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    You Ask, I Answer: Food Exchange Lists

    3607-1I know that 1/8th of an avocado is considered one serving of fat but considering it’s also a vegetable, does it have a vegetable exchange as well?

    If I were to add a serving of avocado to my sandwich, is that a serving of vegetables in addition to a serving of fat?

    I’m confused about exchange lists.

    — Cate (last name unknown)
    (Location Unknown)

    Here’s some good news — unless you have diabetes (or provide nutrition counseling to diabetes patients), you don’t need to be familiar with exchange lists.

    Exchange lists group foods by nutritional composition rather than by the nutrients they offer (which is how the food pyramid classifies foods).  They were especially formulated to ease meal planning for people living with diabetes, who have to carefully monitor — and distribute — their intake of carbohydrates, fat, and protein.

    Exchange lists classify foods as:

    • Starches
    • Fruits
    • Vegetables
    • Very lean/lean/medium fat proteins
    • Non-fat/low-fat dairy
    • Fats

    Nutrition students often times get tripped up when they first learn about the food pyramid and exchange lists, since they can be easy to confuse.

    In the food pyramid, for instance, an avocado counts as a fruit serving (it is not a vegetable).  In the exchange lists, avocado is considered a “fat”.

    Similarly, while a slice of Swiss cheese falls under the “dairy” category in the food pyramid, the exchange lists classify it as a “medium-fat protein”.

    Why?  Cheese, ounce by ounce, has a similar protein and carbohydrate content to meat.

    In the exchange list, a “very lean” protein is one that, per serving, offers 35 calories and no more than 1 gram of fat.  Lentils, egg whites, and turkey breast all fall into this category.

    When figuring out what category the foods you eat fall into, go by food groups, not exchange lists.

    In your case, half a cup of avocado is considered a fruit serving.  Avocados are not considered part of the food pyramid’s “added oils and sugars” tip since an avocado contains a whole lot more than fat — it is also a wonderful source of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.


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