Jewels Doskicz, RN, is a freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. She and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.

You don’t have to be a vegetarian to dig into a plate that is brimming with vegetables—nor does eating veggies have to be a sufferfest. It’s easier and yummier than you may think, with big advantages for your overall health.

You can eat more vegetables by using the “plate method,” one of the simplest ways ever invented to help us eat right. No charts, scales, or carb-counting are needed. Here's what to do:

  1. Fill half of your plate with low-starch vegetables.
  2. Add meat or other lean protein on one-fourth of the plate.
  3. Add starchy veggies or whole grains on the other one-fourth of the plate.
  4. On the side, you can add a serving of fruit and/or dairy.

That’s all there is to it!

At first, the mental picture of your plate may create visions of veggie overkill. But researchers have that found that getting more veggies with more fiber is an adaptable solution to a tough problem for people with diabetes: how to eat in healthy ways that also help us manage our blood sugar and our weight.

With a simple, obtainable focus on consuming 30 grams of fiber a day, it may be reasonable to leave annoying diets (with long lists of restrictions) in our dust, according to research from the University of Massachusetts published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Sherry Pagoto, PhD and co-investigator of the study that investigated 240 adults who have metabolic syndrome, told Boston Magazine: “We found that increasing dietary fiber was accompanied by a host of other healthy dietary changes, likely because high-fiber foods displaced unhealthy foods in the diet.”

Veggie tactics

Here are some tips to help you make peace with your food choices, and your plate:

  • Double up. It is possible to make up for lost or missed vegetables. Say your lunch veggies only included the pickles and ketchup on your burger. Follow up by eating an entire plate of salad at dinner.
  • Squeeze it in. Get creative. Serve veggies with hummus or dip, keep a variety of chopped veggies in a Mason jar for the week, and have a salad ready in the fridge for easy access. Don’t stop there. Add cooked cauliflower into mashed potatoes, drink some greens in a smoothie, and so on.
  • Buy frozen. If it’s easier for you to eat and prepare frozen veggies, there’s no shame in that approach – they are nourishing too.
  • Take shortcuts. Ask the produce person to cut your head of cabbage in half. Buy washed greens that are easy to grab and eat. Hit the salad bar for stir-fry fixings that are already cut and ready to cook.
  • Cook extra. Leftovers are the ultimate convenience food. For example, cook extra dinner asparagus and add it into your morning eggs.
  • Go raw. Shred a carrot, purple cabbage, and a beet onto your green salad. That’s four colors in four ingredients—with no cooking involved. Keep pre-washed spinach on hand for salads, or a two-minute cooked veggie, or to add in an omelet. I usually eat raw for lunch. It’s easy to pack when there’s no prep; just grab and go.

Why are veggies so important with diabetes?

The produce section in the grocery store is packed with nutritious, healthy, filling fiber. And when we eat a significant amount of vegetables, they help keep our appetite balanced and slow the absorption of carbohydrates in the gut.

“Grams of fiber can actually be subtracted from the total grams of carb you are eating if you are using carbohydrate counting for meal planning,” says Joslin Diabetes Center. Net carbohydrates also matter because they impact the amount of medication we take for diabetes management.

With diabetes, it’s important to keep an eye on starchy versus non-starchy veggies. If your only veggies are starchy ones, your blood sugar may not be on target.

Fiber isn’t limited to vegetables—it’s also found in fruits and grains that contain non-fibrous carbohydrates as well.

Mix up your colors

We need a variety of colors in our diets.

A teenage girl recently proclaimed to me, “I don’t eat vegetables—EVER.” I was totally taken aback and started naming vegetables to her, until I realized that she truly doesn’t eat any vegetables.

Even if you’re not yet eating as many vegetables as you should, at the very least think about all the colors you’re consuming (food dye doesn’t count in this equation). Our diets should include a rainbow of colors. For example, what’s red? Strawberries, beets, tomatoes, red apples, red peppers, cherries, and raspberries. As you shop for the week, ask yourself if you have a rainbow in your cart from the produce department.

Fruits and veggies do offer similar nutrients, but have different carbohydrate loads.

Can a vitamin work instead?

Veggies are superfoods, packed with vitamins and minerals. Our healthiest diet choices come from eating unprocessed foods. Because raw foods are rich in phytonutrients that supplements lack, multivitamins will never take the place of a healthy diet.

Researchers found that a diet high in dietary fiber (50 grams per day), “predominantly of the soluble type, by patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus, improved glycemic control and decreased hyperinsulinemia,” according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Their findings indicate that “patients with diabetes should emphasize an overall increase in dietary fiber through the consumption of unfortified foods, rather than the use of fiber supplements.”

“Am I eating enough veggies?” is a question we should ask ourselves regularly. A quick look at our plate can give us the answer and help us to make smart choices.

Have you tried the plate method? We’d love to hear what you think of it. Add your comment below.