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Laura Dolson

Weighing In on the Paula Deen Ruckus

By January 22, 2012

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PaulaThis week, Food Network star Paula Deen, known for her Southern home cooking, announced on the Today Show that she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago, and that she is beginning a new venture called "Diabetes in a New Light" with pharmaceutical manufacturer Novo Nordisk (makers of the diabetes medication Victoza). This has caused quite a furor, with chefs, food writers, bloggers, and health reporters railing away at Deen. Most of the commentators are blaming Deen for not only causing her own diabetes, but promoting foods that will do the same for her viewers. The Today Show's Dr. Nancy Snyderman criticized Deen, saying, "her behavior is egregious...let's be real; you can't blame your genes for everything...we know that obesity is now the number one killer". (In the same segment, when asked whether New Jersey governor Chris Christie's weight would be likely to impair his chances in a future election, Snyderman said "we need a president with the fortitude to push himself away from the table".)

One of the ironies is that the vast majority of the vitriol being leveled at Paula Deen's recipes is for the fat and calories they contain. Paul Campos (author of The Obesity Myth) is one of the only voices outside the low-carb community to mention that fat in the diet isn't what makes people diabetic, pointing to a large intervention study in which reducing fat in the diet did nothing to waylay diabetes. He also makes the point that many others have in the past (e.g. Gary Taubes) -- that there is a lot of evidence that the link between diabetes and obesity is probably backwards from the standard perception: that the process of diabetes starts long before the diagnosis of diabetes, and that process is what causes increased hunger and weight gain. It isn't a very far leap to imagine that the increased sugars and starches in the diet could have something to do with it. There is some evidence for this, and common sense would also tend to point us that direction, since diabetes basically consists of disturbed carbohydrate metabolism.

Another irony is that, though no one would say that Deen's recipes are "light", with a few notable exceptions they don't have much more fat than other standard recipes of their type (from, for example, my old Betty Crocker Cookbook). They do, however, have the problematic combination of fat and refined carbs that you would expect from recipes for the SAD (Standard American Diet). In fact, in looking through Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible in a bookstore yesterday, I noticed that well over half of the recipes in the book are dominated by carbohydrates. Even the vegetable section, which starts out with three recipes for grits, includes plenty of corn and potato recipes along with the greens and okra. This book was published in 2011, well after Deen's diabetes diagnosis. (In yet another layer of irony, she includes a recipe for "healthy" macaroni and cheese (low in fat with whole wheat pasta), for her son who is "a health nut" and is "on a health kick". This is actually pretty close to what many people preach is a good food for diabetics (similar to the one recipe on her new Web site), and yet she pokes fun at it, and at people who are apparently "nuts" for wanting to eat in a way that helps them to be "healthy".)

As Jimmy Moore points out on his Livin' La Vida Low-Carb blog, perhaps the biggest tragedy in all of this is that Paula Deen could be using her celebrity to point people to diet and lifestyle changes that will truly help control their blood sugar. She could have brought us along on her diabetic journey, talking about how different foods affect her own blood glucose readings, and developed recipes that would keep it stable. Instead she "comes out" after publishing her cookbook "Bible", and tells us she representing a drug company. What a disappointment all the way around -- both in Deen and in commentators like Dr. Nancy Snyderman.

Photo: Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images

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Comments
January 23, 2012 at 12:33 pm
(1) Dea says:

Thank you Laura for this clear and insightful response. It is nice to read a response from someone who puts data ahead of dogma.I’ve been rolling my eyes and biting my tongue all week as many of my Facebook friends excoriate Paula for her love of butter. (Biting my tongue because I am known as a low-carb evangelist among my friends. They are tired of hearing me, and I am tired of hearing me!) Thank you again.

January 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm
(2) Thomas Mussatt says:

I can only conclude that Paula has more intrest in her own wealth than her health…ya’ll agree?

January 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm
(3) Donna says:

Why is anyone looking to Paula Deen to “educate” people? Paula Deen is a one woman brand. Her every public action (cooking shows, books, yes, even her public diabetes admission) is intended to put cash in her bank account. As such she has no more obligation to educate the public about health than Hostess has to educate the public that Twinkies are not food. Her job is to entertain and sell products.

January 23, 2012 at 12:49 pm
(4) Jacuzzi says:

Excellent article today – Thanks Laura! When I first heard about Paula-gate, and her diagnosis of Type II diabetes, my first thought was “No surprise there.” When I informed my chef-husband, his comment – “Serves her right – have you seen the starchy-fatty crap she cooks?” (ouch) She’s exhibiting what my Australian relatives call ostrich behaviour – basically blaming everything else for the problem, and not taking responsibility for having creating the problem or finding a better solution. As you said, symptoms of diabetes take years to develop – why didn’t she modify some of her lifestyle before the diagnosis? It is sad that she didn’t have the courage to face her own irresponsible behaviours and eating, and get on board to create truly healthy southern cooking, with lots of the local greens, vegetables and spice combinations! As for a chef partnering with a drug company in this way – it is irresponsible – clearly in the drug company’s best interest – keep the population duped into eating this way, and they’ll need more of the company’s products to survive.
Sad all around.

January 23, 2012 at 12:53 pm
(5) Betts says:

Anybody with any common sense would know the food she makes is unhealthy. In cringe when I see all the butter, sugar, heavy cream, etc. I see her food as for ‘special occasions’ only. She has the right to an income just as others. I see where this can create a great opportunity for her and her sons to make healthy foods real.

January 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm
(6) Sandy says:

Your article is spot on and I’m just flabbergasted that she is still pushing the same old thing – her son is trying to do “makeovers” of her recipes but he is missing the boat, too. I am so angry with her that she waited 3 years to say something and that she really doesn’t “get it” about the foods she endorses. And she is still in the position to influence people with her bad diet. I want to shake her and her doctor!

January 23, 2012 at 1:09 pm
(7) Vtali says:

Paula Dean didnt do anything but got to some southern black woman’s kitchen steal her reciepe’s and sell it, go on tv and teach whites how to get what black people have been getting for generations “Diabetes”. White folks welcome to our world!

January 23, 2012 at 1:10 pm
(8) Tricia says:

I used to really enjoy Paula but like a lot of others, she has become too commercialized and interested in lining her own pockets. And now she partners with a drug company that sells medication for diabetes instead of changing her diets and recipes for the betterment of diabetes sufferers. It’s no wonder she is taking heat for all of this. And she waited three years to go public – she has that right but she only made the situation worse by doing so.

January 23, 2012 at 1:16 pm
(9) CJ says:

When I first heard that Paula Deen had diabetes 2, I told my husband what a perfect opportunity it would be for her and her followers who do have diabetes to create recipes for diabetics using almond flour, stevia, and all the other things that we diabetics use on a daily basis to keep our glucose levels in range. She has had a few years to do this and chose not to…her loss..and it will be her loss all the way around for if she depends on her medications to control her glucose, than she is the loser. Sad…she could have done so much for her fans.

January 23, 2012 at 1:20 pm
(10) Sue says:

Very sad that she thinks being rich is more important than being healthy. So she’ll take drugs and continue to eat the SAD way and her Diabetes will not improve. And now her son has his own show promoting his brand of “healthy eating” which those of us who have read the real science know is completely unhealthy.

People keep getting sicker & sicker while some…pharmaceutical, chemical, food companies and cooking show gurus keep getting richer and, unfortunately, it will stay that way because money & power determine what passes for nutrition more than common sense does.

January 23, 2012 at 1:26 pm
(11) Sherry Y says:

I was very disappointed in Paula Deen when she announced her diabetes yet did not take advantage of the opportunity to use her “celebrity” to start educating the public. And, to wait three years??? It almost sounds to me like she’s in shock and doesn’t believe this is happening to her, and that maybe the drug company connection will cure her. Regardless, I do think she has handled it poorly. Hopefully, she will come to her senses soon and realize what she needs to do.

Her youngest son, Bobby, has a new show on Food Network. It’s called “Not My Mama’s Cooking”. I’ve recorded a couple of episodes but haven’t watched them yet. Rumor is that he is doing her dishes in a much more healthly style. Good for him!!

January 23, 2012 at 1:29 pm
(12) Cher says:

My goodness, Paula Deen’s diabetes is a storm in a teacup. Just because she shared some of her health information doesn’t mean she owes me anything. Whether or not someone cooks with her recipes is THEIR decision. Remember personal responsibility? It is MY job to learn and stay informed about what is best for my health (that’s why I subscribe to this blog). Whether or not she eats healthy is her business and her business alone. I believe she is knows how to market herself well, and I’m looking forward to seeing if new recipes might find their way into her cookbooks. But I’m not mad at her for being good at what she does. Cook southern style food and make a living doing it. Just my two cents, so don’t shoot me.

January 23, 2012 at 1:30 pm
(13) Laura McElfresh says:

Well– we all know that diet has no relation to our health. The answer is in a pill bottle and the all-mighty doctor/prescription will make us healthy without question! — I don’t know why Paula Deen would be any different than the rest of the populus. Waiting around for the perfect pill to make up for all our indescretions and irresponsible choices! Sad… I thought more of her for professing butter, sad to know she is just like the other sheeple in the world.

January 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm
(14) Linda Sulserlady says:

My goodness whats the hassle? Ms Deen had a dhow that showed how to vook fine southern entres. I don;t ever recall her encouraging anyone with diabetis to eat it. People with diabwtia should read and listen to their doctor about the do’s and don’t of this.

Now, lets take grocery stores for instance. You are a diabetic and have an urge to jave somehing sweet. You see a package of cookiea that says “SUGAR FREE” so you grab them feeling great because you are avoiding sugar. Think again, flour has carbs and carbs turn to sugar. So why the hard time people are giving Ms Deen? I never recall her saying “sugar free” I personally make muffins, carrot cake and fudge with no sugar and a min. of carbs if any. True I was a chef and I don’t have a TV Show but how do you think thr public would recieve.a show like that? Yep, there goes my call to fame !

January 23, 2012 at 2:33 pm
(15) Janet says:

I agree with much of what is in this article and appreciate the often misguided concept that being fat is the definitive cause of diabetes. I can understand Deen’s behavior. I know that when I was first diagnosed it took a long time to emotionally come to terms with the changes I was going to have to make. This included my identity as an avid baker and cook who garnered a lot of praise from these skills. I also had to overcome my identity in terms of my ethnic background as the Italian mom who over cooks and supplies endless comfort foods to family and friends. Deen has added problems of many people financially dependent on her success and a highly public image. To work this out in public may have been heroic but she is human. I hope she can go forward and redefine herself and become healthy as well as help others.

January 23, 2012 at 2:38 pm
(16) Mary says:

Every individual is responsible for every bite of food they put in their mouth.

It’s ridiculous to blame Ms Deen. I love to watch her on talk shows she cooks some beautiful dishes. But…I know with a history of diabetes in my family I am not able to eat the foods she cooks.

The trouble with people is they want to blame everyone else for their problems.

January 23, 2012 at 2:42 pm
(17) Reny says:

I agree with Cher. I love Paula Deen even though I can’t use a lot of her recipes. I am not jealous of her ability to make money. Nothing wrong with that. I think she’s a beautiful person and I admire her.

January 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm
(18) mary says:

I want to thank you too for pointing out that it’s not the fat in the diet that is causing the weight gain and diabetes. Dr. Atkins fought for 40 years trying to make the medical establishment and others understand the concept that “fat burns fat” and the result will be a healthier you.

January 23, 2012 at 4:00 pm
(19) Mary says:

I really don’t see that it’s Paula’s responsibility to educate her viewers on diabetes. She’s running a southern cooking business – she’s built a trademark. I’ve watched her show a couple of times and after I saw how much sugar there was, I stopped watching but her passion for food is evident.

It’s no one’s business that she (or anyone) has diabetes. I don’t have diabetes, but I found out 2 years ago that I have Celiac. These are life changing diseases…there’s a grieving period that we have to go thru…you have to make adjustments and those take time.

And don’t get me started on the Dr. Nancy interview and her comments on Gov Christie’s weight.

January 23, 2012 at 4:59 pm
(20) Jean says:

Paula Deene has a cooking show not a health or fitness show. The media is making a mountain out of a mole hill.

January 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm
(21) PeggyC says:

I have no beef with Paula Deen, but with media handling of her news. As Laura pointed out, they are only too eager to blame the fat in her recipes. It’s not the fat. It’s the sugar and flour. Yes, she’s missing an opportunity to educate in favor of wealth, but oh well. That’s what people do and she does not have an obligation to do otherwise. We have to educate ourselves and not listen to the media when we know it’s wrong.

January 23, 2012 at 6:03 pm
(22) Darlyne says:

My goodness! People really only believe what they want to, and only hear what they want to as well don’t they. We can all tell our stories of how we came to be “low carbers” until we turn green and it would make no difference what-so-ever. If I gave the world enough to rant and rail against, would they all buy my cookbooks? Of course we all wanted her to try our methods and are disapointed that she chose otherwise. I, and many others had to try several other methods and finally (after getting poor results) be willing to try something that was considered revolutionary. Our friends all feel sorry for us. In the meantime, while we are waiting to see the outcome lets all get a life, that might actually prove what we have been studying all along. In the meantime, who is laughing all the way to the bank?

January 23, 2012 at 6:32 pm
(23) catherine says:

Why should Paula be an educator? She is a cook. Not all people have a weight problem or diabetes. What is wrong with great tasting fatting foods for them?

January 23, 2012 at 6:53 pm
(24) Dona says:

I think it is ridiculous to carry on about Paula. I am a bereavement counselor…if I have a loss in my family do I have to insist everyone in my practice respond to that in exactly the same way I do? Do I run around warning everyone that their loved ones will die one day?…NO! It is beyond me how we expect public persona’s to share the initmate details of their lives and use it as a platform the way we think “they should”. It is really none of our business if she has diabetes or not. The fact that she is chosing to share now is entirely her perogative. The media response simply points up how ignorant the general public is about diabetes and it’s causes. And SO WHAT, if she is timing her announcement to meet her professional goals…she is a business person…duh. Paula is not the cause of diabetes and no one is being force fed her recipes. I, for one, wish everyone would just quit whining about it.

January 23, 2012 at 9:03 pm
(25) 414 laker says:

People respond differently to life altering medical ‘events’. It took me three years to share freely that I ‘acquired’ type 1 at age 62….certainly a life-changer! I needed to educate myself and feel confident to keep smiling and answer all the well-meaning questions and comments uneducated people make and ask. Give Paula a chance to get her confidence and life together…………and I am guessing she will promote the education factor of her diabetes. OH yeah…………I haven’t told anyone about my breast cancer and mastectomy………..still getting the courage to be comfortable with it myself! Please don’t be quick and harsh to judge until you have walked in the shoes of those being criticized.

January 23, 2012 at 10:41 pm
(26) Colette says:

Paula Deen is the host of a southern cooking show. It was never marketed as a healthy cooking show. She had no obligation to disclose her health or health problems to the viewers. Actually that is her personal business. You are in charge of your diet, and your eating habits. If her recipes included too many fats or carbs, or ingredients that you do not prefer, then do not use the recipe.

Even if she had shared her health issues three years ago, there would be tons of critics pointing out the flaws of her diet.

It was a business decision to air her show as it is designed, and it is her business interests that guides her publications and endorsements. Every celebrity does this, and it is all self-serving on some level. It is the nature of the business beast.

Petition the “Food” and “Cooking” networks for more health conscious cooking shows, and support those shows and any associated products.

January 23, 2012 at 10:47 pm
(27) barbara says:

So good that we are allowed our individual opinions. I’m glad also that P.Deen and her family can choose their way of making a living. Yes, sad that wealth outweighed health in her recipes and lifestyle, but it is her choice. Mine is to not watch her program or use her recipes, and I am thankful for delete buttons and off switches. Her son’s new show is just as bad as hers, as she is all over it…another way to make more money. Again, I make a choice to where I get recipes,and am thankful for this article with so much common sense in every word. A vote from me for freedom….and responsibility.

January 24, 2012 at 1:02 am
(28) Amanda says:

Give Paula a break. I’m a pharmacist from the south and I treat people with diabetes. I encourage diabetic to try low carb or paleo diets, but it’s tough. It’s tough for those of us who have been raised on biscuits and pie, desserts with every meal, sweet tea to give those things up. It’s hard for everyone, not just southerners. Let me tell you, I know a lot of women who look and cook like Paula and I think they try, but I think the society as a whole is so screwed up with food, it’s hard to break those old habits (I know low carbers know this).

We don’t prescribe drugs as a “cure.” Never. I talk to patients every month about lifestyle changes. Drugs adds years to lives in the short term, lifestyle changes are more permanent. However, like Deen, people struggle with them. I don’t think they ignore me. I think we’ve engineered a society where it’s too easy to load up on empty calories. Where we don’t understand that the handful of M&Ms we grab from the jar at work counts, where we think a reasonable serving of pasta is really a serving for 4.

So, I don’t blame Deen or her food. This can be so confusing even the pros disagree. Is moderation ok? Some say yes. Others say never. She’s always said don’t eat like this everyday on her show, but I can tell you from experience that people buy those cookbooks more than the healthy ones. We know we shouldn’t eat like that everyday, we’re just confused about the concept. I’ve had people tell me, “I don’t eat [bad food] much anymore. Maybe once a week.” Once a week is too much for most things.

January 24, 2012 at 10:35 am
(29) dajrn says:

First off, stop judging! Paula is living her consequences. Hopefully she will revise her way of eating and help the rest of the diabetics out there. Remember, even skinny people are diabetic…yes, eating enhances what is already there and too much of a good thing and no exercise = bad news!
As an Atkins girl for years, I’ve found those that are prone to diabetes are likely to be sugar seekers…sugar, like smoking…is hard to quit. I love sweets, but I know that eating a low healthy carb diet is the way to keep it under control….

Lets hope Paula finds that out…

January 24, 2012 at 5:25 pm
(30) dolly says:

“Oh get a life people….; since age 10……I am diabetic .. Tut a low carb diet isn’t a fade it is a life style.2011 I stopped eating low carb for 7 months and my sugar spiked to the moon.” Did I cry? …NAH!!….” My Doctor informed me that meds would do the trick. I insisted that I go back on low carb then test my blood. After three months of low carb can you guess who won the battle? “Well my darlings it is I and a low carb diet. I make all my breads, goodies also meals. instead of blaming fat people you bystanders need to find a better way of life and way of making money . You need to help us. By the way, low carb is so darned fattening so now that I have the low part figured out I now have to research low fat blending together with low carb. So; not a great picture is it!! Some people need to stop being so darn self ….righteous and just come down to earth; become the solution also, not the problem….We diabetics have enough meat on our platters so, stop dishing out all the “bull dinky!!! “

January 24, 2012 at 9:50 pm
(31) dajrn says:

Dolly…no one can help you but yourself. It’s called IYC (It’s Your Choice) all others can do is support your healthy habits and be there when you fall. You sound like it’s everyones fault your diabetic? Hope not! :o }

I’ve been doing Atkins for 15+ years and it’s the only way of life for me…I’ve tried every diet out there….. I truly don’t count fat. I don’t eat much of it but enough to satiate my cravings… I eat lean meats, maybe a slice of bread with butter every other day… so we all find what works for us. It’s no one’s responsibility but our own. It what you call ‘choice’.. It’s not the government’s responsibility to make us healthy… or anyone elses…. Good luck to you!

November 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm
(32) RAVON JOHNSON says:

i love u paula deen u are very pretty and u are very popular

March 3, 2014 at 8:33 pm
(33) Shirley Strawn says:

Those of you who throws best be looking at your so perfect lives. Paula has a right to keep to diabetes to herself. Not necessary to share everything with the world. If you want to trash TVcooks look at Pioneer Woman who uses lots and fat from bacon to butter. Put that in your pipe and smoke it Dr. Snyderman

March 15, 2014 at 3:21 pm
(34) dol says:

I do not admire Paula on any account but I do think it was dirty what was done to her for something she said eons ago. I liked to watch her when she first started out, even when she loaded everything with butter (which I love but can’t eat too much of myself), then she went “commercial” and I pretty much could not stand her. As for her rich recipes, if you can’t eat that (junk) then don’t. She is an entertainer, primarily, and what “you all” need to understand is that you and you alone are responsible for what you eat. I finally, thank God, found out I am not to have gluten/wheat any shape of form and since I got that info 3-4 years ago I have never knowingly put it in my mouth and never will again. I did hear Paula say once that she is your COOK, not your NURSE. So true. and remember that.

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