The plate approach: Eating to beat diabetes

There's no escaping it; to manage diabetes and maintain a healthy weight, you need to eat the right foods and take in fewer calories than you burn. The simple approach is to eat more veggies and less of everything else.

The plate approach: Eating to beat diabetes

How to build a healthy plate

If half the real estate on your plate is taken up by vegetables that are naturally low in calories, there's less room for starches and calorie-dense meats.

Here's how it works. Use the three main elements of a typical meal — meat, starch and vegetables — as your starting point. When you dish them out, your plate in effect becomes divided into three sections. Of course, it's the size of the sections that matters. To picture how your plate should look, mentally divide it into left and right halves, then split the right half into two equal parts.

Whenever you eat a meal, keep these sections in mind and fill them in the following way:

  1. Left side: vegetables. Anything except potatoes and corn, which belong with starches. You can have fruit as well as vegetables (or both).
  2. Top right: starches. Carbohydrates such as whole-grain bread or pasta, brown rice, potatoes or corn.
  3. Bottom right: protein. Lean red meat, eggs, fish, chicken and turkey, or dairy products, such as yogurt or cheese.

The first step is your plate size. You don’t need to switch to using a salad plate for dinner. You'll be filling a standard-size plate of 20 to 23 centimetres (eight to nine inches), meaning the area that you actually fill with food.

The vegetable side. All vegetables are approved for unlimited eating except potatoes, corn and legumes, such as lima beans, which belong in the smaller starch section. These starchy vegetables are higher in calories than other vegetables. With the sheer bounty of vegetables at your disposal, vote with your taste buds when deciding what you want to eat. Try to vary your routine to get all the nutrients you need. Studies suggest that people who eat a variety of foods, especially vegetables, tend to consume less fat and are less likely to be overweight. As a rule of thumb, vivid colours — dark greens and bright reds or yellows — signal that a vegetable is packed with vitamins, minerals and other vital nutrients.

The carb quarter. By carbs, that doesn’t mean cupcakes or cookies. They have little nutrition, but the real reason not all carbs are created equal — especially for people with diabetes — is that they are digested quickly, sending your blood sugar soaring. Your body pumps out more insulin to handle the flood of glucose so blood sugar then plummets, leaving you hungry again.

The protein corner. Unless you're a vegetarian, beans and lentils contain protein, your answer to what goes in this spot is probably meat, which is fine — as long as you choose carefully. Meat contains fat and fat means calories. We're not asking you to cut all fat from your diet. Fat adds flavour, makes you feel satisfied and it helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins D and E. People who cut too much fat from their diets are less likely to succeed at losing weight.

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