The Exchange Diet

This is what used to be called the American Diabetes Association (ADA) diet.

Their original recommendations were for ones meals to consist of

  • 50-60% carbohydrates,
  • 10-20% protein
  • and less than 30% fats.

Obviously this is a high carb, low fat diet.

This has now been renamed the exchange diet.

(The ADA, having had a slight change of mind, now states that no one diet works for everyone and are suggesting 10-20% protein with the rest of the calories of the meal to consists of carbohydrates and fats.)

How this diet works :-

Foods are divided into 6 groups and each food within that group has an exact serving size.

The groups are:-

  • Breads and Starches
  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Dairy
  • Meat and Meat Substitutes
  • Fats

What is meant by exact serving sizes within a group is easier to understand once you see an example of such a group. For instance let us take a look at fats. (note – this is just an example, it may not be accurate)

1/8 of a medium avocado pear.
1 tablespoon regular cream cheese.
1 teaspoon margarine.
1 teaspoon mayonnaise.
6 cashew nuts,
10 peanuts, or
4 pecan halves.
1 tsp. Oil.
2 teaspoons peanut butter.
1 Tablespoon salad dressing.

Your dietician will work out a meal plan depending on your required calorie intake. This will include a list of the number of servings of food you can eat from each of the food groups at each meal. You can then decide which of the foods from within that group you would like to eat at each meal. Any will do as long as you stick to the right number.

For instance you might be allowed two food servings from the fat group. You can then decide whether you want to have peanut butter and cream cheese. Or a double helping of cream cheese, or maybe a helping of margarine and some nuts.

Here’s where the ‘exchange’ name came from, you can exchange any one food within a group for any other food within the same group, never with one from another group.

There are some foods that you may not eat! These are what one would expect, the cakes, puddings and such like that are full of sugars.

Then there are the ones that are considered ‘free foods’ that you can eat as often as you like.

These are:-


  • Water -Carbonated or flavoured water (sugar-free)
  • Club soda
  • Coffee: regular or decaffeinated
  • Diet soft drinks (sugar-free)
  • Drink mixes, sugar-free
  • Mineral water
  • Tea
  • Tonic water (sugar-free)


  • Butter flavouring (fat-free)
  • Garlic
  • Herbs
  • Pepper
  • Spices
  • Flavoured extracts
  • Horseradish
  • Hot pepper sauce
  • Lemon juice
  • Lime juice
  • Nonstick pan spray
  • Pimento
  • Vinegar
  • Wine in cooking
  • Mustard
  • Worcestershire or soy sauce


  • Bouillon or broth (fat-free)
  • Flavoured gelatine (sugar-free)
  • Gum (sugar-free)
  • Sugar substitutes (aspartame, saccharin or acesulfame-K)
  • Unflavoured gelatine (plain)

The advantages of this diet is that it is possible to tailor it to suit your personal likes and dislikes. It also gives you some freedom as you can eat out anywhere as long as you keep within your plan. It also is less restricting in the types of food you can eat compared to many other diets. Keep your portions correct and just about anything goes!

The disadvantages are that for some it can be very confusing. Also, at least to start with, you need to weigh or measure all food and drink until you have a very accurate idea of what a portion looks like – buy those scales immediately you start this diet! These weights and measures need to be checked every now and again because portions, especially of ones favourite foods, have a alarming tendency to creep upwards.