 1/2 cup 
Cornmeal (dry) 2.5 tbsp
Grape Nuts 3 tbsp 
Grits (cooked)  1/2 cup
Pasta (cooked) 1/2 cup
Rice (cooked) 1/2 cup
Beans/Peas (cooked) 1/3 cup 
Baked Beans

1/4 cup 

Lentils (cooked)

1/3 cup


1/2 cup

Baked Potato

1 small (3oz)

Winter Squash

3/4 cup

Yam / Sweet Potato

1/3 cup


1/2 (1oz)

English Muffin 


Hamburger Bun 

1/2 (1 oz)

White or Wheat Bread 

1 slice

Popcorn (popped, plain)

3 cups


3/4 oz


Lean Protein 

Food Item Serving Size
Lean Beef (USDA Choice grades) 1oz
Lean Pork 1oz
Lean Veal 1oz
Fresh Fish 1oz
Crap, Lobster, Scallops, Shrimp, Clams 2oz
Oysters  6
Cottage Cheese 1/4 cup
Diet Cheeses (<55 calories per ounce) 1 oz
95% Fat Free Luncheon Meat 1 oz
Egg Whites 3


Medium-Fat Protein 

Food Item Serving Size 
Beef Products (ie: prime cuts, t-bone steak, meat loaf) 1 oz
Pork (most pork chops, loin, roast) 1 oz
Lamb (chops, legs, roast) 1 oz
Veal cutlets  1 oz
Chicken with Skin 1 oz
Duck and Goose 1 oz
Canned Tuna and Salmon 1/4 cup
Mozarrella 1 oz
Ricotta 1/4 cup
Whole Egg 1
Tofu  4 oz


High-Fat Protein 

Food Item Serving Size
Beef Products (ribs, corned beef) 1 oz
Pork (sparefibs, ground pork, pork sausage) 1 oz
Lamb (ground or patties) 1 oz
Fried Fish 1 oz 
Most Cheese (blue, cheddar, monterey, swiss) 1 oz
Other Lunch Meat (ie: bologna, salami) 1 oz
Peanut Butter 1 tbsp



Food Item (raw) Serving Size
Egglpant 1/2 medium
Asparagus 1 cup
Mushrooms 1 cup
Broccoli / Cauliflower 1 cup
Okra  1 cup
Onion 1 cup
Peppers 1 cup
Tomato 1 cup
Zucchini 1 cup


Most raw veggies have a serving size of 1 cup and most cooked vegetables have a 1/2 cup. 


Food Item Serving Size
Apples 1 whole
Kiwi 1 whole
Banana  1/2 whole
Blackberries 3/4 cup
Cantaloupe 1 cup
Cherries 12 whole
Blueberries 3/4 cup
Figs 2 whole
Strawberries 1.25 cup
Papaya 1 cup
Watermelon 1.25 cup
Raspberries 1 cup
Orange Juice 1/2 cup


Skim Milk Products 

Food Item Serving Size
Skim Milk 1 cup
Plain Non-Fat Yogurt 8 oz


Low Fat Milk Products 

Food Item Serving Size
Low-Fat Milk 1 cup
Plain Low-Fat Yogurt 8 oz


Whole Milk 

Food Item Serving Size 
Whole Milk 1 cup
Plain Whole Yogurt 8 oz


Unsaturated Fats 

Food Item Serving Size
Avocado 1/8 Medium
Mararine 1 tsp
Mayonnaise 1 tsp
Almonds 6
Pecans 2
Peanuts (small) 20
Walnuts 2
Pine Nuts 1 tbsp
Olives (small) 10
Oil 1 tsp


Saturated Fats 

Food Item Serving Size
Butter 1 tsp
Bacon 1 slice
Cocconut (shredded) 2 tbsp
Cream (heavy, whipping) 1 tbsp
Cream Cheese 1 tbsp


Make counting carbs and staying on top of your diabetic meal plan easy with this free carb counting and meal portioning toolkit. A complete, step by step guide to meal planning and carb counting for beginners. Designed to help you manage your daily carbohydrate intake and get balanced nutrition.

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