Carbohydrate Exchanges for Diabetes

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

Food exchanges can help you plan your meals—and meal planning is important when you have diabetes.

When you use the exchange system to keep track of your carbohydrate intake, one carbohydrate exchange equals 15 grams of carbohydrate. An alternate method of diabetic meal planning, carbohydrate counting, involves reading 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 one 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 more extensive resources online.


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Starches refer to starchy foods, including bread and pasta, other grains, starchy vegetables, beans and other legumes. The category 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 ounces

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 


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Fruit has natural sugars, 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
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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 low-fat milk - 1/2 cup (1 carbohydrate)

Brownie - 2" square (1 carbohydrate; 1 fat)

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

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