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Free Food Exchange Lists for Diabetes


Updated June 25, 2014

Free Food Exchange Lists for Diabetes
Photo: Gregor Schuster / Getty Images

When you have diabetes, you may use the exchange lists system for meal planning. Most food exchanges have 80 calories, 15 grams of carbohydrate and/or 3 grams of protein. But, did you know that there is also a "free" foods list? Free foods don't count as an exchange and have less than 20 calories per serving. They're called free foods because you can add them to your meals without counting them.

What are some free foods?


  • Sugar-free or diet sodas
  • Sugar-free or diet fruit drinks
  • Club soda, tonic water or carbonated water
  • Sugar-free carbonated flavored water
  • Black coffee
  • Teas, black, green or herbal
  • Sugar-free drink mixes
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder
  • Bouillon


  • Unsweetened cranberries (1/2 cup)
  • Unsweetened rhubarb (1/2 cup)


  • Cabbage
  • Celery
  • Chinese cabbage
  • Cucumber
  • Green onion
  • Hot peppers
  • Mushrooms
  • Radishes
  • Zucchini
  • Salad greens
  • Spinach

Sweeteners and sugar substitutes

  • Sugar-free hard candy
  • Sugar-free gelatin
  • Sugar-free gum
  • Sugar-free jams/jelly
  • Sugar-free pancake syrup
  • Sugar substitutes
  • Whipped topping (2 tablespoons)


  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Pickles, dill, unsweetened
  • Salad dressing - low calorie
  • Salsa
  • Vinegar
  • Horseradish


  • Most herbs
  • Pepper
  • Hot sauce*
  • Worcestershire sauce*
  • Lime and lemon juice
  • Spices such as cinnamon or paprika
  • Seasoned peppers and salts*
  • Soy sauce*

*Remember to be mindful of sodium content of these foods

Use foods from the "free" foods list to add variety and flavor to your meals


Dudek, Susan G. (1993). Nutrition Handbook for Nursing Practice. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott.

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