Diabetes and the New USDA Plate

Say goodbye to the Pyramid and hello to the Plate.

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:

  1. Balance calories
  2. Enjoy your food, but eat less
  3. Avoid oversized portions
  4. Eat  more vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fat free or 1% milk
  5. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
  6. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
  7. Have whole grains make up half of your grain intake
  8. Cut back on foods high in solid fats, added sugars, and salt.
  9. Compare sodium in foods
  10. Drink water instead of sugary drinks

When you think about it, these recommendations are applicable to anybody trying to eat a healthier diet.

You can even take a picture of your plate and send it to the government at www.flickr.com/poeple/usda.gov So check out the plate at  www.choosemyplate.gov.

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  1. The successful people will not let a road bump completely derail their entire lifestyle change. If you are not implementing positive lifestyle changes and losing weight, you are gaining weight. Again, there is no “in-between.”

    • I saw one of your plates at the diabetic expo in chicago and would like to purchase several of them for myself and some other friends that are diabetic as well. How may I do that. Sheila Lane

      • Hi, Sheila
        I’m not sure what you saw at the Expo but we don’t sell a plate. However, you have a number of interactive choices online, including a good from from the American Diabetes Association (ADA): http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/planning-meals/create-your-plate/

        Physical plates are available on Amazon and they appear to be available at Walmart & Target. The only caution I would offer is that, it appears to me that some of the plates that are for sale have “sections” and section sizes that do not correspond to those on the interactive ADA plate. I would advise making certain that you get one that does.

        Hope this helps.

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