Joslin Diabetes Center is Trying to Add ‘Diabetes-Friendly’ Labels to Menus

The goal is to flag low-carb, low-fat foods for diabetes patients trying to eat healthy.

Ahi tuna tacos

Diabetes-friendly ahi tuna tacos from Temazcal. Photo provided to

First, menus got calories counts. Then gluten-free labels. Now, Joslin Diabetes Center is trying to add diabetes-friendly (DF) designations to area restaurants’ menus.

“One thing we see is people want to eat healthy, whether they have diabetes or not, but oftentimes they don’t know what to eat,” explains Karen Lau, a research dietitian at Joslin. “That’s why we had the idea of having those labels on the menus, so that they will be more conscious and they will know what to pick so they can make a better choice for themselves.”

It all started during the American Diabetes Association’s annual meeting last month, when Joslin asked nearby eateries like Temazcal Tequila Cantina, Blue Dragon, and Legal Seafoods to allow Joslin staff to review their menus and select healthy options for conference attendees. Twelve restaurants complied, and though none have made the labels a permanent menu addition yet, Lau says that’s the long-term hope. Joslin has not approached any chain restaurants at this time.

Lau says nearly every restaurant examined had some diabetes-friendly foods, like salads, broth-based soups, and entrees with non-starchy sides like steamed vegetables or side salads. Things to stay away from, predictably, included deep-fried foods, pastas in cream sauce, and meals with huge portions of carbs. “Almost 90, 95 percent of the people with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes, and for Type 2 diabetes, weight control is very important,” says Lau of Joslin’s methodology.

As for what qualifies a food as diabetes-friendly, Lau says it’s mostly about following general healthy eating guidelines, while paying particular attention to carb and fat intake. “Overall, diabetes meal plans are just healthy eating, but paying more attention to controlling the amount of carbs,” she says. “Carbs affect the blood glucose more directly than other foods. Fat also affects it, so that’s why we try to stay away from high fat food.”