Using the Diabetes Plate Method

The diabetes plate method is an easy way to control your calories and should play a big part of your diabetes self care. Being overweight is a common risk factor for people with type 2 diabetes and if left unchecked, will only make your condition worse. We know portion control is not easy, which is why this plating method is the best option if you want something that’s simple and works!

The Plate Method Explained

The plate method is a visual way to control meal portions. You start with a 9-inch dinner plate, then fill the plate with certain amounts (usually a %) of vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrate foods.

For example, the plate below is made up of 30% vegetables, 30% carbs, and 40% proteins.

sample portions of the plate method

You can always change the portion % to match your dieting goals but the key is to use 9-inch plate. It’s also ideal to make vegetables at least half your plate but at minimum, vegetables should be no smaller than portions for carb and protein foods.

Why You Should Use the Plate Method

Easy Meal Planning

For most people, using this method will be the easiest way to meal plan in a way that controls calories. There’s no calorie counting, no measuring or weighing, and something you can even do at restaurants.

Portion Control Is Great for Weight Loss

Obesity is one of the most common risk factors for people with diabetes. In fact the CDC estimates that nearly 90% of people diagnosed with diabetes are overweight or obese.

Portion control can be an effective way to lose weight and reduce the risk of heart disease, while improving type 2 diabetes. Chances are the portion sizes of your current meals are too big, giving you more calories than you actually need.

Controlling portion size is a sure way to lower your calorie intake, causing your body to use fat and lose weight.

Diabetes Plate Method

For people with diabetes, the plating method not only helps with losing weight but can also lower carbohydrate foods to lower blood sugar levels.

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) recommends to fill half your plate with non starchy vegetables (50%), a quarter of your plate with lean protein (25%), and another quarter of your plate with carbohydrate foods (25%).

ADA plate method
Image Credit: American Diabetes Association

The ADA also recommends water or a zero-calorie drink with meals. This is very important because a lot of flavored drinks are packed with sugar (sodas, fruit juice, sports drinks, iced tea, etc.), making it too easy to gain weight and spike your blood glucose.

Watch Out for Carbs

The ADA’s diabetes plating method is a good start to lowering calories and controlling blood sugar levels. However, a problem we have with this method is that the carb portion includes grains, legumes and fruit. Examples of carbohydrate foods the ADA gives include:

  • Whole grains such as brown rice, oats/oatmeal, and whole grain products (whole grain bread, pasta)
  • Starchy vegetables such as winter squash, plantain, potato, and sweet potatoes
  • Beans such as black, pinto, and garbanzo
  • Fruits and dried fruit
  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, and milk substitutes (i.e. soy milk)

Many of the carbs include food with high sugar content (especially bread, potatoes, and fruit). Dealing with carbs is already difficult for people with diabetes so your meal plan shouldn’t make it harder to lower blood sugar levels.

Modified Diabetes Plate Method

At DiaBettr, we recommend a modified diabetes plating method made up of 50% nonstarchy vegetables, 35% proteins, and 15% carbs. We believe that this modified version can help lower blood sugar levels faster, while still having different foods to choose from.

modified plate method for diabetes

Higher Protein, Lower Carbs

A key difference with our modified method is that we lower the carb portion (15%) while increasing proteins (35%). Remember that protein foods, especially animal-based protein sources more so than plant-based, contain many essential amino acids.

Animal-based protein is also more satisfying and make your feel more full than carbs which is ideal for lowering calories. And there’s many low calorie proteins like fish and shrimp if you’re trying to control your weight.

Limits the Grains and Fruit

Another difference is that we don’t recommend grains and fruit for your carb portion.

Instead, our modified plate method replaces those with starchy vegetables, legumes or beans. These foods generally fall into the complex carbohydrate food group that take longer to digest and thus, don’t cause as high a blood sugar spike.

So starchy vegetables, legumes and beans are “OK” options. They’re not as low carb as non-starchy vegetables but provide some beneficial fiber are a much better option than grains and sugary fruit.

choosing carbs
Recommended carb options for people with type 2 diabetes

How to Make the Plate Method Easier

We know diabetes self care can be a lot of work and meal planning can add more to your plate (pardon the pun). Here are some tips to make it even easier to practice the diabetes plating method.

Use a disposable plate as a guide

The plating method relies on a 9-inch plate but you may not have a plate of that exact size. Using a larger or smaller plate can affect how well you reach your diet goals so you want to be as close to 9-inches as possible.

So what if you don’t have any plates that are 9-inches? One trick is to use a disposable plate as a measuring guide.

A lot of the disposable plates will say the size on its label. Once you have the right size (or close), place the disposable plate over your regular plate to see the difference in size. This visualizes what 9-inches should look like and you’ll memorize over time how big your plate should be.

disposable plate being measured

If you already have disposable plates but are too big, just cut it down to 9-inches. Measure from the back of the plate, cut down to 9-inches, and place over your regular plate (see image above). Now you basically have a 9-inch template.

Use Plate with Set Portions

If you don’t mind buying new plates, find ones that have the portions built in.

A quick search for “portion control plates” on Amazon or Google Shopping and you’ll get tons of options. They have plastic and ceramic plates, different portion sizes and combinations, and even plates with pictures of food groups.

colored portion plate
Sample of portioned plates
ceramic portion plate
ceramic portion plate with pictures

One problem you may run into is not being able to find the exact portion for the plate method. Also, many of these portioned plates don’t look appealing (maybe even cheap) and something you want not want to use with guests.

Use a Portion Control Tool

If you don’t want to buy new plates, the Portions Master’s Portion Plate is a one-of-a-kind gadget that makes it easy to portion meals on any plate. The Portion Plate has adjustable portions for your greens, proteins and carbs. Simply place it on top of your plate, fill each section with the matching food group and you’re done.

What’s great is that Portion Plate sections closely match the diabetes plating method portions of 50% vegetables, 25% protein and 25% carbs. And the Portion Plate is adjustable so you can set the portions to match your dieting goals.


The diabetes plate method is one of the easiest ways to eat balanced meals that will help you lose weight and control type 2 diabetes.

Obesity is commonly associated with type 2 diabetes and can often make diabetes-related conditions even worse. Portion control is an effective way to lose weight because the size of our meals often give us more calories we actually need.

The plate method is a simple way to portion control – no calorie counting or measuring. Just a simple formula: 9-inch plate with 50% non starchy vegetables, 25% protein and 25% carbs (or our modified version of 50% non starchy vegetables, 35% protein and 15% carb).

And we know diabetes self care can be hard so make the plate method more convenient by using Portions Master Portion Plate or other tips we mentioned above.

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