Recently, the US Department of Agriculture announced its new weapon in the fight against obesity and chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Looking for an easy, powerful visual to get the message of healthy eating across, the government has chosen a common symbol we are all familiar with–the dinner plate.
I think it’s a good choice, simple and more concrete than the pyramid. Does it provide all the information you need to eat a healthy diet. Of course not. But it is a great place to start.
Many of us in the diabetes community are already familiar with the plate. Although, the USDA’s plate is set up a bit differently, it can also work well for people with diabetes; its recommendations are sensible and achievable.
Is it too high in carbohydrate? Perhaps, but not outrageously so. For a 2000 calorie diet, approximately 56% comes from carbohydrate sources including vegetables. This is a bit higher than we usually recommend, but that is what glucose monitoring is for. Checking your blood glucose 2 hours after eating will let you know if you need to adjust your portions a bit.
So how can people with diabetes use this tool???
The plate is divided into 4 unequal sectors with a (“dairy”) off to the side. The sectors are fruit, grains, vegetables and protein foods with dairy on the side.
Vegetables and grains are given a slightly larger role than fruit and protein foods. The size of the fruit grain and dairy sections equal between three and five servings of carbohydrate.
By reducing the size of the grain block and increasing the space allotted to non-starchy vegetables, the plate becomes as usable to people with diabetes as the rest of the population.
The visual will get you started with what types of foods are important and the proportion they should occupy in the diet. For example if you have a casserole dish (which is usually protein and grain) it shouldn’t occupy more than ½ of the plate.
It doesn’t, of course, tell you which specific foods are better choices. And it doesn’t address fats directly. (We usually tell people they are combined into the protein section.) But that’s where the USDA’s supplement educational materials come in or, as we recommend, seeing a registered dietitian that is a diabetes educator. A dietitian can help you personalize the recommendations to specific needs and blood glucose control.
The plate image is a distillation of the recommendations from the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines. Their 10 tips to a great plate:
- Balance calories
- Enjoy your food, but eat less
- Avoid oversized portions
- Eat more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fat free or 1% milk
- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
- Have whole grains make up half of your grain intake
- Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt.
- Compare sodium in foods
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks
When you think about it, these recommendations are applicable to anybody trying to eat a healthier diet.
Get more information….
- On diabetes and nutrition
- On nutrition classes at the Joslin Diabetes Center
- On diabetes
- On books about diabetes and nutrition (plus diabetes cookbooks)