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Deen Reveals Type 2 Diabetes: Criticism Abounds

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There are 300 recipes for macaroni and cheese on the Food Network’s Web site. I’m using mac-n-cheese here as a symbol for all of those starch- and fat-laden comfort foods we love and like to occasionally indulge in.

Mac and cheese with two cheeses. Three cheeses. Four cheeses. SEVEN cheeses! Mac and cheese with ham…with bacon…with corned beef. With heavy cream (four cups in at least one recipe). With Tater Tots.

The recipes were from such celebrity chefs as Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa), Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis, Guy Fieri, and Emeril Lagasse (who once had an episode called “Pork Fat Rules.” BAM!). And, oh yeah, Paula Deen. Who, admittedly, deep-fries mac-n-cheese.

But people are only complaining about Paula Deen cooking starch- and fat-laden foods. Why? Unless you live in a cave, you probably heard last week that Deen was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Three years ago. Therefore, she should have stopped cooking those decadent foods. Immediately! Fessed up. Admitted her sins.

And her critics are crawling out of the woodwork: “5 Paula Deen recipes that could give you diabetes” proclaims one headline. (Psst! Food does NOT give you diabetes!)

Quick! All of you who immediately reconciled yourself to your diagnosis and knew exactly what to do raise your hands!

Hmmm…I don’t see any hands out there.

“Chef Paula Deen hid diabetes, pushed high-fat food,” read the headline over an Associated Press article. (BTW, she isn’t a trained chef.)

That article also noted: “Government doctors say that being overweight (as Deen is), over 45 (as Deen is), and inactive (as Deen was) increase the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.” Didn’t say a word about beta cell dysfunction and genetics.

NBC News’ chief medical editor, Nancy L. Snyderman, called Deen’s behavior “egregious” and said Deen should immediately have changed her recipes (and lost her audience?). Snyderman, by the way, is board-certified in otolaryngology and specializes in head and neck cancer. Is that part of the endocrine system?

Now, Snyderman believes you should just not get Type 2 diabetes in the first place. I agree with that. But it’s not always possible, as was proven in the Diabetes Prevention Program, when all the help in the world couldn’t totally prevent Type 2 diabetes.

“Did Paula Deen’s diet cause her diabetes?” was the headline on a “Health on Today” blog.

Now this writer, Linda Carroll, I like. She went to an endocrinologist for background, writing:

Three factors push a person toward diabetes, said Dr. Robin Goland, an endocrinologist and co-director of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

The most important factor is genetics — whether you’ve inherited a susceptibility to the condition.

‘Now I’m not recommending this, but if you don’t have those genes working against you, you could gain weight and not exercise and your blood sugar would stay normal,’ Goland said.

The other main risk factors are being overweight and not getting enough exercise. Your risk also increases as you age — Deen is 64.

(Note: Deen turned 65 on January 17.)

Where am I going with this? I don’t watch Paula Deen’s shows (nor many other Food Network programs, although I’m rather fond of Alton Brown). I don’t buy her cookbooks. If I want to cook Southern, I make my family recipes. Unaltered. (But I don’t make — or eat — them often.)

But that poor lady just walked right smack dab into a hornet’s nest when she announced she has Type 2 diabetes. Take the way you feel when, in your little world, you encounter a sanctimonious, self-righteous person who knows nothing about diabetes telling you what you should and should not be doing and multiply it by…everybody. Including talk show hosts, comedians, ill-informed doctors, pundits — and more — blasting it out over the airwaves. What if darned near everybody you met on the street, or who was eating in a restaurant with you, knew who you were?

A former Indiana First Lady has diabetes and, several years ago, I asked her if I could write about it. Her answer? “No,” because she wanted to be able to eat an elephant ear at the state fair without criticism. Hey, I couldn’t argue with that. Her secret is still safe with me.

People, Paula Deen tapes about 30 days annually. That’s less than 10% of the year. Plus, she cooks it. That’s it. That doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Nobody has you tied to a chair, shoveling it down your throat. In fact, I’d say that if Deen ate that way all of the time, she’d weigh a ton instead of being just a little bit “fluffy.”

Another part of the criticism is that she’s now a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk. Tsk! Wouldn’t all of us like to make money from diabetes? It might help pay for all of those meds, supplies, doctors’ visits, healthful foods, and such.

But Deen did not approach Novo. And, ironically, Novo didn’t even know Deen had diabetes when it approached her to participate in its new online program, “Diabetes in a New Light.”

“We really just wanted to ask her, ‘Hey, Paula, do you think we could challenge you to change up some of your recipes and make them diabetes-friendly,” Novo spokeswoman Ambre Morley was quoted in one article as saying. “And her reply was, ‘How did you guys know I had diabetes?'”

My take on all of this?

So Paula Deen took three years to out herself. No big deal. It took me a bit of time to learn about diabetes. Imagine being a celebrity and expected to know it all. It sure beats what Dick Clark did, when he came out about having diabetes (when he teamed up with the American Association of Diabetes Educators and Merck & Co. to publicize diabetes’ effect on the heart) and didn’t know a darned thing about it.

Imagine being expected to tell the world you have Type 2 diabetes before you’ve had time to reconcile yourself to the fact that your life has changed. Took me nine years. How about you?

I think she should be allowed to cook however she wants. Maybe work in a more healthful recipe here and there. She got her audience by cooking the way she does. And she does tell people to eat it in moderation.

I see nothing wrong with her getting paid for altering recipes. So what if it happens to be a pharmaceutical company (which didn’t even know she had diabetes when it approached her)? If Paula Deen’s name gets people in to learn more about diabetes and how to eat in a more healthful manner, so be it. Even if it does promote Victoza on the site. Diabetes medicines are a good tool for keeping your blood glucose under control if diet and exercise cannot. Type 2 is progressive. Eventually, you’ll likely have to add medicines and, possibly, insulin, to keep your glucose under control. It’s not your fault. It’s just the way it is.

So what’s your take on all of this brouhaha?

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