What Is The Diabetes Plate Method? (Benefits, Examples)


what is the diabetes plate method

Are you a person living with diabetes but don’t want to keep track of calories, you don’t know how to count carbs, and you don’t want to take the time to read the labels? Then the diabetes plate method may be an option for you, but how does it work?

The diabetes plate method divides a 9-inch plate into three sections. Half of the plate for non-starchy vegetables, a quarter for lean protein, and remaining quarter for starchy vegetables. It also allows for a piece of fruit on the side, as well as a low-calorie beverage.

This popular method is a simple way to portion your foods and to make sure you’re getting plenty of non-starchy vegetables, without overeating protein or starch.

Why is the Diabetes Plate Method Important? 

Getting proper and adequate nutrition is extremely important to live a long and vibrant life.

The plate method is important because it will help you control your weight, help you lose weight, and lower your blood sugar as a result of portion control. It also serves as a reminder to eat a variety of foods without going overboard on carbohydrates.

If you have diabetes, it’s important for you to keep an eye on what you are eating. Certain foods can have a larger impact on your blood sugar levels, which can turn into serious health problems. Because of this, you’ll want to portion your food out properly. 

Having diabetes doesn’t mean that you should avoid starchy foods entirely. They still provide needed energy and valuable nutrients.

Make sure to get a mix of foods with plenty of variety. The diabetes plate method is a perfect way to do this.

It will make it easier for you to create a diet plan that works for you, allowing you to chose the foods that you enjoy.

How do you Divide your Plate with the Diabetes Plate Method?

Divided plates are available for purchase online. However, if you plan on using your dinnerware, you will want to measure a dinner plate. Make sure you are using a plate that is 9 inches in diameter so your portion sizes are more true to size. If your dinner plates are too large, consider using a salad plate.

Imagine your plate divided in two. One half of the plate should be filled with non-starchy vegetables. Now imagine the other half of the plate divided in two. One quarter of your plate will will contain your lean protein. The other will be for starchy vegetables. 

Your half plate of non-starchy vegetables will be high in nutrients and fiber. Because they are low in carbs, they will not affect your blood sugar. Focus on featuring your non-starchy veggies in your meal plan.

Some common examples of non-starchy vegetables are; 

  • Broccoli 
  • Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Mushrooms
  • Asparagus
  • Green Beans
  • Salad Greens
  • Tomatoes
  • Celery
  • Carrots
  • Leafy Greens 
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Artichoke

Once you’ve filled half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, you can dedicate a quarter of your plate to a portion of lean protein. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you can focus on plants that are high in protein. See my article on Diabetic Vegetarian Meal Plans here for some great ideas. 

Here are a few common examples of lean proteins:

  • 3 ounces cooked lean beef (i.e. sirloin, flank, tenderloin), pork, poultry, or seafood
  • Two egg whites or one egg
  • 1 1/2 ounces of natural cheese (i.e. cheddar) or 2 ounces processed cheese
  • 1/4 cup cooked beans

The remaining quarter on your plate is where you can place your starchy foods, or carbohydrates. While this important nutrient provides energy for your body, it also has the greatest effect on your blood sugar levels. As a result, you should consume these foods in moderation. A quarter of the plate is the perfect amount.

These are some examples of foods that contain carbohydrates; 

  • Starchy vegetables including butternut squash, green peas, pumpkin, and sweet potato 
  • Fruits, including dried fruits
  • Dairy products
  • 1/2 cup cooked beans or legumes
  • 1 slice whole grain bread or small dinner roll
  • 1/2 cup cooked rice, pasta, and hot cereal

In addition to your 1/4 plate for carbohydrate of choice, you are welcome to enjoy a serving of fruit on the side (one piece of fruit, one half banana, 1 cup berries).

Lastly, you will want to think about is what you will be drinking with your meal. Plain water is recommended throughout the day; however, one cup of skim or 1% milk is a good source of calcium, and will provide 8 grams protein, as well. Have some unsweetened tea or coffee, or an occasional diet soda or diet juice. Most importantly, Try to select a beverage with no added sugars.

How Does the Diabetes Plate Method Work for Mixed Meals? 

You’ll still be able to use this method when preparing mixed meals, like pizza or pasta.

The key is to get all the ingredients into the portions that you would have on your plate.  This will help you make sure that you’re creating a healthful meal.

One of the most common complaints aimed at the diabetes plate method is that it isn’t practical. After all, how are you supposed to make a pizza or create a salad when following this method? You should still be eating in the same portions. There are a few ways that you can apply this when cooking. 

Some people like to lay all the ingredients out on the kitchen counter or table. You can imagine this as one large plate. Then, roughly divide the ingredients into their respective sections. This will give you a good idea of whether this will be a healthful meal.

Often, you’ll need to change the balance, creating the right mix of foods. There are plenty of ways that you can do this.

For example, you might need to replace a protein, like ham, with a non-starchy vegetable, like carrots. You’ll then need to adapt your recipe to suit the new mix.

This can take a few extra minutes at the start of the cooking process, but you’ll be able to make sure that you’re getting a well-balanced meal. 

In other cases, you might want to control the way that you eat these foods. For example, imagine that you are eating pizza for dinner. You might want to allow this to take up half the plate.

This will make up the lean protein and starchy vegetables section. The rest of the plate can be used to make a salad with non-starchy vegetables. 

How Does the Diabetic Plate Method Work for Breakfast? 

For this meal, you will want to keep the principles of this system in mind. This can mean trying to incorporate more non-starchy vegetables. It’s also a good idea to try to include multiple food groups. 

There are some meals, like breakfast, which you often don’t eat a lot of vegetables with. It’s unlikely that you’ll want to start the day with a large serving of broccoli, even though it might be the healthiest option. 

During these times, just remember the principles of the diabetes plate.

TIP: Try to bring more non-starchy vegetables into the mix.

There are plenty of ways that you can do this. For example, you might want to add some spinach to the egg omelet. You can lightly fry some tomatoes, or add mushrooms, bell peppers, and onions.

It’s a good idea to include more food variety in the morning. For example, you might want to experiment with salads in the morning. Slice up some carrots and celery for a morning snack.

Final Thoughts

Living with diabetes can be overwhelming, especially when your diagnosis isn’t the only thing to deal with for the day. Managing your medications, your activity, and your mental state can be a lot to contend with. Trying to make what seems like an algebra equation out of meal management can be exhausting.

Knowing what foods you “should” and “shouldn’t” eat can often be difficult for diabetics. When you use the diabetic plate method, you’ll know that you’re getting the right balance for meals. This simple tool can be a great way to take a healthier approach to food. So, try it out today and see if this is the right approach for you. 

Thanks for stopping by my Dealing With Diabetes blog! My name is LeeAnna. I am certified as a diabetes care and education specialist (formally known as a certified diabetes educator). My goal is to answer questions you may have about diabetes or dealing with diabetes. Mixed messages are everywhere. Hopefully, this blog will help clarify some of the confusion!

LeeAnna Stock-Luoma RD, LD, CD, CDCES

Thanks for stopping by my Dealing With Diabetes blog! My name is LeeAnna. I am certified as a diabetes care and education specialist (formally known as a certified diabetes educator). My goal is to answer questions you may have about diabetes or dealing with diabetes. Mixed messages are everywhere. Hopefully, this blog will help clarify some of the confusion!

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