Diabetes Plate Method Handout

Diabetes Plate Method Handout

Diabetes Plate Method Handout

Now, after hearing about what goes into a healthy diet, it’s time to tie it all together on your plate—literally. The plate method of dividing your meal by types of food can help you trim portion sizes, curb carbs, and maintain blood sugar.

Such thinking is spreading. The USDA recently scrapped its tricky-to-fathom food Pyramid–a graphic guide designed to help you design a healthy daily diet—for the My Plate graphic. We applaud the switch! The My Plate illustration is a colorful dinner plate divided into four equal triangles, one each for fruits, vegetables, grains/starchy foods, and protein, with a small circle representing a fat-free or low-fat dairy serving. What’s even better: This approach is effective and easy to follow.

So now you’re ready to get down to the nitty-gritty-putting the healthy, tasty foods on your plate today, this week, and forever. Your assignment: Get a plate and set yourself a place at the table. Learning to fill it with perfect portions of fruit and vegetables, grain and starch-based carbs, and protein is the key to successful blood sugar control, successful weight loss, and success at lowering your risk for diabetes complications.

The good news: Using the plate approach can make weighing and measuring food for portion control obsolete.

The plate method rebalances your meals to give you the ideal proportions of vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates. Dividing the types of food on the plate automatically cuts your calorie intake—the real goal of any weight-loss plan. It also ensures that you won’t get too many carbohydrates at one sitting, with no need for you to keep a tally. Best of all, your plate will contain plenty of food, so you’ll never feel deprived.

Complicated eating plans, such as the food exchange system that dietitians sometimes recommend for people with diabetes, are supposed to be effective because they make you track everything you eat, theoretically leaving less to chance. But many people find the exchange system too confusing. This approach accomplishes the same objective (controlling portions and calories) in a simpler way—and it works.

In one study at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, people who used a basic visual guide to make healthy choices lowered their blood sugar, cut calories, and lost weight just as successfully as those who took the trouble to follow a plan that used food exchanges. And in a Canadian study, people with diabetes who followed a similar plate approach lost more weight than those who got conventional weight-loss advice. And they kept using their plate approach even after the study ended.

The biggest change you’ll likely see on your plate? That humble helping of vegetables in the typical American meat-and-potatoes liner will become a hearty helping, shrinking the space left over for fatty meat and carbs—the major sources of calories, fat and blood sugar-raising starches and sugars.

Use the three main elements of a typical meal-meat, carbs, and vegetables, and add fruits—as your starting point. When you dish them out, your plate in effect becomes divided into four sections. Of course, it’s the size of the sections that matters. To picture how your plate should look, mentally divide it into quarters. Whenever you eat a meal, keep these sections in mind and fill them in the following way.


The plate approach automatically controls carbs and so helps regulate blood sugar. However, if you use insulin or you’re having trouble controlling your blood sugar, you may need a stricter approach, such as carbohydrate counting, a system that helps you keep tight control on carb levels at every meal. You can combine carb counting with the plate approach to achieve better blood-sugar control and to reach a healthy weight.


Using the plate approach, the number of calories you save by eating more vegetables and fewer fatty foods can be significant. When you incorporate this method of meal planning, the result is fewer starches, which means a much less impact on your blood sugar


With the plate approach, one-half of your entire plate should be reserved for produce. This is where you’ll put all of your vegetables as well as fruit. Choose anything you like except potatoes and corn, which belong in the grains and starchy foods section. For some meals, you can eat fruit instead of (or in addition to) vegetables.

There’s no escaping it: To lose weight, you need to take in fewer calories than you burn. The plate approach’s solution to cutting calories is remarkably simple: Eat more produce and less of everything else. In the plate approach, half the real estate on your plate is taken up by vegetables and fruit, which are naturally very low in calories, so there’s less room for starches and calorie-dense meats.

Vegetables are low in calories yet high in volume because a lot of their weight comes from water. Such “high-volume” foods have the advantage of looking big, so they make your brain expect that you’ll be satisfied by eating them. They also take up more room in your stomach, so they trigger a signal in your brain that makes you stop eating sooner. Its small wonder that researchers in weight-loss programs such as that at the University of Alabama in Birmingham find that when people eat lots of vegetables, their calorie consumption goes down—and they lose weight.

As an example, half a medium head of iceberg lettuce weighs around 10 ounces, and is about 40 calories. By comparison, one Oreo cookie, which weighs less than 1 ounce, is about 55 calories.

At the same time, vegetables are the most nutrient-dense foods around, filled with vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients that you can’t get in other foods but that are crucial to good health and healing.

This two-pack of benefits is huge. It means that if you avoid using lots of oil, butter or creamy sauce in the cooking process, you can eat as many vegetables as you want without jeopardizing your health or blood sugar.

Still hungry? You can fill the vegetable section again and again. That’s right, there’s no limit on the amount of food you can eat from this part of the plate as long as you stop when you feel satisfied. On the rest of the plate, however, stick with one helping of grains/starchy foods, and one helping of protein.

Almost all vegetables are inherently good for you, but beware of transforming low calorie vegetables into high-calorie ones by frying them in oil or smothering them with toppings, such as cheese sauces, full-fat salad dressings, or butter. By adding just one teaspoon of butter, you more than double or triple the calories in a serving of vegetables.

Another great thing about vegetables: There are so many terrific choices! Don’t limit yourself to the same ones over and over (can you say broccoli, green beans or cucumbers—again?). Serious chefs will tell you that vegetables are one of the most interesting, delightful, and tasty foods to experiment with. Consider cooking greens (collards, chard, and kale), Asian choices (bok Choy, napa cabbage, long beans, and snow peas, or any of the many varieties of eggplant, squash, peppers, or tomatoes that are available.

And if you haven’t tried roasting your veggies, you’re in for a treat! As a cooking technique, it couldn’t be easier. Preheat your oven to 450°F. Cut into pieces roughly two inches around, and toss in olive oil seasoned with salt and pepper. Spread out on rimmed baking sheet and roast until browned and tender, turning to brown on both sides. Especially yummy for Brussels sprouts (cut larger ones in half, leave smaller ones whole), cauliflower, and broccoli.


Grain-based carbohydrates and starchy veggies such as potatoes belong in the upper right-hand side of your plate. This area is reserved for whole-grain pasta, brown rice, barley, noodles, potatoes (white or preferably sweet, or corn. If you’re serving starchy beans (legumes such as black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, or chickpeas) as a side dish, put them here, too.

The benefit? When starches are limited to one-fourth of your plate, you’ve got automatic carb control, which translates into better blood-sugar control. With the plate approach, you’ll enjoy a generous yet safe and controlled amount of carbs—no more worries, no more guilt.

You already know that carbs aren’t dietary disasters and that having three servings of whole grains a day will enhance your health and your blood sugar if you have diabetes. But limiting portions is important with both starchy and grain-based carbs. First, they raise blood sugar. Second, some researchers now believe that eating too many carbohydrates make weight control especially hard for people who are already heavy. The reason: Carbs break down easily into glucose, and with enough glucose on hand, the body never has to burn its fat stores for energy.

Bottom line: With the plate approach you’ll enjoy a generous yet safe and controlled amount of carbs. Stick with it, and you can enjoy rice and mashed potatoes, without worrying that your blood sugar could be in peril.


Reserve one-fourth of your plate for satisfying, sugar-controlling protein foods. These include lean red meat, eggs, fish, and chicken and turkey. If legumes, such as lentils, are part of your entrée, put them here.

You’ve already learned that making sure you get protein at every meal is critical. Protein makes you feel full longer than carbohydrates do, and it doesn’t raise blood sugar. So why not eat more of it? Were glad you asked. The first reason, of course, is calories. Just about any protein food you eat has more calories than veggies do. The second reason is fat. As you know now, saturated fats directly impair the body’s ability to react to insulin, the hormone that keeps blood sugar in check, and many protein foods contain these fats. Finally, if you fill up on protein at the expense of vegetables or whole grains, your body will be deprived of nutrients that are essential for good health.


The USDA My Plate program recognizes that a serving of non-fat or low-fat dairy should be part of every meal, so add a glass of milk or other dairy products, such as I yogurt or cheese.

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