Diabetes Meal Planning: The Plate Method

Over the many years in which I’ve been a dietitian, I’ve been asked numerous times, “What should I eat?” In some ways, this is an easy question to answer, but in other ways, it can be complex. People who have had diabetes for many years may remember the days of rather strict, calculated diets. Foods were carefully weighed and measured and people used food lists, which didn’t always offer a whole lot of variety. Times have changed in that there are many different meal-planning approaches for people who have diabetes. No one approach fits all; as I’ve mentioned many times, there is no “diabetic diet.” Fortunately, too, we have scientific evidence to back this up: Newer nutrition recommendations for diabetes confirm that many different types of “eating patterns” can help people effectively manage their conditions while preventing or delaying the complications of diabetes.

The Plate Method
If you read last week’s posting about exchanges and are thinking that it’s not for you, you might be interested in using the plate method. The plate method is an easy yet effective tool that many people who are “new” to diabetes use to get started with meal planning.


My Plate
No doubt you’ve seen the USDA’s version of the plate method called “MyPlate.” Several years ago, the Food Pyramid was scratched in favor of a plate. MyPlate divides the plate into four somewhat unequal sections. Each section represents a food group: fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein. Off to the side is the dairy group. The USDA states that these five food groups are the basis for a healthful diet. The website for MyPlate, which is www.choosemyplate.gov, is interactive and provides a number of tools for men, women, pregnant women, older adults, and children to learn about nutrition, track their foods, and reach their health goals. MyPlate is a great resource for anyone to learn about nutrition and how to build healthier meals.

Create your plate
One of the criticisms about MyPlate is that it’s not exactly “diabetes friendly.” Many nutrition experts argue that the USDA plate promotes too much carbohydrate. While some carb is, of course, essential, too much carb can wreak havoc with blood sugar control. Fortunately, there are different types of “plate methods” available, including one for diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association has developed their own plate method called “Create Your Plate!” You can check this out here. The main difference between this plate and MyPlate is that half of the “diabetes” plate consists of nonstarchy vegetables (low-carb veggies like broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and cauliflower). Aiming for half of your plate to be vegetables helps to moderate carb intake (thereby helping with blood sugar control) and keeps calorie intake controlled as well, which can help with weight management. One quarter of the plate is grains and starchy foods (brown rice, peas, pasta) and the other quarter of the plate is protein (seafood, poultry, meat, eggs, beans, and lentils). On the side, you can add a serving of fruit, such as a small apple or a half-cup of berries, and possibly a serving of a dairy food, like low-fat milk or yogurt. Small amounts of healthy fats, which include oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds, are allowed.

For a similar version of a diabetes plate, visit Joslin Diabetes Center’s website. Here you’ll find an interactive tool for Joslin’s “Healthy Plate” that can provide you with a basic eating plan and give you practice building your own plate.

The plate method may seem overly simplistic to some people, but it’s really a helpful tool for anyone who wants to eat better. For people who have diabetes, the plate method encourages consistency with carbohydrate intake, portion control, and the inclusion of a variety of foods. And another great feature about the plate method is that there are no foods that are forbidden. There’s room for all different types of foods, including the occasional sweet treat. Using the plate method for meal planning can help you and your family eat better and learn about variety and portion control at the same time.

How can you enjoy a holiday without worrying about blood sugar readings? Martha Zimmer shares the strategy she has developed after years with Type 2 diabetes. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.