STYLE

Celeb chef Paula Deen's revelation of diabetes: foodies, health experts weigh in

01/18/2012 06:51 EST | Updated 03/19/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - The food world is weighing in after hearing that celebrity TV chef Paula Deen has Type 2 diabetes yet continued to espouse the use of unhealthy ingredients on her shows and in her restaurants while remaining mum about her condition.

As an icon who could make a difference to millions of people living with the disease, it would have been more ethical for her to make the revelation and create recipes for people with diabetes right from the start, said Mairlyn Smith, who has a cooking segment on Citytv's "CityLine" and is the author of the cookbook "Healthy Starts Here!"

Deen, who dishes up deep-fried cheesecake, fried chicken, a brunch burger that uses glazed doughnuts for the bread and other high-fat, high-calorie Southern-style dishes, announced Tuesday on NBC's "Today Show" that she has the disease and is endorsing a diabetes drug for a Danish company.

"For her to not tell anybody for three years is not ethically correct," said Smith, a home economist, "Second City" alumna and the author of three other cookbooks. "That's really strong to say, but she owed it to people who are living with diabetes.

"She could have been this amazing role model to say ... 'hey, look what happened to me ... I'm going to learn to live with it and you're going to learn how to live with it with me too and this is all going to be diabetes-friendly, heart-healthy cooking and I'm still going to make yummy stuff because I can still do that,'" added Smith, who hired a clinical dietitian to put the diabetes food exchanges in "Healthy Starts Here!" because she has many friends living with the disease.

The Twitter world was full of comments, many of which poked fun: "Paula Deen has no one to blame butter self," was the tweet from someone with the handle Senor Winces, while others said Deen would be laughing all the way to the bank for her endorsement of the Novo Nordisk diabetes drug.

Chef Michael Smith, a P.E.I.-based cookbook author and host of such Food Network Canada shows as "Chef Abroad," "Chef at Home" and "Chef at Large," tweeted Wednesday: "I'm sorry Paula Deen has been diagnosed with diabetes. I wish her well. Maybe now she'll see the light and promote healthy food not drugs ... "

More than nine million Canadians have diabetes or prediabetes, which refers to a condition where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as Type 2 diabetes, according to the Canadian Diabetes Association.

Risk factors include being a member of a high-risk group (Aboriginal, African, Asian, Hispanic or South Asian descent), overweight (especially if most of the weight is carried around your middle) and aged 40 or over. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and genetics can also contribute.

"We do feel that if people are aware of the risk factors and get tested and they do discover that they do have Type 2 diabetes there are a lot of things they can do to lower the risk of the complications from that, things like heart disease, blindness, amputations, and so on," said Sharon Zeiler, senior manager, diabetes and nutrition for the Canadian Diabetes Association in Toronto.

The association recommends 150 minutes of activity a week and following a healthy eating plan such as Canada's Food Guide.

"Include whole grains, fruits and vegetables, smaller servings of protein foods like fish twice a week, getting in your dairy products or substitutes like soy milk," said Zeiler.

While Zeiler did not comment specifically on Deen, she said: "Each of us has our own issues, but in general we try to promote lower-fat methods of cooking, more reasonable portions, healthier types of foods, so lower sugar, getting away from the saturated fats, using healthier cooking methods," such as steaming, poaching, baking using a rack so that fat can drip down, grilling.

Dean could redeem herself if she changes what she cooks on her show, said Smith, because influential people who go public about their condition may help others dealing with the same issue. For example, she noted that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, city councillor Doug Ford, kicked off a weight-loss challenge Monday in a bid to shed some pounds.

Registered dietitian Mary Sue Waisman of All About Food Nutrition Consulting in Halifax wrote in an email to The Canadian Press that she was saddened to hear the news about Deen. "But it's a testament that, unfortunately, diabetes is still a significant disease affecting millions of people worldwide; Ms. Deen now has many new challenges and choices with her food and cooking. ...

"I'm confident Ms. Deen will meet this challenge with her known grace and tenacity and I would look forward to her producing a new cookbook on southern cooking for people with diabetes."

As pitch person for Novo Nordisk, Deen is now contributing diabetes-friendly recipes to a website. She uses the company's drug Victoza, a once-daily noninsulin injection.

But on her shows, she said she plans no major changes to the high-calorie, high-fat gooey and fried comfort food that made her a star.

"I've always said, 'Practise moderation, y'all.' I'll probably say that a little louder now," she told The Associated Press Tuesday after revealing her diagnosis.

—With files from The Associated Press.

MORE:cpStyle