Manage Your Diabetes with the "Plate Method"

Wednesday, October 4, 2006 - 2:39pm

By Megan Porter, RD/LD

A way to improve your health and trim your waistline for better diabetes management is to change the proportions of food on your plate. According to the American Diabetes Association, half your plate should include non-starchy vegetables, one quarter should be filled with lean protein, and the other quarter should have some additional carbohydrates. This visual dietary control is referred to as the Plate Method. The method requires no precise measuring of your food. Just fill your plate to match the prescribed dietary proportions.

Manage your diabetes by looking at the food proportions on your plate

When eating your next meal, look at your plate. Do you see a big piece of meat, a single serving of veggies, and some form of potatoes or rice? Eating that way increases insulin resistance, lipid levels, and your weight! It also becomes difficult for your body to control its blood sugar levels, and increases your risk of diabetes complications. Here is what your plate should look like:

  • ½ or more of the plate has some vegetables, excluding potatoes and corn
  • ¼ or less fish, lean poultry, lean cuts of red meat, meat substitute, or nuts/seeds
  • ¼ legumes, whole grains, fruits, or low-fat dairy.

Also, take a look at the size of your plate to allow for the appropriate size of food portions. The Plate Method works best when you use a 9-inch plate, instead of the usual 12-inch plate.

Diabetics should look out for portion (serving size) distortion

When filling your plate, be sure to pay attention to serving sizes:

  • Vegetables. Fill half your plate with approximately 1 cup or more non-starchy vegetables such as lettuce, cabbage, cucumbers, peppers, mushrooms, onions, garlic, beets, green beans, broccoli, celery, carrots, cauliflower and tomatoes. An easy way to meet this requirement is to eat a small salad along with your side vegetable.
  • Carbohydrates. When done appropriately, your plate should provide approximately 45 to 60 grams of carbohydrates, equivalent to 3 or 4 carbohydrate choices (1 carbohydrate choice equals 15 grams of carbohydrates). Carbohydrates are all types of grains, legumes, fruits, starchy vegetables, and dairy. Choose whole grains over processed, refined grains.
  • Lean Protein. The protein section should provide about 3 ounces of meat, poultry, fish, nuts/seeds, or meat replacements. The serving should be the same dimensions as a deck of cards. Other high protein foods which are the equivalent to 3 ounces cooked lean meat include: 1 to 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, ⅓ cup nuts, and 2 ounces cheese.

Keep in mind that these servings are only a guide. You should test your blood sugars 2 hours after your first bite of food. If your blood sugar level is at or below 160mg/dl, then you are eating the appropriate amount of food. However, if your blood sugar is above 160mg/dl, you should decrease the amount of carbohydrates on your plate.

Strategies for diabetics changing their eating habits

It will take some time and effort to change the proportions of the foods you eat to match the portions of the Plate Method. Basically, you will be increasing plant-based foods and decreasing animal-based foods in your diet. Try these easy methods for adding more vegetables into your meals:

  • Microwaving. A great way to cook fresh or frozen vegetables. Add a little water to steam them, cover and rotate them during cooking.
  • Make a salad. Add a salad to your meals along with another vegetable.

The plate method works anywhere

This approach also works well when eating outside the home, such as in a restaurant or whenever you are not in control of making your own meal. Just visualize how the foods would fill up your plate. If you are lacking in vegetables, order up a salad. And if the meat portion looks too large, split it in half and take some home.

Your diet can improve your health

With the Plate Method, you will reshape your meals, making them higher in fiber and lower in saturated fat, cholesterol, and carbohydrates. By preparing your meals in this fashion, you will:

  • Maintain blood glucose and lipids as near normal as possible
  • Provide appropriate calories for weight loss or weight maintenance
  • Prevent or delay diabetes related complications through decreasing your risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Improve overall health through optimal nutrition.

Source: 1 Rizor H., Smith M., Thomas K., Harker J., Rich M., "Practical Nutrition: The Idaho Plate Method," Practical Diabetology. 1998; 17:42-45.

Source: 2 Rizor H.M., Richards S., "All our patients need to know about intensified diabetes management they learned in fourth grade," The Diabetes Educator. 2000; 26 (3):392-404.