NMSU: Control your Diabetes for Life: Nutrition Series - Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid
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Control Your Diabetes for Life: Nutrition Series

Circular 631E: Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid

Authors: Karen Halderson, MPH, RD, CDE Extension Diabetes Coordinator; and Martha Archuleta, PhD, RD Extension Food and Nutrition Specialist.


  • Choosing foods from the Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid can help you get the nutrients you need while keeping your blood glucose under control.
  • The Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid places starchy vegetables at the bottom of the pyramid, with grains. These foods are similar in carbohydrate content to grains.
  • The Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid puts cheese is in the Meat and Others group instead of the Milk group because cheese has little carbohydrate and is similar in protein and fat content to meat.
  • Knowing the serving size of high-carbohydrate foods, and choosing the right number of servings per meal, can help you manage your blood glucose.
  • One slice of bread or one starchy vegetable serving fits in the palm of a woman’s hand.
  • One fruit serving is about the size of a tennis ball or small fist.
  • One milk serving is 8 ounces, about the size of a small coffee cup.

Fig. Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid.

Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid. Reprinted with permission from the American Diabetes Association from Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy by Hope S. Warshaw ©2000.

The Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid is a tool that shows how much you should eat each day from each food group for a healthy diet. The Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid differs from the old USDA Food Guide Pyramid and from USDA’s new MyPyramid. Until MyPyramid is modified for use by people with diabetes, the Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid is the best food guide for people with diabetes. The Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid places starchy vegetables such as peas, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and beans at the bottom of the pyramid, with grains. These foods are similar in carbohydrate content to grains. Cheese is in the Meat and Others group instead of the Milk group because cheese has little carbohydrate content and is similar in protein and fat content to meat.

Choosing foods from the Diabetes Food Guide Pyramid can help you get the nutrients you need while keeping your blood glucose under control. You need foods from all the food groups to have a healthy diet. Refer to Circular 631A, Choosing Foods at Meals and Snacks, in the Control your Diabetes for Life Nutrition Series, for information on getting the right balance of low- and higher carbohydrate foods at meals and snacks.

Foods that are high in carbohydrates increase blood glucose levels and are in the Grains, Beans, and Starchy Vegetables group, the Fruits group, and the Milk group. Other foods that raise blood glucose are Sweets, found in the top of the Pyramid. Starchy foods, sweet foods, fruits and milk are high in carbohydrate. Foods low in carbohydrates are found in the Vegetables group, Meat and Others group and Fats. These foods do not raise blood glucose. Table 1 shows examples of foods high in carbohydrates and their serving sizes. Table 2 shows examples of foods low in carbohydrates and their serving sizes.

Table 1. Foods High in Carbohydrates.

Grains, Beans and Starchy
Vegetables Group
(6 or more servings a day)
Fruits Group
(2–4 servings a day)
Grains 1 small apple
1 corn tortilla 1/2 large banana
1/2 flour tortilla 1/2 grapefruit
1/2 piece fry bread 1 kiwi, pear or peach
1 slice bread 1 small orange, nectarine, or tangerine
1/4 bagel 1 c. melon (cantaloupe)
1/2 English muffin 1 c. papaya
1/2 hamburger bun or hotdog bun 1 1/4 c. watermelon
6 crackers 3/4 c. blueberries or blackberries
1 4-inch waffle 1 c. raspberries
1 2-inch biscuit 1 c. unsweetened strawberries, frozen
1 2-inch corn bread 3/4 c. fresh pineapple
1 4-inch pancake 1 c. mango
3/4 c. dry cereal (flakes or puffs) 1/2 c. canned fruit (peaches, pears,
apricots, pineapple, plums,
fruit cocktail) or juice
1/4 c. Grape Nuts 1/2 c. applesauce
1/4 c. granola 4 fresh apricots
1/2 c. cooked cereal (oatmeal, Malt-O-
Meal, corn mush, Cream of Wheat)
8 halves dried apricot
1/3 c. cooked pasta 12 cherries
1/3 c. stuffing 3 dates
1/3 c. cooked rice 15 grapes
1/4 c. sweet rice 2 small plums
3 c. popcorn 3 dried prunes
Beans 2 tbsp. raisins
1/2 c. pinto, black, kidney or other
cooked dry beans
Sweets Group (just a little)
1/2 c. cooked lentils 1 tbsp. jam or jelly
1/2 c. cooked split peas 1 tbsp. honey
Starchy Vegetables 1 tbsp. syrup
1/2 c. posole 1 tbsp. sugar
1/2 c. corn 1/2 c. ice cream
1/2 c. peas 1 2-inch piece of cake or
brownie (no frosting)
1 small potato 1 small cupcake or muffin
16 french fries 3 graham cracker squares
1/2 c. yam or sweet potato 1 sandwich cookie
1 c. winter squash (acorn, butternut,
buttercup, hubbard)
3 ginger snaps
1 c. pumpkin 5 vanilla wafers
Milk Group (2–3 servings a day) 1 Fig Newton
1 c. milk (cow’s or goat’s) 1 Rice Krispie bar
1 c. no-sugar-added yogurt 1 rice or popcorn cake
3 oz. fruit-flavored yogurt    
1 c. rice milk (unsweetened)    
1/2 c. evaporated milk    
1/3 c. nonfat dry milk    
1 c. plain soy milk    

Table 2. Foods Low in Carbohydrates.

Vegetables Group
(3–5 servings a day)
Meat and Meat Substitutes Group
(2–3 servings a day)
1 c. lettuce 2–3 oz. cooked beef (hamburger, steak, roast)
1 c. raw spinach or raw greens 2–3 oz. cooked pork (pork chop, roast, ham,
ground)
1/2 c. cooked spinach, quelites or greens 2–3 oz. cooked chicken
1/2 c. cooked cabbage or cabbage slaw 1 chicken drumstick
1/2 c. cooked brussels sprouts 2–3 oz. cooked turkey
1 c. raw celery 2–3 oz. cooked fish (trout, catfish, salmon,
mackerel)
1 c. raw jicama 1/2 c. canned tuna
1/2 c. salsa 2–3 oz. cooked shellfish (shrimp, lobster, clams)
1 green chile 2–3 oz. cooked game meats (venison, elk, turkey)
1/2 c. green chile, diced 1 egg (1/2 serving)
1/2 c. red chile sauce 2 tbsp. peanut butter (1/2 serving)
1 c. raw green pepper strips 1 oz. peanuts (1/2 serving)
1 c. raw broccoli 1 oz. nuts (pecans, almonds, walnuts)
(1/2 serving)
1/2 c. cooked broccoli 4 oz. tofu (1/2 serving)
1/2 c. cooked beets 2 oz. cheese
1/2 c. cooked asparagus 1/4 c. shredded cheese
1/2 c. cooked green beans 1/2 c. cottage cheese
1 c. raw onion slices Fats Group (just a little)
1/2 c. cooked onions 1/8 avocado
1/2 c. cooked okra 8 olives
1 c. raw nopales 2 tbsp. flaked coconut
1/2 c. cooked nopales 1 tsp. vegetable oil or shortening
1 c. raw radishes 1 tsp. margarine, butter or lard
1/2 c. cooked summer squash
(zucchini, crookneck)
1 tsp. mayonnaise
1 medium tomato 1 tbsp. salad dressing or Miracle Whip
1/2 c. cooked tomatoes 2 tbsp. reduced-fat salad dressing
1/2 c. cooked turnips 1 tbsp. cream cheese
1 c. cucumber slices 1 tbsp. sour cream
1/2 c. cooked eggplant 1 tbsp. bacon
1/2 c. cooked mushrooms    
1 c. raw mushrooms    
1 c. carrot sticks    
1/2 c. cooked carrots    
1 c. raw cauliflower    
1/2 c. cooked cauliflower    
1 c. raw snow peas    
1/2 c. cooked snow peas    

What is a Carbohydrate Serving Size?

Knowing the serving size of high-carbohydrate foods, and choosing the right number of servings per meal, can help you manage your blood glucose. Table 3 can help you estimate carbohydrate servings.

Remember

—One slice of bread or 1 starchy vegetable serving fits in the palm of a woman’s hand.

—One fruit serving is about the size of a tennis ball or small fist.

—One milk serving is 8 ounces, about the size of a small coffee cup.

Table 3. Carbohydrate Servings.

Carbohydrate
servings

Target grams of
total carbohydrate

Range of grams of
total carbohydrate
1 15 8–22
2 30 23–37
3 45 38–52
4 60 53–65

Where to Go for More Information

  • Your health care provider
  • American Diabetes Association: 1-800-DIABETES www.diabetes.org
  • National Diabetes Education Program: 1-800-438-5383 or visit the World Wide Web at ndep.nih.gov or www.cdc.gov
  • New Mexico Diabetes Prevention and Control Program www.diabetesnm.org
  • Your county Extension office

This publication was made possible by grants from New Mexico State University’s Cooperative Extension Service and the New Mexico Department of Health Diabetes Prevention and Control Program.

New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.

Printed and electronically distributed March 2008, Las Cruces, NM.