Diabetes Forecast

Foods for Your Plate

Healthy foods to fill your plate

By Lara Hamilton, RD, CDE

Recipe by Ronaldo Linares; plate photography by Renée Comet

The plate method shows you the overall sections of the plate: Nonstarchy vegetables, Grain/starchy vegetables, and Protein, with Fruit, Dairy, and healthy fats on the side. Within each section, there is a wide array of specific foods that you can enjoy. Here are a few examples.

Nonstarchy Vegetables

Generally, nonstarchy vegetables have about 5 grams of carbohydrate in a 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup raw serving. They are full of vitamins, minerals, and fiber and have very few calories. Here's a list, in alphabetical order, of some of the most popular nonstarchy vegetables:

  • Artichoke
  • Artichoke hearts
  • Asparagus
  • Baby corn
  • Bamboo shoots
  • Beans (green, wax, Italian)
  • Bean sprouts
  • Beets
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage (bok choy, Chinese, green, red)
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Chayote
  • Cucumber
  • Daikon
  • Eggplant
  • Greens (collard, kale, mustard, turnip)
  • Hearts of palm
  • Jicama
  • Kohlrabi
  • Leeks
  • Mushrooms
  • Okra
  • Onions
  • Pea pods (snow peas, sugar snap pea pods)
  • Peppers
  • Summer squash (cushaw, summer, crookneck, spaghetti, zucchini)
  • Swiss chard
  • Tomato
  • Turnips
  • Water chestnuts
  • Yard-long beans

Grain/Starchy Vegetables Section

Grains, breads, cereals, starchy vegetables, and legumes (beans) fit in this section of the plate. When possible, choose whole grain foods, which are rich in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber. They are better for you than foods made with refined grains or white flour.

Grains and Pasta
A single serving of grains, such as rice and pasta, varies depending on the type of grain, but is usually 1/3 to 1/2 cup of cooked grain and has 15 grams carbohydrate. Here is a list of some grains:

  • Barley
  • Brown or wild rice
  • Bulgur
  • Oats
  • Pasta or noodles, whole wheat
  • Quinoa

A single serving of bread is usually 1 slice or about 1 oz in weight and has 15 grams of carbohydrate. These types of breads are healthy choices:

  • Bread, whole grain, rye, pumpernickel
  • Bun, whole wheat
  • Pancake, whole wheat (4-inch-diameter)
  • Pita, whole wheat (1/2 of a 6-inch-diameter pita)
  • Tortilla, corn (6-inch-diameter)
  • Tortilla, whole wheat (6-inch-diameter)
  • Waffle, whole grain (4 inches square or 4-inch-diameter)

A single serving of hot cereal is usually 1/2 cup cooked and has 15 grams carbohydrate. When selecting cold cereals, look for varieties that are low in added sugar, including:

  • Bran cereal (twigs, buds, flakes)
  • Oatmeal
  • Shredded wheat
  • Whole grain "Os"

Starchy Vegetables
A single serving of starchy vegetables ranges in size depending on the food, but is usually 1/2 cup cooked and has 15 grams of carbohydrate. Here are some starchy vegetables:

  • Corn
  • Parsnips
  • Peas, green
  • Sweet potato ( 3 oz. cooked or 1/2 cup mashed)
  • White potato (3 oz. cooked or 1/2 cup mashed)
  • Winter squash, such as butternut or acorn (1 cup cooked)

Legumes (Beans and Peas)
These power foods count as a serving of starch and a serving of protein. They are rich in fiber and very nutritious. A single serving is 1/2 cup cooked and has 15 grams carbohydrate. Here are some common legumes:

  • Beans, black, garbanzo, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, white
  • Lentils, any color
  • Peas, black-eyed, split
  • Refried beans

Crackers and Snacks
Often, prepared crackers and snack foods are high in unhealthy fats and sodium. Use them in moderation and check the food labels. Look for whole grain versions, such as:

  • Crackers, whole wheat and baked (3/4 oz, about 5 1 1/2-inch squares or 10 thins)
  • Crispbread (3/4 oz, 2 to 5 pieces, depending on size)
  • Popcorn, no fat added (3 cups)
  • Tortilla chips, whole grain (1 oz, about 13 chips)

Protein Foods

This section includes meat and other protein sources, such as eggs and fish. Look for lean cuts of meat and reduced-fat cheeses. A single serving of most meats, fish, and poultry is 1 oz cooked, but a meal plan may include 3 to 4 oz of a protein food per main meal. To reduce the amount of harmful types of fat, trim visible fat before or after cooking and do not eat chicken or turkey skin. Here are a few protein options to consider:

  • Beef
    • Ground beef, 90% or higher lean/10% or lower fat
    • Choice grades such as chuck, round, rump
    • Loin cuts such at sirloin and tenderloin
  • Cheese, preferably reduced-fat varieties, with 3 grams of fat or less per ounce (1 oz)
  • Curd-style cheese, cottage, ricotta (1/4 cup)
  • Eggs (1)
  • Egg whites (2)
  • Fish, such as cod, mackerel, salmon, trout, tuna
  • Pork, rib or loin chop or roast, tenderloin
  • Seafood, such as clams, crabs, mussels, oysters, and shrimp
  • Tofu
  • Turkey (without the skin)


Fruit is a power food packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. In the Diabetes Plate Method, it is served on the side, depending on your needs, to help manage total carbohydrate. Fruit is not forbidden; it's just important to watch portion sizes. These single servings of fruit contain 15 grams of carbohydrate each:

  • Apple, unpeeled (1 small, 4 oz)
  • Apricots (4 fresh, 1/2 cup canned in water or juice)
  • Banana (1 extra-small, about 4 inches long)
  • Blueberries (3/4 cup)
  • Cantaloupe (1 cup diced)
  • Cherries (12 fresh, 1/2 cup canned in water)
  • Grapefruit (1/2 large)
  • Grapes (17 small)
  • Guava (2 small)
  • Orange (1 medium)
  • Peaches (1 medium, 1/2 cup canned in water or juice)
  • Pears (1/2 large, 1/2 cup canned in water or juice)
  • Pineapple (3/4 fresh, 1/2 cup canned)
  • Raspberries (1 cup)
  • Strawberries 1 1/4 cup whole fresh)
  • Watermelon (1 1/4 cups diced)


This section refers to milk and milk products. These foods are good sources of calcium and protein. They also contain carbohydrate. It's best to choose fat-free (skim), nonfat, or reduced-fat varieties. The single serving of the milk products below each has 12 grams carbohydrate.

  • Milk, fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%), milk, buttermilk (1 cup)
  • Soy milk, light or low-fat plain (1 cup)
  • Yogurt, plain or Greek, may be sweetened with an artificial sweetener (2/3 cup, 6 oz.)


In the Diabetes Plate Method, healthy fats are used for cooking and as condiments. It's best to choose unsaturated fats, which are usually liquid rather than solid. A single serving of these healthy fats contains 5 grams of fat and 45 calories each.

  • Almond milk, unsweetened (1 cup)
  • Avocado, medium (2 Tbsp, 1 oz)
  • Nut butters, trans-fat-free (1 1/2 tsp)
  • Nuts
    • Almonds (6 nuts)
    • Brazil (2 nuts)
    • Cashews (6 nuts)
    • Macadamia (3 nuts)
    • Peanuts (10 nuts)
    • Pecans (4 halves)
    • Pistachios (16 nuts)
  • Olives
    • Black (8)
    • Green (10)
  • Olive oil for cooking (1 tsp. is a serving)
  • Spreads, plant stanol ester-type, light (1 Tbsp)


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