What does one carb exchange look like?

Getting used to a diabetic diet can be tough. There’s so much to take into consideration. With sugars and carbs and blood glucose to keep in mind it helps to have a fool-proof strategy to ensure you keep feeling at your best all day long Read More

Getting used to a diabetic diet can be tough. There’s so much to take into consideration. With sugars and carbs and blood glucose to keep in mind it helps to have a fool-proof strategy to ensure you keep feeling at your best all day long.

Because we know how difficult being a diabetic can be, we’ve created this easy method to make sure your blood sugar levels stay constant throughout the day.

The Carb Exchange

You can think of the carb exchange method as a carb vending machine. You will have a set number of carb tokens per day. These tokens are evenly spread over 5 or more meals and snacks throughout the day.

Let’s take Mary. She’s on a 1500 calorie diet. She needs to lose some weight to try and keep her body healthy.

Of the 1500 calories Mary is allowed a day, 50% of them can be carbs. She has to keep her carbs low because even starches can affect her blood sugar dramatically. So it’s better for her to eat more proteins and fiber, because these take longer to digest.

That means Mary can have 750 calories worth of carbs a day.

This next part is a bit tricky, but there’s a handy calculation table at the end if you’re having trouble keeping track.

Now, one gram of net carbs gives 4 calories. So if Mary can have 750 calories of carbs, she can have 187,5g of carbs every day. [Daily carb calories 4 = Daily Carb Grams]

The vending machine costs 15g carbs per exchange. So one carb exchange is 15g of carbs. That means Mary, who has 187,5 carb grams per day has 12.5 exchanges every day [Daily Carb Grams 15 = Number of Daily Exchanges]

Because Mary wants to keep her blood sugar stable, she decides to spread her carbs out over three meals and two snacks. Her snacks are roughly half the amount of calories of her meals, so basically Mary has three whole meals and two half meals, for a total of four meals. That means she can have 3,125 carb exchanges per meal. [Number of Daily Exchanges (Meals+Snacks) = Exchanges per Meal]

Because Mary’s snacks are half the calories of a full meal, each of her two snacks can be roughly 1,5 exchanges. Because each carb exchange is 15g, she can have roughly 46g of carbs for each meal.

Why is it easier to do what Mary Does?

The Exchange Metod makes it easier to remember how many carbs you can have in one meal.

It also helps you keep count throughout the day. It’s much easier to make a quick calculation along the lines of, three carb exchanges are 45g of carbs, my lunch has 37g (2,5 exchanges) so far, so I can add that extra half an exchange without feeling bad.

On the other hand, if three exchanges of carbs do make you feel bad, you can easily adjust by going down half an exchange per meal or adding more fiber-rich carbs to your existing exchange rate.

So while 45g of processed carbs may make you feel terrible because it spikes your blood sugar, 45g of whole carbs takes longer to digest, having a more stable impact on your blood sugar. These “whole carbs” are called low-GI foods. If your diabetes is really bad they can make a world of difference in your life.

How to be like Mary

First off you want to calculate your daily calorie needs. This will depend on a host of factors including your current BMI, your exercise levels, as well as your age.

Once you know what amount of calories you need per day the rest is easy. Just do what Mary did:

  1. Daily Calories 2 = Daily Carb Calories
  2. Daily Carb Calories 4 = Daily Carb Grams
  3. Daily Carb Grams 15 = Daily Carb Exhanges
  4. Daily Carb Exhanges Meals = Exchanges per Meal

Once you’ve applied this simple method you’ll be able to tell exactly how many carb exchanges YOU can have for each meal.

Exchange Notes

There are a few important things to remember when it comes to using the Exchange method.

  • Always round the carbs in a meal up.
  • When you’re picking and choosing the carbs to exchange for a meal the total carbs may add up to slightly less than a token. If this happens always make sure to make it a full token. You rather want less carbs instead of more wherever possible.

  • Always round the Daily Carb Exchanges or Exchanges per Meal down.
  • If you’re in a position like Mary, who can have 3,125 exchanges per meal it’s easier to aim for three exchanges per meal, but if you go a gram or two over that’s also okay.

  • Never exceed four exchanges per meal.
  • If you have more than four exchanges (60g of carbs) per meal you are increasing your risk of a blood sugar spike exponentially. If you find that your current exchange rate adds up to more than four exchanges per meal, try adding another meal to your day.

  • Simple carbs have a more sudden effect.
  • If you have 3 exchanges of simple carbs your blood sugar levels will rise more suddenly than if you have 3 exchanges of whole carbs, or carbs with a lot of fiber.

    For example, 3 exchanges of white bread will increase your blood sugar faster than 3 exchanges of whole wheat bread.

    This is because the whole wheat kernels take longer to digest and therefore the glucose inside them takes longer to reach your blood stream.

    It’s always best to make sure you have a healthy balance of simple and whole carbs in every meal to avoid a sudden rush of glucose in your blood stream.

  • GI Matters
  • If the fiber count of a carb exchange is about 7g or more it means that the food is low GI and will take some time to affect blood sugar levels.

    Anything under 2g of fiber per carb exchange is a high GI and is more likely to cause blood sugar levels to spike soon after a meal.

  • Space meals evenly.
  • Even with the exchange method, if you bunch all your meals together you still run the risk of pushing your blood sugar level too high, or letting them drop too low if you don’t spread your meals evenly throughout your day.

    Key Takeaways.

    • Keeping blood sugar levels stable is easier when you know how many carbs you can have with each meal.
    • The carb exchange method is a simple yet effective tool to help you keep an eye on your daily carb intake.
    • Exchanges are 15g carbs each.
    • Your daily exchange rate is calculated to suit your personal needs.

    But what DOES one exchange look like?

    Obviously each exchange’s (15g) physical size will depend on the type of food you are eating.

    For example, one apple has less carbs than one banana, so one exchange of apples will look like more than one exchange of banana.

    To make life easier, here is a list of common foods and how big one exchange is:


    One carb exchange of blueberries is 0.725 cups and has 2,5g fiber and 12,5g net carbs. They are very close to being high GI and portion sizes should definitely be monitored.


    One carb exchange of strawberries is 1.83 cups and has 2,5g fiber and 12,5g net carbs. Strawberries are less nutrient dense than blueberries. That’s why you can have a bigger volume of strawberries.


    Half a medium banana (2,75 oz) has 1,5g fiber and 13,5g carbs. This is quite a high GI exchange and other carbs in the meal should have a lot of fiber to make sure blood sugar remains relatively stable.


    One exchange of fiwi is equal to 7 oz. and has 4g fiber and 11g net carbs. They are medium to low GI despite being relatively sweet.


    One apple carb exchange is equal to 7,5 oz and has 3,5g fiber and 13g net carbs. They are considered safe for diabetics, as long as carb exchange portion sizes are adhered to.


    One medium grapefruit is equal to one carb exchange and has 2g fiber and 13g net carbs. They are quite high GI though, so it’s best to keep portion sizes smaller and fill the meal out with lower GI carb sources such as nuts.


    One carb exchange of avocado weighs 6,25 oz. (roughly one medium to large avocado) and has 12g of fiber and 3g net carbs. This is a very low GI source of starch that is quite high in good fats.


    14 oz. of tomato is equal to one carb exchange and has 4g fiber and 11g net carbs. Luckily tomatoes aren’t very nutrient dense so one exchange is actually quite a lot.


    One carb exchange of kale weighs 6 oz. and has 6g fiber and 9g net carbs. This makes kale a low GI food and considered safe for diabetics as long as carb exchange rates are adhered to.


    One carb exchange of carrots is equal to 5.5 oz. and has 4g fiber and 11g carbs. Carrots are one of those vegetables that have more sugar in them than you think becasue they are so nutrient dense.


    One carb exchange of cucumber weighs 15 oz. and has 2g fiber and 13g net carbs. While cucumbers are technically high GI, they are mostly water and they aren’t usually eaten in largee enough quantities to cause a major spike in blood sugar.

    Red Onion

    One carb exchange of red onion weighs 4 oz. and has 2g of fiber and 13g of net carbs. People tend to forget to add onions into the carb count of a meal, but they are definitely able to push blood sugar levels over the edge and should always be taken into consideration when planning carb exchanges per meal.

    Red Pepper

    One carb exchange of red peppers weighs 16,5 oz. and has 2.5g of fiber and 12.5g of net carbs. Red peppers aren’t necessarily dangerous for diabetics, but they can cause an unsuspected sugar spike if they aren’t calculated into a meal properly.


    One carb exchange of zucchini weighs 17,5 oz. and has 5g of fiber and 10g of net carbs. A lot of people like using zucchini as an alternative to noodles because they are quite low in carbs and can bulk out a meal.


    2.83 cups of cauliflower (10,25oz.) is equal to one carb exchange and has 7g of fiber and 8g of net carbs. This is a great low-GI alternative to rice or even mash potatoes if you’d like to bulk out some meals.

    Sweet Potato

    One carb exchange of sweet potato weighs 2,14 oz. and has 2g of fiber and 13g of net carbs. They are a lower GI alternative to potatoes, but they are still pretty high up on the GI scale and portions need to be monitored carefully.


    One carb exchange of walnuts weighs 4 oz. and has 8g of fiber and 7g of net carbs. Like most nuts, walnuts are extremely low GI and a great source of prolonged energy and stable blood sugar levels.


    One carb exchange of pecans weighs 3,75 oz. and has 7g of fiber and 8g net carbs. It’s good to remember that things like seeds and nuts have carbs as well as protein and healhty fats in them.


    One carb exchange of cashews weighs 3,75 oz. and has 7g fiber and 16g net carbs. This portion size is also extremely high in calories, so don’t forget to keep your daily calorie count in mind.


    One carb exchange of yoghurt weighs 13 oz. and has 15g of net carbs. Not many people realize that milk products all contain carbs (lactose) and need to be taken into consideration when calculating total meal carb exchanges.

    Gluten Free Tortilla Chips

    One carb exchange of tortilla chips weighs just 0,75 oz. and has 0,5g fiber and 14,5g net carbs. This is a low GI food and even as little as four exchanges (2 oz.) of tortilla chips in one meal can spike some people’s blood sugar levels too high.

    Veggie Chips

    One carb exchange of chips alternative weighs 0,5oz. and has 0,5g of fiber and 14,5g net carbs. Like tortilla chips, as little as 4 exchanges (2oz.) of these in one sitting (without any dip or other snacks) can be enough to spike blood sugar levels.