Indian Food Pyramid

Understanding Food Groups And Exchanges, Its Easy As A, B, C

If you analyse the foods that you eat and this is true for most traditional Indian diets, one can break down the foods into the following main groups:

Each group is symbolized by an icon

Cereals Cereals VegetablesVegetables
MilkMilk Lean MeatsLean Meats
FruitsFruits Fats/OilsFats/Oils

When you will later see the diets charted out for you it will be clear that your diet will consist of these groups of foods (except sweets!).

How much of each item in the Food Groups should you eat, when should these be eaten and importantly, how you can vary items in your diet so that you can have a meal which is not only acceptable to you but also offers a rich variety of different foods.

The next step is understanding the basic concepts of food exchanges. You will need to know this in order to make your diet as varied and rich an experience as you would have eaten if you did not have diabetes, and possibly, even more so!

So what are food exchanges? Basically foods, as we have seen, are divided into different groups. Different food items are placed in each of these groups as they contain similar amounts of carbohydrates, fats and proteins and therefore, calories. In view of this, each food item in any one group can be EXCHANGED, or substituted, for one another.

The system of grouping foods is used in many ways. For example, we can create a calcium-rich food group as a tool for teaching people how to eat a high calcium diet.

b Here is how it would work:

Foods placed in the calcium-rich food group must contain a significant amount of calcium. The serving size of each food in the group is adjusted to contain 300 mg of calcium. This ensures calcium equality between foods.

1-1/2 ounce of hard cheese = 300 mg calcium

1 cup fluid milk = 300 mg calcium

1 cup calcium fortified juice = 300 mg calcium

Once we have developed a group of calcium-rich foods, we can simplify the diet instructions to anyone who needs more calcium by saying, "If you need 300 mg of calcium in your diet you should take either 1 cup of milk OR 1 to 1½ of hard cheese OR 1 cup of calcium fortified fruit juice!"

Say you require 600mg. Of calcium in your diet, then you could either eat 3 ounces of hard cheese, OR 1 to 1 ½ ounces of hard cheese and one cup of fluid milk, OR drink two cups of fluid milk OR have one cup each of fluid milk and calcium fortified fruit juice. We know that each of these options will give 600 mg. of calcium in the diet.

Thus, you can choose the type of food item which you like and get the desired nutrients in your diet.

If you still think it seems difficult, think back to your days in Nursery School. Remember how you would be given blocks of different sizes and then asked to use these blocks in various combinations to fill in some empty spaces?

Now think of one exchange in any food Group as consisting of an empty container which had to be filled in by using the various blocks available.

Let us say that Block 1 is an empty container.


Now you have the following blocks A, B, and C. You will notice that you can use Block A to fill in the container completely. If you use only Block B, the container remains half empty. So what can you do? Add another Block B or add Block C and you have full container!

But if you try and put in Blocks A and B you will see that these will not fit as the container will not have so much space.

Thus, you can either use one Block A or two Block B's or one each of Block B and Block C!

This, in essence is the concept of food exchanges. Block 1 can stand for a food group whilst Blocks A, B and C stand for the different items in this Food Group. It not only explains the food exchange system but as importantly, points out the importance of amounts or sizes of each food item in the food groups which you should eat.

Considering the huge numbers of food items in each food exchange group, you can mix and match a diet which gives you the desired nutrients and calories, but as importantly, offers you a rich and varied choice of food items.

Who said diabetes diets were boring!

In reality, things may be a bit more complicated as we have to take into consideration three nutrients and also the fact that each food item may have nutrients which spill over into other food groups. But things can still be simple.

Let us go back to Nursery School.

Let us now have two empty containers 1 and 2. Each stands for a different food group, and therefore are shown in different colours.

Now we have the same blocks again A, B, C. As we have shown above they can be used, either singly or in combination to fill Container 1.

We have Blocks E, F and G which are of a different colour (as they are items in a different food group). They too can be used either singly or in combination and can fill up Container 2.

Thus, using these six blocks, both the Containers can be filled in. In other words, using the food items in each Food Group one can fill up the amounts of foods required to be eaten in you diet in each of the two food Groups.

But this time we have another block D. If you notice this block, it is the same colour as Block A, and so could fill up Container 1, but it is larger and size and this extension is of a type which in reality should belong to Container 2. Now if you insist that you would like to use Block D, then you will see that it fills up the whole of Container 1. and also half of Container 2.

There is no place for Blocks A, B, or C as Container 1 is already full. But Container 2 is still half empty. We cannot use Block E to fill up the rest of Container 2 as this would go beyond the boundaries (and there are no "sixers" here as this is not cricket!). But we can use either Block F or G to fill up the rest of this container and we would then have both containers full.

It is important to realize this as some food items as we shall see later have nutrients and/or calories which are more than allowed for in one serving of a Food Group. Thus, if you eat an item which spills over into a second Food Group, you have to subtract some items from the second Food Group in order to keep the total amounts of servings the same in your daily diet.

Simple, isn't it? If you could do this in Nursery School, you can surely do it now. It's as easy as A,B,C!