What are free foods?

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Lucette Talamas, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
A free food is common term used when discussing diabetes meal planning using the Exchange Lists for Diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), a free food is “any food or drink choice that has less than 20 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrate or less per serving”.

The ADA suggests spreading out and limiting a free food to 3 servings per day, since eating 3 servings of a free food at one time can raise blood sugar levels. For example, cooked carrots, cauliflower, or green beans are considered a free food in their appropriate serving size which is ¼ of a cup. If ¾ of a cup is eaten at once, it would then be considered as one carbohydrate exchange since the 3 servings totaled about 15 grams of carbohydrate.

In summary, a free food is only considered a free food when eaten in its recommended portion. Full lists of foods and their serving size, including free foods, can be found in the “Choose Your Foods: Exchange Lists for Diabetes” book.
Sarah Krieger
Nutrition & Dietetics
A free food is any food or drink that contains less than 20 calories or less than 5 grams of total carbohydrate per serving. However, if a food with 10 calories per serving is consumed in large quantities, then it is not considered free or low calorie anymore! Here is a brief list of foods considered free:
  • 1 tablespoon fat free cream cheese, fat free mayo, fat free sour cream and fat free salad dressing
  • 1 teaspoon reduced fat mayo or reduced fat margarine
  • 1/4 cup salsa and many leafy green vegetables
  • Most vegetables over a 1/2 cup serving contain more than 25 calories and are not considered "calorie free", but should still make up the bulk of meals and snacks!
Portions are important for all foods.
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Some vegetables are termed &quotfree foods" and can be eaten in any desired amount because the calories they contain are offset by the number of calories your body burns in the process of digestion. If you are trying to lose weight, these foods are especially valuable as they can help to keep you feeling satisfied between meals. Consider the following vegetables as free foods that may be consumed in any amount and as often as desired in their raw form:

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Bell peppers
  • Bok hoy
  • Cabbage
  • Chicory
  • Celery
  • Chinesecabbage
  • Cucumber
  • Endive
  • Escarole
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Radishes
  • Spinach
  • Turnips
  • Watercress
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.