Create a healthy plate for diabetes

The Diabetes Plate Method is a healthy eating tool that helps diabetics manage their blood glucose levels by monitoring what they eat.

A circle chart from the American Diabetes Association displaying a healthy, balanced plate. Section 1 of the plate (half) should be non-starchy vegetables. Section 2 of the plate (a quarter) should be protein foods. And Section 3 of the plate (the last quarter) should be carbohydrate foods. Water or a zero-calorie drink is included as the fourth element of a Healthy Plate.
Photo: American Diabetes Association.

Not too long ago, people with diabetes were told that they should not eat foods that contained sugar and were instructed to avoid certain types of carbohydrates. There is still a misconception that people with diabetes cannot eat their favorite foods or that they must purchase special foods for their condition. Current research studies show that people with diabetes no longer need to avoid certain foods, and by working with their physician and/or a registered dietician, they can learn to manage their blood glucose levels by monitoring what and how much they eat.  

If you have diabetes, or live with and/or care for a person with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends using the Diabetes Plate Method to plan meals to help manage blood glucose levels. It is important to begin with a meal plate that is not too big; preferably something that is nine inches in diameter (a salad or dessert plate might meet this criteria). Once you have the right plate, divide the plate in half with an imaginary line down the middle, then divide one side again to have two quarter sections.  Now you are ready to move towards the four simple steps of filling your plate with healthy foods: 

  1. The largest section of the plate should be filled with non-starchy vegetables. Examples include spinach, carrots, lettuce, green beans, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, eggplant, etc. These foods are low in carbohydrates but are loaded with vitamins, minerals and fiber making them an essential and healthy part of a person’s diet.
  2. One of the quarter sections should include carbohydrate foods. Examples are whole grain foods (breads, cereal, rice and pasta), starchy vegetables (corn, potatoes, peas and winter squash), dry beans and legumes (kidney, black, pinto and garbanzo), dairy foods (milk, yogurt and milk substitutes such as soy milk) and fruit (fresh, juiced or dried). These foods are packed with nutrients that help fuel our brain, kidneys, heart and central nervous system; some also provide fiber, which aids in digestion. Keep in mind, however, that carbohydrate foods should be limited because they affect blood glucose levels the most.
  3. The other smaller section should be lean animal and plant-based proteins. Animal protein sources include chicken/turkey (without the skin), fish, seafood (shrimp, clams, oyster, crab or mussels), lean cuts of beef or pork, eggs, low-fat cheese and cottage cheese.
  4. Make sure to hydrate by adding a low-calorie drink such as water, unsweetened tea or coffee to help complete your meal.

Combination foods, such as casseroles, pizza, soup and pasta dishes, can be tricky to fit into one of the above food group categories. If you are preparing these dishes, keep in mind where the ingredients would fit on the Diabetes Plate. For example, if you are preparing soup, consider cutting back on the higher carbohydrate and protein ingredients and load the soup with healthy foods that are lower in carbohydrates.

Michigan State University Extension recommends that you consult with your health care provider before making any significant changes to your diet. If you are looking for more information on diabetes, MSU Extension offers classes such as Dining With Diabetes, Diabetes PATH and National Diabetes Prevention Program that help participants build skills in managing their diabetes.

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