Ever wonder about the "exchanges" included in each Diabetes Forecast recipe? In the past, most people with diabetes followed the exchange system for meal planning. And although carbohydrate counting has generally taken over as the tool of choice, many people still rely on exchanges. Neither method is necessarily better than the other, but some people find that the exchange system guides heart-healthy eating (by rating the leanness of meats) and aids weight management (by grouping foods based on calories as well as carbohydrates). Others prefer carbohydrate counting's precision: By viewing a specific food's nutrition label, you get a more accurate idea of its carbohydrate and calorie content than you would from a generalized list.
Here's how the exchange system works: Foods are grouped into categories with similar nutrient makeup-like starches, carbohydrates, meats, fats, fruits, nonstarchy vegetables, and free foods-so little math is involved in meal planning. Any food from a certain category can be exchanged for another on the list since they're similar in the amount of carbohydrate, calories, fat, and protein. (But note: Serving sizes vary for each food item.)
Before you decide to start this meal plan, schedule an appointment with a registered dietitian who can familiarize you with the system and individualize it to your specific needs. A dietitian will be able to tell you how many exchanges from each category you can eat per meal.
A slice of bread, half an English muffin, and a half cup of oats each counts for one starch exchange. If your meal plan allows for two starch exchanges at breakfast and you typically nosh on an English muffin, you would substitute with two slices of toast or a cup of oatmeal. Zesty Salmon Burgers, for instance, will use up half of a carbohydrate exchange, four lean meat exchanges (meats are categorized as very lean, lean, medium-fat, and high-fat), and one fat exchange.
Beginners and experts alike often refer to exchange books like the American Diabetes Association's Choose Your Foods: Exchange Lists for Diabetes, available from the ADA store, for categorized lists of foods and serving sizes.