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Diabetes Food Pyramid

Planning Nutritious Meals


Updated May 26, 2009

Diabetes Food Pyramid

Diabetes Food Pyramid


The Diabetes Food Pyramid is a helpful tool for planning a nutritious and balanced meal plan each day. It is especially designed for people with diabetes and is a bit different from the Food Guide Pyramid developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The Diabetes Food Pyramid organizes food groups in a similar way to the USDA model but changes the serving sizes so that each serving of a given food, regardless of category, is about the same number of carbohydrates. For example, one serving of rice or pasta in the USDA model is 1/2 cup, but in the Diabetes Food Pyramid it is 1/3 cup. These changes are designed to help people with diabetes choose a variety of foods while knowing the approximate carbohydrate content for each serving.

The Diabetes Food Pyramid acts as a visual guide to help you choose carbohydrates from six major food groups depicted in four levels. These levels are:

  • Breads, grains and other starches
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Milk and meat/meat substitutes
  • Fats, oils and sweets

The goal is to consume more of your carbohydrates from foods found in the lower half of the pyramid and less carbohydrates from foods in the upper half.

Grains and starches

The base of the pyramid is comprised of breads, grains and other starches, such as pasta rice, potatoes, peas and corn and beans. This is the foundation of the pyramid and these are the foods from which you should try to get most of your carbohydrates. Choose between 6-11 servings of these foods each day depending on your level of activity.

Vegetables and fruits

Vegetables and fruits are the second level of the Diabetes Food Pyramid. Vegetables are nutritious, low in fat and most contain low amounts of natural sugar. One serving of raw vegetables amounts to about one cup. Vegetables in this category include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, cucumbers and lettuce, to name a few.

Fruits are also nutritious but some contain more natural sugar than others. Serving sizes vary from 1 ¼ cup of strawberries to 2 tablespoons of dried fruit. You should strive for 3-5 servings of vegetables and fruits each day.

Milk and meat/meat substitutes

Low fat milk and daily products such as yogurt are good sources of protein and calcium. Choose 2-3 servings of these foods each day.

Meats include lean beef, chicken, turkey, fish, as well as other good sources of protein such as eggs, tofu, cheese, and peanut butter. A daily intake of these protein sources should be 4-6 oz. A three ounce serving of chicken or beef is about the size of a deck of cards. A one oz. serving of a meat substitute would be one egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter or ¼ cup of cottage cheese.

Fats, oils and sweets

This is the top level of the pyramid and represents foods that often have little nutritive value but taste very good. This includes foods such as potato chips, cakes, crackers and fried foods. Examples of one serving from this category would include a ½ cup of ice cream, one small muffin or two small cookies. It is best to avoid these foods on most days or keep your portion to only one serving per day.

The Diabetes Food Pyramid is only one tool in your meal planning tool kit. Calorie Count is a helpful online tool for people with type 1 diabetes and others that allows you to quickly count carbohydrates and see the specific nutritional values of thousands of different foods. Simply name the food you want to learn about and Calorie Count gives you instant access to all of the nutrition information of that food in one place.


Diabetes Food Pyramid. American Diabetes Association. Accessed May 22, 2009. http://www.diabetes.org/food-nutrition-lifestyle/nutrition/meal-planning/diabetes-food-pyramid.jsp

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