Celebrity chef Paula Deen announced today that she has type II diabetes and has known for three years. (AP Images)

Paula Deen Announces She Has Type 2 Diabetes, Cooking Not to Blame

ICTMN Staff
1/17/12

Unfortunately, a high-profile celebrity chef has come down with diabetes from eating foods Native Americans know are wrong.

Paula Deen, the queen of southern comfort cooking, announced this morning on the Today Show that she has type 2 diabetes and has known for three years.

In her first interview discussing the disease, the 64-year-old Deen said she chose to wait to tell her fans about her diagnosis until she had something to offer to other diabetes sufferers. "I could have walked out and said, 'Hey, y'all. I've been diagnosed with Type II Diabetes,' and walked away. I had nothing to give to my fellow friends out there," Deen told Al Roker on the Today Show.

But now Deen has partnered with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk and launched the new website "Diabetes in a New Light." Deen reportedly treats her type 2 diabetes with the Novo Nordisk drug Victoza, according to USA Today.

"You can go to our website. I'm going to be there for you," Deen said on the Today Show. Roker followed Deen's encouragement with, "We should mention you are a paid spokesman for Nordisk."

"Diabetes in a New Light" offers information on the disease as well as Deen's modified recipes that pair down on processed carbohydrates and sugar. For example, Deen's recipe "Lady and Sons Lasagna" features 9 whole-wheat or reduced-carbohydrate lasagna noodles and no-salt-added tomato sauce, as well as fat-free or reduced fat cheeses.

Her son Bobby Deen also recommends healthier versions of his mother's famous southern cuisine on the Cooking Channel's Not My Mama’s Meals.

Nonetheless, Deen doesn't denounce her butter-heavy recipes or the lifestyle she promotes on her Food Network show Paula's Home Cooking. She does claim to have always promoted eating in moderation. "You know, people see me on TV two to three times a day, and they see me cooking all these wonderfully southern, fattening dishes, and that's only 30 days out of 365. It's for entertainment. People have to be responsible."

But not everyone is falling for Deen's southern charm. "When your signature dish is a hamburger in between a doughnut, and you've been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you've got Type 2 Diabetes ... It's in bad taste if nothing else," celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, told People.

Watch Deen make a doughnut burger:

Deen's defense? "It's like I told Oprah a few years back, honey, I'm your cook, not your doctor."

Deen also explained that many factors can lead to diabetes: "...certainly genetics, certainly your lifestyle, certainly what you eat, certainly stress, and last but not least is age—there's a lot of us baby boomers out there."

The Today Show invited Dr. Lauren Wissner Greene, clinical associate professor of medicine, at New York University's School of Medicine, to discuss the key risk factors for developing diabetes. "Diet and lack of exercise can really increase your risk," Dr. Greene said. "Being overweight in particular is probably the most defined risk factor for diabetes."

American Indians are all too familiar with the risk factors and health complications of diabetes. The disease can lead to blindness, amputation, nerve and kidney disease, heart disease and stroke. The U.S. Health and Human Services says American Indian/Alaska Native adults are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to get diabetes, and twice as likely to die from it.

While the statistics are devastating, two American Indian academics are examining the way the media portrays diabetes in Indian Country and trying to change Native Americans' often "fatalistic view" about the disease to one of hope and determination to improve their health. Indian Country Today Media Network reports on their effort to encourage positive media stories in "Two American Indian Academics Examine the Media Slant as the Diabetes Crisis Looms."

Tribes and organizations throughout Indian country are also working to make healthy food options and exercise more accessible to Natives. In "National Obesity Conference to Focus on Healthy Foods and Environments," ICTMN raises awareness of the many challenges of combating obesity in Native communities and on reservations, such as a lack of adequate grocery stores. The article also highlights Native communities that are taking action to combat the disease—creating gardens or offering other ways to obtain fresh produce, such as bringing in local farmers' markets.

In "She Helps Her People Avoid Diabetes," ICTMN profiles Lynn Cuny, of Crow Creek Dakota and Oglala Lakota heritage, who downed "carbs, soda, and coffee with lots of sugar," throughout her youth, adding "super-sized burgers" to her diet in college. But in an effort to prevent the onset of diabetes that has plagued her family, Cuny cut the carbohydrates and saturated fat- and glucose-laden foods out of her diet.

David Bender, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, fought his food addiction with the Paleolithic Diet. When his significant other Karen was diagnosed with several debilitating diseases, including borderline diabetes, in February 2010, Bender knew his family needed to reform their ways. In "Native Family Turns to its Roots to Combat Poor Health and Food Addiction," Bender describes his family's uphill battle to overcome food addiction by returning to the diet of his ancestors.

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