Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

This content is made possible by the generous sponsorship support of UCare.

Paula Deen's new anti-diabetes campaign is hard to swallow

Frankly, I’d never heard of the celebrity chef Paula Deen until Tuesday, when this “Queen of Southern Cuisine” announced on NBC’s “Today” show that yes, the rumors about her are true: she does have type 2 diabetes, and, yes, her doctor did make the diagnosis three years ago.


So why has she waited so long to tell her large following of fans, on the Food Network and elsewhere, about her diabetes, asked NBC weather anchor Al Roker.

“Because I had to figure things out in my own head,” the 64-year-old Deen said. “I had to give time to think about it, talk with my doctor. … I had nothing to give to my fellow friends out there.”

Or, perhaps more to the point, she had a lot to lose. Her signature recipes (like her glazed-donut burger with fried egg and bacon) are astoundingly sugary, fatty and calorie-laden — just the kinds of foods that can lead to obesity, which, in turn, is a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, if not the major risk factor.

Those are also the kinds of foods that people who already have diabetes are counseled to avoid because they can play havoc with blood sugar levels.

Diabetes, of course, is a huge and growing health problem. As Minnesota Public Radio’s Lorna Benson noted Tuesday in the first installment of a new series on diabetes, the percentage of Minnesotans diagnosed with the disease has doubled over the past 15 years, from 3.8 percent in 1994 to 6.7 percent in 2010.

“The number of Minnesotans with diabetes has grown so fast that state health officials describe the disease as a juggernaut threatening to overwhelm the state's health care system,” Benson reported.

The importance of diet
Changing the trajectory of the diabetes epidemic is a monumental challenge for health officials, for it requires persuading people to give up (or cut way, way back on) junk food, including the junk food they create in their own kitchens.

The kind of food that has made Deen a celebrity chef.

“I would hope that [Deen] would use this as an opportunity to try and improve her diet along with her audience and to shape up her recipes,” said Carol Brunzell, a dietician and certified diabetes educator at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, in a phone interview.

A healthy diabetes diet, Brunzell pointed out, is one that’s “well-balanced, meaning it includes foods from all food groups. It also emphasizes whole grains, plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meat and fish and poultry, and more fats from plants rather than animals.”

Not exactly the kind of diet of that welcomes recipes like Deen’s “Chocolate Cheese Fudge,” which contains one-half pound of Velveeta cheese, two sticks of butter and two 16-ounce boxes of confectioner’s sugar.

A confusing message
Deen may have had a lot to lose in the past by announcing her diabetes to the world, but no longer. Now she has a lot to gain. She’s just signed up to be a spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, which is marketing a new diabetes drug. (Thus, her reason for going on the "Today" show.) She’s going to be promoting “lighter” versions of her recipes to people with diabetes through Novo Nordisk’s new “Diabetes in a New Light” campaign.

I just hope that Deen’s fans don’t take home the message that you can eat her type of cuisine and then, if you develop diabetes, “fix” it all with a pill.

One thing is for certain: Novo Nordisk is going to have to prepare Deen better for her television appearances. When Roker asked if her diet had contributed to her diabetes, the affable Deen suddenly appeared uncomfortable — and evasive. Food "is part of the puzzle,” she said, “But there are many others that can lead to diabetes,” such as genetics, stress and age.

"What you eat” is also a factor, she acknowledged somewhat reluctantly, “but I’ve always eaten in moderation.”

I find that last statement — and this whole Novo Nordisk campaign — hard to swallow.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Comments (3)

Diet is a huge aspect of it. Type 2 diabetes is aggravated by fat surrounding the cell walls, making sugar harder to pass through.

I find her the completely wrong spokesperson. Her cooking is filled with fat. I mean just filled with fat, like cooking bacon in butter and adding whipped cream. Watching her cook almost makes me vomit.

"just hope that Deen’s fans don’t take home the message that you can eat her type of cuisine and then, if you develop diabetes, “fix” it all with a pill."

A "lighter version" of her recipes or eating them in moderation is not going to cut it either. Paula Deen had three years to sort this out and all she has to show for it is a pill contract and continued denial?

I'm sad for Paula, but not all that surprised. Maybe she should look into a healthier diet to treat her diabetes instead of drugs? There's lots of interesting information available at this noncommercial, science based site (nutritionfacts.org). To quote the good doctor: "It is too bad Paula Deen missed this opportunity" to tell her fans "that type 2 diabetes can be prevented, managed, treated, and even cured". Read more at http://nutritionfacts.org/blog/2012/01/18/paula-deen-diabetes-drug-spoke...