The Food Exchange System
The Food Exchange System guides you to use variety and flexibility in your meal planning to achieve balanced nutrition at a calorie level that is best for your goals. There are no “good” or “bad” foods with the Exchange System—all foods fit, in moderation, of course. Food exchange lists, which were developed by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and American Diabetes Association, group all foods with similar proportions of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
Based on similar proportions of these three nutrients, all food is divided into six groups: Starch, Meat, Fruit, Vegetable, Milk, and Fat. There’s an additional “Free” group for foods that have less than 20 calories per serving.
It’s called the “Exchange System” because each item on a particular list, in the portion listed, may be swapped with any other food item on the same list. For example, half of an English muffin may be exchanged for a 1-ounce slice of bread since both of these foods are in the Starch group and have roughly the same amount of carbohydrate, protein, and fat. The TOPS lifestyle guide, Real Life: The Hands-on Pounds-off Guide, fully explains the Exchange System, so members understand it and use it successfully as they plan their meals. While the Exchange System can seem a bit tricky at first, once you learn it, it's a tool for life.