What is Diabetes Plate Method?
The Diabetes Plate Method was initially developed by Swedish dietitians and called the Swedish Plate Method; this was back in the 1980s. It was specifically developed as a visual way to teach diabetes meal planning in a simple, understandable way. In the 1990s, the Swedish Plate Method was adopted and modified to fit the nutritional guidelines of the American Diabetes Association and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Since then, the methodology has gone from strength to strength, displacing other methods to become the primary method of teaching Diabetes Meal planning. Using this method for type 2 diabetes, you can create perfectly balanced meals with the ideal proportions of vegetables, protein, and carbohydrates without tiresome carb counting, weighing, or measuring. However, for type 1 diabetes, or if you use insulin, carb counting is still needed, although this method is still extremely helpful. All that's needed is a 23 cm plate!
The Plate Method is best described as a portion control tool, based upon a simple pie chart (shown below) that represents the plate; its purpose is to help manage and control the size and ratio of portions of food, from starchy, carbohydrate-rich foods to avoid high blood glucose levels.
In combination with a simple always-to-hand food diary, which provides a means to track food consumption, people with diabetes can monitor their condition and make intelligent amendments to minimize the risk to health that diabetes poses. It can ease the burden of managing blood sugar levels.
MyPlate vs the Diabetes Plate - What’s the difference?
The MyPlate is not specifically designed for people living with Diabetes; rather, it's for all Americans. MyPlate is designed to communicate the dietary guidelines for Americans - (which is designed for a professional audience in mind), to the general public. Therefore, you might call it a consumer translation of professional recommendations, and it is simpler and less strict.
In other countries instead of MyPlate you can see other dietary guidelines such as the Eatwell guide in the UK or the "Smart Plate" in Hungary.
Whereas the Diabetes Plate Method is actually designed for people with diabetes. It's almost like a diabetes-friendly version of the MyPlate.
What are the benefits of the Diabetes Meals by the Plate?
- It’s designed for sufferers of Diabetes, helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.
- It provides a balanced plate, simply and easily.
- It manages portion size, not just what you eat.
- It helps avoid peaks and troughs in blood glucose levels.
- Works well with new App features such as AI food recognition.
- It's more forgiving, less extreme, and eases users into a new diet.
- Great for learners, because it's really easy to learn and use.
- Again, it makes food tracking easier - new apps like DiabTrend really help.
- Because it is easy to do, it is useful for beginners to implement change and create new healthy habits.
- It's like the Eatwell Plate / MyPlate for diabetes - easy to adopt if you are familiar with your own countries dietary guidelines or know how to create a healthy plate based on these guidelines.
What are the Problems with the Plate Method
The biggest problem with the diabetes plate method is that it is not comprehensive. While it is good for beginners to implement change, it is lacking in some areas.
- It doesn’t offer guidance about added salt or sugar (it only recommends to use healthy fats and what is “good”).
- It doesn’t take into account how much energy you need, there could be times when you would need more carbohydrates. Plates need to be tailored according to individual dietary needs, levels of activity, age and gender.
- It can be harder to implement for vegetarians and vegans.
How to Prepare a Plate for Diabetics using this method
½ part non-starchy vegetables - No.1 on the plate
Non-starchy vegetables are an important part of the diabetes diet, as most of the time they can be eaten without the fear of large blood sugar spikes. They contain vitamins, minerals and healthy fibres as well. The MyPlate dietary guideline suggests to have at least 3 servings of vegetables a day.
Such vegetables are often referred to as green leafy vegetables like spinach and salads, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumber, tomato, courgette, and aubergine. Some fermented vegetables like pickles or sauerkraut are also low in carbohydrates if they aren’t sweetened with sugar.
¼ part protein foods - No.2 on the plate
Lean protein rich foods are usually from animal based sources. If you are not vegan or vegetarian, it is worth adding them to your plate, as they are low fat and they can lower the overall glycemic index of your meal. They are also known to increase satiety.
Such lean protein sources, include lean poultry, fish, shellfish and eggs. It’s true that cheese and cottage cheese are a type of dairy products, but since they contain only a small amount of carbohydrates, we count them as a source of protein. (Later on, you will see most dairy products contain carbs, so they are counted in the other section of the plate.)
If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can choose plant-based protein sources, but most of the time they contain carbohydrates, which need to be accounted for. Tofu is a soy-based product, and has very little carbohydrate, so you can use that instead of meat products.
¼ part carbohydrate food - No.3 on the plate
It is best to include ones with complex carbohydrates when it comes to carbohydrate-rich foods. Foods high in fibre include whole grains and legumes, which will have a relatively low glycemic index thanks to their fibre. Other starchy foods, with higher glycemic index include potato, sweet potato, white rice, egg pasta, etc.
But even dairy products, like milk, and fruits/dried foods have (simple) carbs in them, so with regards to the plate method, these need to be counted in this section as well.
Drink lots of water - No.4 on the plate
One great tip for those just starting the diabetes plate method is to drink more water or other noncaloric beverages, like unsweetened tea, instead of bingeing on snacks in between meals. You’ll be surprised at how many times we are actually thirsty and not hungry!
Mixed Foods on your Plate?
In some cases, meals don’t fit into the plate as defined above, for example, in the case of casseroles or soups. However, if you are preparing these then the portions can still be assigned according to the diabetes plate method. You can measure the contents out on a plate first before adding them to the mix.
Downloaders of the DiabTrend App, will get a free diabetes friendly meals ideas and recipes on the app that can be prepared at home. Most of the recipes are put together with the "MyPlate for Diabetes" in mind.