Figuring out how to eat can be confusing for people with diabetes – especially those who have been newly diagnosed; planning meals doesn’t have to be difficult. Three effective methods that are recommended by the American Diabetes Association for meal planning include the “Plate Method,” Carbohydrate Counting, and Exchange Lists.
The Plate Method:
Using this easy method of meal planning, divide a regular-sized dinner plate into sections and then fill each section with certain kinds of foods. Fill one-half of the plate with non-starchy vegetables, such as broccoli, tomatoes, and other non starchy vegetables. Divide the other half of your plate into three sections (one-sixth of the plate each). Your plate will look like this:
- One-half plate: salad and/or non-starchy vegetables
- One-sixth plate: starchy foods, such as beans, whole grain products, potatoes, peas, or corn.
- One-sixth plate: meat or meat equivalents, including lean beef, skinless poultry, eggs, tofu, or low-fat cheese.
- One-sixth plate: fruit, low fat milk, or another small serving of carbohydrates, such as a dinner roll. For example, you can choose ½ cup fruit salad, a small whole fresh fruit, 8 ounces of milk, or 6 ounces of low-fat yogurt.
Fats (such as salad dressing or margarine) are used sparingly.
Carbohydrate foods include:
Fruit, fruit juice, milk, yogurt, bread, rice, cereal, crackers, beans, lentils, and soy products, starchy vegetables (corn, potatoes, peas), sweets (cake, cookies, soda), snacks (chips, pretzels, popcorn)
People count carbohydrates in order to control how much glucose is released into the bloodstream after a meal. Many people who count carbs aim for 30-60 grams of carbs per meal, in addition to a certain amount of protein and fat. Often, people count carbs in 15-gram increments. For example, the following foods all contain about 15 grams of carbs or one serving of a carb:
- 1 small fresh fruit
- ½ cup canned fruit
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 tortilla (6-inch)
- 1 cup of soup
- ¼ of a large baked potato
- ½ cup of oatmeal
- ⅓ cup pasta or rice
How many carbohydrates you need will depend on factors such as your level of activity and the medicines you take or your need to lose weight. Check with your medical care team to determine the amount of carbohydrates that will work best for you.
In an exchange system provided by the American Diabetes Association and the American Diabetic Association, foods are grouped into the following categories: starches, fruits, milk, meat, sweets, fats, and “free” foods (non-starchy vegetables). This allows for a proper mix of nutrients. Each group has a list of foods that are roughly equivalent to each other in terms of calories, carbohydrates, and so on. During the day, you can choose a certain number of portions from each group. A typical lunch on a 1600-calorie meal plan might consist of:
- 2 starches (2 slices whole wheat bread)
- 1 meat (2 ounces turkey breast)
- 1 fruit (1 small pear)
- 1 milk (1 cup fat-free milk)
- 1 fat (2 tablespoons avocado)
- Free foods (1 cup raw vegetables)
The exchange system is also based on your individual needs. A dietitian or CDE can plan the best way to utilize the exchange system to help keep your blood sugar in target range. Whatever method of meal planning you choose, it’s a good idea to work with a dietitian to develop a plan that fits your lifestyle and eating habits. Be sure to include snacks, if you are going longer than 4-5 hours between meals, in your plan to help keep your blood glucose level even throughout the day.
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