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Eat Well ·

Understanding the Food Exchange System

By Sarah S – Jenny Craig

What are food exchanges and why are they important for a healthy diet? With other diet plans you could be reaching your calorie targets, but is your diet nutritionally balanced? The food exchange system helps ensure you are getting the right balance of nutrients your body needs. The Jenny Craig plan uses the US food exchange system in creating menus, the meals on your own meal structure and days on your own.


Following a healthy eating plan doesn’t have to be a struggle. The exchange system groups foods together that are similar into lists. By using food exchanges you can create meals with a variety of your favorite choices. It will also help you to control the distribution of calories, carbohydrate, protein and fat throughout the day so that your meal plan is nutritionally balanced.


Foods are divided into six groups based on three major nutrients -- carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Within each group, you’ll see how much you can eat of various foods for about the same amount of calories. One serving in a group is called an “exchange”. You can exchange or swap foods within a dietary exchange list because they contain similar nutrients. This allows you to incorporate your favorite foods into your menu, which is an important factor in weight loss success. You are more likely to stick to a meal plan that allows you to have the foods you love. By following exchange lists, you can stay right on track with your dietary goals.


The six groups on the food exchange list for weight loss include starches, vegetables, meats, fruits, milks and fats. All of the hard work has been done for you. You can find an expanded and detailed list in Jenny’s Grocery List. As you look at the exchange list for meal planning, you will find that a serving of one food choice is often larger or smaller than another choice from the same list. Because foods are different, each food is given a specific serving size so that the amounts of carbohydrate, protein, fat and calories are very close within a group. Paying attention to and following these serving sizes will help to ensure calorie consistency.


Here’s a snapshot of approximately what one serving from each group provides on the exchange diet.


  Calories Carbohydrate
Starches 80 15 0-3 0-1
Protein 45 0 7 0-3
Milks 100 12 8 0-3
Fruits 60 15 0 0
Vegetables 25 5 2 0
Fats 45 0 0 5


If you are familiar with the 13 food groups in the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Diabetic Exchange List, you may notice a slight difference in the food groups Jenny uses. The Jenny exchanges are based on the ADA exchange list but have been simplified from 13 food groups to 6.


We provide food group servings of Jenny’s Cuisine® as well as the meals on your own meal structure to assist in menu planning regardless of which list you are using. The meals on your own meal structure uses both calories and exchanges to help guide your choices. Following the exchanges will help to ensure that you are getting the nutrition behind the calories.


As you plan your menus online, you can keep track of your daily exchanges by following the recommended ranges listed in your planner. Track your foods as you eat them so you can see how many exchanges you have left for each food group for the day. Staying within the ranges will help ensure you are following a balanced diet as well as helping you on the path to weight loss success.


Now that you know the food exchange system can help to ensure that your meal plan is nutritionally balanced. Learn how Jenny Craig can help you create a balanced meal plan that helps you reach your weight loss goals. 



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