Jennifer Anderson, RD PhD.

Extension Specialist, Food and Nutrition,.

Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.

Have you ever wondered how to fill your plate? If you are older and have diabetes, your plate may be your best friend in managing your diabetes. Take charge of your plate and the food choices you make. Simple strategies may help you--and those you care about who have diabetes--take control.

Diabetes impacts about 16 million Americans each year. Diabetes rates are increasing so rapidly that the disease is considered an epidemic. In Colorado, the number of cases has risen by an estimated 26% since 1990.

The disease occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when it does not produce enough insulin. When this happens, the body is unable to adequately use sugars and starches, also known as carbohydrates, from the food we eat for energy-then blood sugar, also called blood glucose, rises above the normal values. Controlling diabetes helps to prevent or delay long-term complications that can have harmful effects on heart health, eyesight, blood vessels, nerves and kidneys.

Everyone with diabetes has individualized needs. If you do have diabetes, talk to your doctor about the best method of treatment. Controlling diabetes can help improve your health and quality of life. By controlling your diabetes through good blood sugar control, you can lower your risk for eye disease, kidney failure, heart disease, nerve damage and stroke.

Although there is no cure for diabetes, it can be controlled with diet, exercise and medications. One meal-planning approach to controlling diabetes is the Plate Model. This method can be used by anyone to assist in healthy eating. The Plate Model approach to healthy eating is simple and is designed so that appropriate food selection can be made visually without having to weigh or measure foods. The method helps you to eat more fruits and vegetables, less fat and cholesterol and helps to control the amount of carbohydrate ingested at each meal. This is especially important for individuals with diabetes, since carbohydrate foods raise blood glucose levels the most.

Here is how the Plate Model works:

1. Use a 9-inch plate.

2. For lunch and dinner: fill a quarter of the plate 1/2 inch deep with starchy foods such as potatoes, corn, peas, winter squash, pastas, rice or cooked dry beans. Note: 1/2 inch is about the thickness of your little finger.

3. Next, fill a quarter of the plate with a serving of meat or meat alternative. The best choices are lean meats, fish, poultry, low-fat cheeses or legumes prepared without oils or fats.

4. Fill the remaining half of the plate with non-starchy vegetables such as tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, carrots, etc. These foods are low in carbohydrates and high in nutrients.

5. Side dishes include a serving of fruit (1 cup fresh or 4 ounces juice) and a 1-cup serving of low-fat milk or yogurt.

6. Planning a breakfast is slightly modified. The meat, meat alternative and vegetables are optional.

Each serving of carbohydrate food (fruit, dairy and starchy vegetable) in the Plate Model contains about 15 grams of carbohydrate. So each serving of 15 grams is equal to one carbohydrate choice for those who use carbohydrate counting.

By following the Plate Model for meal planning and food selection, you may benefit by having better blood glucose control, losing weight and eating a more nutritious diet that is higher in fiber and lower in fat and cholesterol. These benefits are good for everyone, and especially those with diabetes. Using the Plate Model can help individuals with diabetes to manage the disease.

If you do have diabetes, good control of the disease is key in having a long, healthy life. Because everyone with diabetes has individual needs, it is important to talk to your doctor or health care provider about the best method of treatment for you.

However, everyone can benefit from a healthy diet and being active each day.

More information and instructions for using the Plate Model can be obtained by contacting the Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Agent in your county. The office is usually listed in the phone book under the county government listings.

Additional articles on Healthy Aging are available from Colorado State University by going to and clicking on Info Online, Consumer, then scrolling to Healthy Aging.

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