Why You Should Use MyPlate to Plan Diabetic Meals

For a long time, the food model most of us thought of for a healthy diet was the food guide pyramid—building up a healthy diet from the bottom up with healthy grains, fruits, and vegetables. The model was around for many years, but the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) replaced it in 2010 with a new model—a simple meal plan, called MyPlate.

MyPlate nutrition guideline illustration
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What Is MyPlate?

MyPlate is based on a nutrition counseling method known as the plate method, which is used in nutrition counseling for both diabetes and general healthy eating. Using the plate method, you visualize your plate and fill it with foods from the different food categories. Rather than trying to imagine the base of a pyramid filled with grains, MyPlate shows you to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Then slightly more than a quarter of your plate with whole grains and the remainder (slightly less than a quarter) with protein. Off to the side, MyPlate shows a glass of milk. In terms of a relatable model, thinking of a plate rather than a pyramid is a good start.

To see the new model, create an account and use it to meal track, go to MyPlate. The site lets you print detailed food group lists. The SuperTracker gives you personalized recommendations depending on your height, weight, age, and level of activity.

How Does MyPlate Differ for Diabetic Meal Planning?

The difference between this new MyPlate food guide and the plate method used for diabetic meal planning is the left side of the plate. When planning meals for diabetes, half of your plate should be vegetables. MyPlate recommends that for the general public that half of the plate can be made up of both vegetables and fruits, allowing for a little bit higher carbohydrate intake. So, if you're using the tools found on this site, make sure you do your own adjustments: fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables, fill a quarter with healthy starches (starchy vegetables OR whole grains), and a quarter of your plate with lean proteins.

What's Missing?

While definitely an improvement from MyPyramid, MyPlate still isn't perfect. For instance, as a visual, it doesn't give you a way to incorporate fat. And it can leave people a bit confused when they're looking at mixed dishes, rather than segmented compartments of vegetables, protein, and starch. Also, how big is your plate? At least by looking at it, it doesn't tell you how large your servings should be (although the MyPlate website does give personalized recommendations for portion sizes). Still, it's a really handy tool for figuring out the appropriate proportion of foods. Have nonstarchy vegetables at every meal or snack. Have smaller amounts of lean protein and smaller amounts of whole grains. That's healthy advice to follow.

For more information on the various ways diabetics can plan their meals, including the plate method, read more about diabetic meal planning.

1 Source
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  1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Choose my plate.

By Stacey Hugues
Stacey Hugues, RD is a registered dietitian and nutrition coach who works as a neonatal dietitian at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.