Published: Aug 7, 2014
ORLANDO -- It's easy to find heart-healthy or vegetarian-friendly meals labeled on restaurant menus, but diabetes patients are often left in the dark about options best suited to them.
That's why Victoria Ott and Annamaria Cazzorla -- both registered dietitians and certified diabetes educators -- partnered with five local restaurants near the Long Island hospital where they work to come up with diabetic-friendly meals that would fit their menus.
During diabetes awareness month in November 2012, Ott and Cazzorla and their colleagues at North Shore-LIJ's Diabetes Wellness Center worked with chefs to create those dishes, relying on national nutritional guidelines to generate their criteria: meals had to be 600 calories or fewer, with a maximum of 60 grams of carbohydrates (of which at least half had to be whole-grains), less than 800 mg of sodium, and less than 20 grams of fat.
They reported their findings during a poster session at the American Association of Diabetes Educators meeting here.
Dining out is a challenge for patients with diabetes, since it's often hard to know the caloric and nutritional content of foods on a restaurant menu, nutritionists say.
Even if such guidance existed, not all patients have the same nutritional goals -- although Ott's and Cazzorla's guidelines focused on key tenets that apply to all diabetic diets: go low in carbohydrates, fats, sodium, and calories.
Generally, nutritionists tell their diabetes patients to go to restaurants that make it easier to follow their meal plans. These restaurants have a variety of choices, make substitutions without extra charges, and can prepare the food without extra butter or salt.
In Cazzorla and Ott's project, the meals varied from restaurant to restaurant, depending on what the chef and the registered dietitian came up with. Ott noted that one of the restaurants was actually the Au Bon Pain in the hospital. Cazzorla said some of the restaurants had cards on the table that called attention to the diabetes-friendly meals, and that the waitresses also talked about them with customers.
Ott and Cazzorla followed up with both the restaurants and the customers to gauge their satisfaction with the new options, and said they had an overwhelmingly positive reaction. Of the 43 customers who responded to a survey about their experience, more than 80% rated the meals as either good or excellent, and 86% said they would order the meal again.
The vast majority of customers (93%) also said that they wanted to see more diabetes-friendly meals on their menus.
Taking a cue from that finding, a couple of the restaurants said they would offer those meals permanently, Ott said.
"We're definitely going to try to do this again since we got such a positive reaction," Ott told MedPage Today. "The goal is to get these meals on the menu permanently."