If you could only name one American cultural icon who epitomizes what good old-fashioned Southern-styled cooking is all about, then it would undoubtedly have to be the ever-so-folksy and ultra-charming celebrity chef Paula Deen. This 64-year old woman has done a truly phenomenal job over the past decade of becoming a household name as one of the most popular personalities on The Food Network and beyond. She’s got cookware, spices, baking mixes, and so much more all plastered with her name and likeness on the packaging. She truly is the Queen of Southern Cuisine and has worked hard to earn that prestigious title.
There’s no denying that Paula has effectively built up her strong brand by endearing herself to a television audience and enthusiastic fan base through the use of that infectious Savannah, Georgia drawl, involving her family in creating and telling stories about her recipes, her notoriously mischievous laugh and infamously bragging about putting “a stick of butter” in just about all of her recipes. It’s really hard not to personally like someone like Paula, although I’ve often cringed watching her make recipes on her shows that are chock full of white flour and sugar when almond flour and a stevia/erythritol blend may have worked just as well. But she’s never had to be concerned with the health implications of her cooking–until now.
In case you haven’t heard all the rumors swirling around about Paula Deen in recent weeks, it was confirmed on NBC’s Today show today: SHE HAS TYPE 2 DIABETES! Here’s her candid interview with Al Roker talking quite openly about her 2009 diagnosis and why she decided to come out about it in 2012:
If I had to describe my reaction to that Today show interview, it would have to be disappointed. As much as my heart breaks for Paula Deen about this diabetes diagnosis, is the answer after three years of researching and learning about it really to become the paid spokesperson for pharmaceutical diabetes drugs like the ones from Novo Nordisk? There’s certainly nothing wrong with getting paid to promote a product, but I wonder how much she truly investigated the role of nutrition in helping her own personal diabetes as well as the fans she is attempting to give “hope” to through her newfound revelation today. Paula says she held off on telling anyone other than her immediate family about her Type 2 diabetes so she could learn as much as she could to properly educate people about it. But is a prescription drug the best she could come up with?
Paula said she’s excited about her new “Diabetes In A New Light” television program to help educate people about diabetes. But when you look closely at the web site for this new endeavor, it’s nothing more than an infomercial for the injectable, non-insulin diabetes drug Victoza® from Novo Nordisk. The safety information about this drug states that animal studies found it “caused thyroid tumors…including thyroid cancer” which could be “fatal.” The drug also may lead to a “severe…inflammation of the pancreas” which could “lead to death,” especially for those with high triglycerides which is typical of people with metabolic conditions such as diabetes. Stomach pain, hypoglycemia, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and kidney failure are all known side effects of taking this drug. Is this drug supposed to make people with Type 2 diabetes better?! YIKES!
Of course, Deen notes that her diabetes happened as a result of genetics, stress, age, diet and lifestyle. It’s those last two that Roker attempted to ask her about since her recipes are famous for being “fatty” (translation: loaded with “artery-clogging” saturated fat) inquiring about whether the diabetes has forced her to change her diet. She quickly noted that the recipes she makes on television are only for “entertainment” and that she doesn’t really eat this way. Oh, come on! I have never once heard her give a disclaimer on any of her programs that these recipes are only for very special occasions and should not be consumed often. For food addicts and those unconcerned with their health, no doubt they have watched Paula Deen on television and bought her cookbooks incorporating her recipes as a regular part of their meal planning. Some very shrewd publicity agent probably coached her on making this point but it really doesn’t hold much water in my book.
I just about puked when I heard her say that she promotes and encourages “moderation” and says she has always eaten that way herself. I did a podcast rant about this subject in January 2007 and it really gets my goat hearing somebody like Deen preaching “moderation.” This is nothing more than the equally-disasterous kissing cousin known as the “balanced diet” and it doesn’t really mean anything. Most people who are obese or diabetic cannot consume whatever foods they want even in moderate amounts anymore. Their metabolic condition requires them to make significant adjustments to their nutrition and lifestyle habits that will restore their health. That could mean reducing their carbohydrate intake to a level that will properly control their blood sugar and insulin while also increasing their consumption of fat, especially saturated fat, to serve as their fuel source while adequately satiating the body in combination with a protein intake appropriate for the individual. There’s such subjectivity of what “moderation” can mean that it is rendered meaningless.
It’s encouraging to hear Deen exclaim that people should “get on a program that works for you” because I believe that’s absolutely 100% true. Whether you are wanting to lose weight or improve your health, my motto with everything I do has always been to find the plan that will work for you, follow that plan exactly as prescribed and then to keep doing that plan for the rest of your life. I sincerely hope Paula finds what will work for her in properly managing her diabetes. She’s at an age where it can be a bit more difficult, but it’s not impossible to get her diabetes under control. Unfortunately, the answer is not going to be found in low-fat, high-carb diabetes educator hacks like Hope Warshaw or the American Diabetes Association (which only partially acknowledged low-carb diets in 2008 but only for their weight loss effects in diabetics), but rather in the real-life stories of real people who have changed their lives forever!
And this leads me to my final point. What a golden opportunity Paula Deen has to help truly educate the public about diabetes! If she is sincere in her desire to give “hope” for people struggling with managing this disease, it’s not gonna come from a pharmaceutical company pushing an expensive prescription drug with bigger risks than diabetes. It will actually come from an embracement of real, whole foods that promote healthy blood sugar levels, keeping insulin from going haywire, and still delivering delicious-tasting recipes that bring a smile to the faces of people living with Type 2 diabetes. My fear is that “healthy diet” that is promoted with the Victoza® drug will be translated as low-fat, high-grain nutrition that is exactly the opposite of what a diabetic needs. Why else do you think the ADA ran away from a truly low-carb cookbook in 2011? They KNOW this way of eating works marvelously for diabetics and there’s no money to be made in promoting healthy nutrition and actually making diabetics get better.
I hope Deen avoids the pull of “groupthink” and “dogma instead of data” coming from the medical community about nutritional health. Instead, I would love to see her honestly continue to learn as much as she can about this disease realizing there is so much more to it than simply popping a pill to cover up the ill effects. I wonder if she even knows about the research showing diabetic nephropathy can be reversed on a high-fat, ketogenic diet and that we should stop feeding diabetes what it really wants–carbohydrates! She can learn that a high-carb, low-fat diet is ineffective when you have high insulin levels and that the real diabetes treatment is a high-fat, low-carb Atkins-styled diet. The sooner she learns this, the better she will be able to manage her own diabetes–and quite possibly make a positive impact on the lives of her devoted fans who are suffering from this disease as well. She has quite a platform with her notoriety and fame if she’s willing to speak the truth for the benefit of a public starving for REAL answers about their health.
Plus, wouldn’t you just love hearing Paula Deen making a low-carb pound cake recipe using almond and coconut flour, a stevia sweetener blend along with “a stick of butter?!” Oh, now THAT would be both entertaining and educating all at the same time–and yummy too. MUST SEE TV, baby! Maybe it will happen…someday.