Carb exchange is a way of counting carbs. 1 exchange = 15g of carbohydrate. The resource provided by Dr Simon is very informative and helpful.
1 slice of bread. 1 cup of milk. 1 small apple. 1 glass of fruit juice. 1Tb jam. 1/3 cup cooked rice. 1/2 cup cooked potato. 1/2 cup beans... These are all 1 carb exchange because each contain approximately 15g of carbohydrate in the specified amount.
Say, for example, you usually have 2 slices of bread with peanut butter and a glass of milk. Here, bread bread and milk are the carbohydrate foods. Peanut butter contains virtually no carbohydrate. You have 3 carb exchanges in total.
If you decide to have jam on toast instead of peanut butter, what happens? Now your breakfast contains 2 slices of bread (2 carb exchanges), 2Tb of jam (2 carb exchange, let's say you like to spread the jam thickly on the toast) and a glass of milk (1 carb exchange). You now have 5 carb exchange in total.
Such difference in carbohydrate (or glycaemic) load can affect your blood sugar levels, and consequently your diabetes management, especially if you're on insulin.
In the above example, you could have kept to 3 carb exchanges by having 1 slice of toast (1 carb exchange) with 1Tb jam (1 carb exchange) and a glass of milk (1 carb exchange). Understanding and being able to identify main carbohydrate sources in food and your diet can help you manage you diabetes as you will be able to make swaps without going overboard (or under) your carbohydrate goals.
GI (glycaemic index) is different to carb exchange. It measures how quickly or slowly the carb-containing food raises your blood sugar levels. Low GI ("slow") foods are better for diabetes management because it won't shoot up your blood sugar levels.
Seeking help from an accredited practicing dietitian can help you fine-tune your eating and get you out of confusion :)
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