The Diabetes Exchange Diet's List of Free Foods

The Foods That Help Control Your Blood Sugar

In This Article

handful of almonds
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Free foods have been an important part of the diabetes exchange list system that helps diabetics eat properly while controlling their blood sugar. “Free foods” are those foods or drinks that have less than 20 calories per serving and no more than 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving. They are considered free because you may eat them up to three times a day in reasonable amounts without significantly raising your blood sugar. Here is a sampling of the free foods available by category:


  • Asparagus, cooked
  • Beans, green, cooked
  • Broccoli, cooked
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Lettuce, iceberg
  • Olives, canned ripe
  • Peppers, sweet red
  • Radishes
  • Scallions (green onions)
  • Spinach, cooked
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomato juice


  • Avocados
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries


  • Macadamia nuts
  • Pecans

Eggs and Dairy

  • Butter
  • Cheese, cheddar
  • Cheese, Swiss
  • Cream cheese
  • Cottage cheese, 2% milkfat
  • Eggs
  • Half and half
  • Mayonnaise
  • Milk, 1% milkfat, added solids
  • Soy milk
  • Yogurt, plain, whole milk


  • Coffee (without cream or sugar)
  • Tea (without milk or sugar)
  • Water

Serving Sizes for Snacks

Limit yourself to only two snacks a day. Don't nosh throughout the day, eat snacks at designated times between meals so that your snack doesn't spoil your appetite and adds some nutritional value to your daily food intake. See below for the American Diabetes Associations snacks with less than 5 grams of carbohydrate:

  • 15 almonds
  • 3 celery sticks + 1 tablespoon of peanut butter
  • 5 baby carrots
  • 5 cherry tomatoes + 1 tablespoon ranch dressing
  • 1 hard-boiled egg
  • 1 cup cucumber slices + 1 tablespoon ranch dressing
  • ¼ cup of fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup of salad greens + 1/2 cup of diced cucumber + drizzle of vinegar and oil
  • 1 cup of light popcorn
  • 2 saltine crackers
  • 10 goldfish crackers
  • 1 piece of string cheese stick
  • 8 green olives
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin or sesame seeds
  • ¼ of a whole avocado (~4 g.)

Creating Your Diet Around Free Foods

Free foods can be eaten in moderation. Incorporate free foods up to three times a day and add a serving at each meal. To prevent a rise in blood sugar, avoid eating all three servings of a free food in the same meal. Instead, eat one serving of a particular free food during a meal or snack.

  • Portion Control - Know the proper serving size for your free food as that's important to keep it well within the less than 20 calories and less than 5 grams of carbohydrate. Too much of anything is not a good thing.
  • One Each - Don't overindulge on free foods. Plan ahead and designate a free food for each meal or snack time.
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