Carbohydrate Exchanges

home canned fruits and vegetables

For foods without labels, use Carbohydrate Exchange Lists.

Foods with a similar amount of carbohydrate per serving size are grouped together, and one carbohydrate exchange equals 15 grams of carbohydrate.

What about foods without labels?

Not all foods carry Nutrition Facts labels, so another way to count carbohydrates is to use Carbohydrate Exchange Lists.

In the exchange system, foods with a similar amount of carbohydrate per serving size are grouped together. The foods within each list can be “exchanged” for one another during meal planning, and you end up with about the same amount of carbohydrate.

One carbohydrate exchange equals 15 grams of carbohydrate.


The Exchange Lists for Meal Planning is a helpful meal-building tool. You have the flexibility to mix and match your carbohydrate food choices, while staying within your carbohydrate budget for each meal.

For example, if your goal is 45 grams of carbohydrate per meal, you may eat 3 exchanges of carbohydrate at each meal.

Let’s put this into play:

Let’s say you wanted to have some rice at lunch.

One exchange of rice is 1/3 cup of cooked rice.

If your goal is 45 grams of carbohydrate at a meal, then you can eat 1 cup of rice (or 3 exchanges of carbohydrate).

So that’s 3 exchanges x 15 grams carbohydrate per exchange = 45 grams of carbohydrate.

In the mood for a different meal?

Using the same goal of 45 gram carbohydrate per meal, you could also choose:

  • 1 slice of bread with peanut butter
  • 1 (8 ounce) cup of nonfat milk
  • 1 small apple

Each food item listed above equals 1 carbohydrate exchange – so that’s a total of 3 exchanges, or 45 grams of carbohydrate.

Remember that the exchange system merely lists SERVINGS of carbohydrate that equal 15 grams of carbohydrate. Don’t confuse SERVING SIZE with PORTION SIZE. The portion size is the amount of food that you plan to eat. In most cases, you are not limited to eating only one exchange serving of a particular food. The exchanges are just a way for you to build your meal and be aware of your total carbohydrate plan every time you eat.


Self-assessment Quiz

Self assessment quizzes are available for topics covered in this website. To find out how much you have learned about  Understanding Carbohydrates, take our self assessment quiz when you have completed this section.  The quiz is multiple choice. Please choose the single best answer to each question. At the end of the quiz, your score will display. If your score is over 70% correct, you are doing very well. If your score is less than 70%, you can return to this section and review the information.

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