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Paula Deen: Queen of Disease or Healing Food Fairy?

Paula Deen: Queen of Disease or Healing Food Fairy?

In a spate of recent media appearances, Paula Deen, the unapologetic queen of culinary excess and indulgence would have us believe that she didn’t eat herself into type 2 diabetes – that it was just Russian Roulette.  Genes do matter, but just a little. Sorry Paula, but type 2 diabetes, and in fact over 90% of chronic disease, happens because of bad choices, not bad genes.  New research proves that type 2 diabetes is nearly 100% reversible without medication or gastric bypass.

Deen would also have us believe that she really didn’t expect us to eat her signature hamburger sandwiched in the middle of a donut. But whether unwittingly or not, Deen and her brand of junk food have been preying on a very human vulnerability: our innate tendency to become profoundly addicted to sugar, fat, and salt.

Bolstered by “experts” such as Dr. Linda Siminerio, director of the Diabetes Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, who said, “To my knowledge no particular food has been linked to an increase in the risk of diabetes,” Deen refuses to acknowledge that her sugary, fatty foods led to her diabetes.  No food has been linked to diabetes?  Dr. Siminerio stands alone with Paula Deen in that belief.

Deen said she would not change her own lifestyle or cooking style drastically, other than to reduce portion sizes of unhealthful foods. “I’ve always preached moderation,” she said. So just have half the hamburger on an open-faced donut sandwich?  If all calories were created equal, that might fly. But nutrition research over the last 30 years has demonstrated overwhelmingly that all calories are not created equal.

Food is information. Any sixth grader will tell you that 1,000 calories of broccoli is different from 1,000 calories of soda.  Even the American Diabetes Association and Weight Watchers have changed how they categorize foods based on the fact that while chocolate chip cookies and spinach are both carbohydrates, they do not have the same effect on your hormones, appetite, metabolism, or weight.  Sorry Paula, you can’t just eat less of the same junk foods and reverse or even stabilize your diabetes.

Paula Deen’s celebration of excess and indulgence is irresponsible if not outright dangerous in the face of our obesity epidemic. Nearly three out of four Americans are overweight or obese, one in two Americans has pre-diabetes or diabetes (or what I call “diabesity”), and, shockingly, 25% of diabetics and 90% of pre-diabetics are not even diagnosed.

Caring for these people will cost us $3.4 trillion over the next ten years.  Today, one in three Medicare dollars is spent on diabetes.  Our country is becoming the United States of Diabetes. And since 1983, there has been an increase of over 1,000% in incidence of diabetes worldwide.  Globally we are becoming the United Nations of Diabetes.

Deen’s endorsement of Victoza, a diabetes drug, lulls us into the belief that the false god of medication will save us from our excess.  Don’t worry. Just keep eating 55 pounds of flour and 150 pounds of sugar a year, the American average.  If you have bad genes, big Pharma will be there to save you.  But remember, the last blockbuster diabetes drug, Avandia, has led to 47,000 heart attack deaths since it was introduced on the market in 1999.  Sorry to break the news, but if you are standing on a tack, it takes a lot of aspirin to make your foot feel better.

While some may have a genetic predisposition, those genes only get turned on when doused in mountains of white flour, white sugar, and fat.  Type 2 diabetes is almost 100% preventable and curable with dietary intervention.  When Deen says she doesn’t blame herself, then whom does she blame?

This week in Indian Wells, California, President Clinton convened the best and brightest minds in health care, business, and fitness to put a stake in the ground that “Health Matters.”  President and Chelsea Clinton, Dr. David Satcher, Richard Gephart, Jillian Michaels, and others including myself painted a picture of the tsunami of cost and suffering brought on by the obesity epidemic and the need for innovative solutions in healthcare, our communities, schools, and the workplace, none of which included smaller portions of bad food.   Everything from “instant recess” to community-based programs for people to get healthy together, to banning sodas from schools, to better access to real foods for the poor was on the menu at the Clinton Foundation event.

Deen said her diagnosis was not a death sentence. But diabetics have four times the risk of heart attack and dementia as well as an increased risk of a spate of cancers, not to mention nerve damage, liver failure, kidney failure, and blindness.  Sorry Paula, but if you don’t make serious lifestyle changes, diabetes is a death sentence.

On the Today show she told Al Roker, “Honey, I am your cook, not your doctor.”  Sorry again Paula, but dinner is a date with the doctor. Food is medicine, and what you put on your fork is more powerful than anything you will ever find in a pill bottle.

But perhaps there is a silver lining here. Because Paula Deen can turn this around. And if she can do it, so can you.

At Saddleback Church this past year I partnered with Rick Warren, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and Dr. Daniel Amen in a social experiment. We put the church on a wellness program based on rigorous nutritional science and lifestyle medicine. Members ate real, whole, fresh food; broke their addiction to sugar and processed fats from industrial food; and learned how to shop, cook, eat, move, and celebrate life together. We had dozens of diabetics who not only lost weight but also got off their medications and even insulin and reversed their disease.  If a church that started its day with ribs and donuts can do it, so can you, Paula Deen.

Paula, be a cheerleader for America and create new recipes and a new show to teach us that food can be both fun and good for you.  Please help us Paula. We need you.

Mark Hyman MD is the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

Comments (23)

  • I am in the UK and wondered what the Deen tweets were all about. The stats are terrifying. Will there be enough well, fit people to shoulder the cost of obesity? What will obestity do to the balance of first world global power? Fitter, better resourced countries which haven’t eaten themselves poor and slow for example. So many questions related to food and finance. Bigger picture is one of change – immense global change. Who would have thought sugar and grain could have such a profound impact on such a young country?

  • I never really like Paula Dean before the news. Now knowing she is profiting from her disease makes me loathe her. She will not change, why would she. Having diabetes for three years hasn’t changed her. Her attitude is bad, and saying with a straight face that she preaches moderation is a bold face lie. This is a woman that did shots of melted butter on her show. Take the quote ““To my knowledge no particular food has been linked to an increase in the risk of diabetes” Now change food to smoking and diabetes to lung cancer. Isn’t that what the experts said back in the 1950’s?
    Great article, all calories are not created equal, thanks for letting people know that!

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      • I believe that with her way of cooking (Paula Dean) she is teaching people how to kill..themselves…Murder of entysment to kill itself?? Take a pick!!!

  • there are those who will choose the right path and there are those who will choose the path that makes the most money. i don’t think paula will change her ways.

  • I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in nov of 2011. Which was a few months shy of my 46th birthday. I have diabetes on my mother’s side of the family. And I have an adrenal problems that are contributing factors. I’m also smart enough to know my eating everything in sight and not getting excercise is also a huge factor. I know that my health, genetics and what I”ve been eating are the reason I have diabetes. And if I sit on my butt and continue to eat what I want I”ll be dead or wish I was dead. This isn’t easy and I dont have good willpower but i’m working on this. I’m not going to ignore and hope for a miracle. We have to create our on miracle with this situation. I love sweets and fried foods. But I also like to walk and have my eyesight. This crap scares the heck out of me.


  • Health is wealth and we all have to take responsibility for our own health. People put too much emphasis on their genes for their bad choices. Genes are only a small part of the equation. It’s been 33 years since I embarked on a wellness journey, and I’ve never looked back. I have reaped the rewards of my dedication to healthy living…eating well, exercising, no smoking nor drinking (except for the occasional glass of wine). It’s no coincidence that, at 67 years old, I don’t look my age and have energy galore; I also do not take any medication. I’ve always been thin, so weight is not an issue for me. I’ve never watched Paula Deen’s cooking show because it’s just not the way I eat. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (pun intended!) And, endorsing a drug for a disease that could be prevented, in most cases, is not a healthy recipe for a cooking queen to share!

  • Paula Dean is totally unrepentant ! and no she will not help the Diabetes Cause to cure/heal/reverse because she signed a Pharma Diabetes Drug for millions of dollars.

    She’s about money not her health or anyone else’s health.

  • Thank you, Dr. Hyman, for stating what I’ve been feeling about Paula Deen. I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 13 and am now 50. I have exercised daily since I was 23, adopted a vegetarian diet in the past 7 years and do everything I can to live a healthy life, but no matter what I do or don’t do, my pancreas will never work. I have no choice in my disease, so I am appalled when I see Type 2 diabetics like Paula Deen who deny that food and lack of exercise play no part in their disease. She is a dangerous example for the millions of type 2 diabetics who need education on how to manage their disease so they can live healthy lives. I am also appalled that Novo Nordisk is using her as their spokesperson and have written to them urging them to stop Paula from stating that food has not played a role in her diabetes or stop using her. For those who believe she has a right to manage her disease however she wants, she gave up that right when she signed her $6 million contract with Novo Nordisk.

  • What a wonderful article and what high quality comments.

    For those of you who may know Ray Kurzweil, he wrote a book called the 10% solution. His dad died young and he knew that he wasn’t getting better listening to his doctors about his own diabetes. He researched diabetes and cured himself through nutrition.

    Diabetes, just as Dr Esselstyn calls heart disease a toothless paper tiger, can be controlled and possibly cured by a great many that are diagnosed. That is if we take the reliance of off big phama/doctors and put it on ourselves. It takes courage and responsibility, but the payoff is enormous.

  • Paula Deen is a joke and waited three years to tell everyone she had type 2 diabetes. All she cares about is making a profit. Anyone who listens to her is a fool.

  • I have metabolic syndrome and am under drs care, placed on a low carb diet which I find healthy but boring. I am taking Metformin as well. I cannot use any processed soy products. Is there a healthy eating plan out there that satisfies the mind and the body. I always enjoyed cooking, but now not so much.

  • Dr. Linda Siminerio is not the only one that stands with Paula Deen…the Mayo Clinic states that ‘Type 2 diabetes develops when the body becomes resistant to insulin or when the pancreas stops producing enough insulin. Exactly why this happens is UNKNOWN, although, excess weight and inactivity seem to be contributing factors.’ To attribute Paula getting diabetes from her ‘sugary, fatty foods’ is the OPINION of this article’s author ONLY. NO ONE knows what causes diabetes…if they did, there would be a cure and no one would have it!!!

  • Just for the sake of argument, let’s say you’re right: “No one knows what causes diabetes.”
    The second statement however: “If they did there would be a cure and no one would have it” is wrong.
    Watch the “Reversing diabetes in 30 days DVD (called SIMPLY RAW)” and you know there is a cure. And a very effective one which works miracles in only 30 days.
    Even when you don’t know what causes diabetes eating a lot of fresh food will be good for you, fighting lots of illnesses for sure and possibly diabetes as well.
    You might give it a shot. What’s stopping you?

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  • Dr. Dr. Hyman,
    You have been my health guru ever since I was introduced to your philosophies through the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I have written comments to you before, but I have not noticed any responses. I would like to try once again to address my reaction to your blog on diabetes, specifically, Paula Dean. It pains me to see your reference to this woman as, “a silver lining…(who) ..can turn this around…” And it is especially bothersome to me to see you refer to her as…”a cheerleader for America” and to encourage her to…”create new recipes and a new show to teach us that food can be both fun and good.” How on earth can you say to this woman…”Please help us Paula. We need you.” Sir, with all due respect, unless doctors like you and Oz advise this woman (and her two cooking sons) what exactly a “diabetes-friendly” meal entails, then they will continue on their misleading misrepresentations of healthy meals and seriously delusional followers will continue to eat themselves to death by eating unrealistic meals that as they demonstrate “include sugar and wait for the sugar to reduce down.” Really, Dr. Hyman, these three people need to be redirected not encouraged. Please help.

  • I don’t understand why are some people so worry about Paula Dean she is OK.
    What you should be worring about is all the people that are killing people ,old people and children that is going to bed with out a meal instead of Paula. Paula I love you and in time you will do what you need to I did .

  • $14 for a meal at Paula Deen’s restaurant and lines out the door to get in are frequent. It’s better to go home and cook your own delicious and nourishing meal! Think stir-fry, not deep-fry!

  • The “everything in moderation” line sounds like something a lawyer came up. It’s enough of a guideline where no one can sue you, but vague enough where you’re not really being pinned down. Imagine I were a winemaker and I told you to have wine in moderation. Well what does that mean? One drink per day? Per week? Per month? You don’t know. So now if you drink too much and get sick, you can’t blame me since I told you to “drink in moderation.” But there are some things that aren’t good even in moderation. Like smoking. Imagine if cigarette manufacturer said it was OK to smoke in moderation. We’d collectively laugh. That’s why the industry standard line is now, “there’s insufficient proof that smoking causes lung cancer.” That, of course, leaves you to ask just what they consider sufficient.

    People like Paula Deen can get away with promoting a dangerous product by shifting the responsibility onto you. That might work were it not for the fact that the ingredients in her recipes make her food addictive. Sugar? Yeah, tell that isn’t addictive. It’s no wonder there’s a growing movement to have sugar regulated like alcohol. They’re both metabolized the same way too. It’s kind of hard to tell people to practice moderation when it comes to an addictive substance. Do you think crack dealers tell their customers to only have crack in moderation?

  • Yep. You guessed it! This remark comes from yet another person who refuses to be duped by an over achieving eater who will probably continue to eat,espouse and feed all the wrong foods to herself, her fan base and family.

    I hope her family will get their cholesterol and blood glucose numbers checked.

    We see people like her in hospitals with diabetic foot ulcers and getting stents to keep one or a few major arteries open. This is too bad and unnecessary! This woman could be such an advocate for healthy eating and many would support her in a new, healthy direction.

  • Again Dr. Hyman, you don’t disappoint! We at AWAREmed Health and Wellness Resource Cent in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina agree that while portion size should be highly monitored, every calorie is NOT equal. Not only should one cut down on portion size they should eat healthier calories. Organic fruits and veggies, and hormone/steroid free proteins is the way to go. Paula should be ashamed of herself taking advantage of the public mind. However her food may be delicious, it is definitely no way to eat on a regular basis. We as a nation need to stand up against this horrible cooking show and help Paula change her ways! Check out some of our recipes at, they will not disappoint.

  • Paula Deen is only the most recent scape-goat in America’s obesity epidemic. So, shame on all of you who’ve felt the need to hurl insult after insult upon the woman. Americans sure do love to attack people when they’re down. She got signed up for a TV program because people loved her bubbly personality, and homestyle southern cooking….not because she was a green juice drinking health nut.

    Is she in denial about her disease? Possibly. Her TV persona, like most people in the public eye, is likely different than who she is at home. She is a woman who was raised on southern cooking. And before you start hating on Southerners realize that MANY cultures and many families celebrate, mourn and “feel better” with food. Mine surely did and does.

    Is it dishonest to promote Type II diabetic drugs and then continue to cook fat and sugar laden foods? Well, it might be dishonest, but she also has a hundred people behind her making many of the decisions about her “business” and that now includes her personal health. Everyone watched Paul Prudhomme get so fat he had to cook from a chair and no one said a thing about that. Where was the outrage then? Where were the letters to the Editor?. So get down off your high horses and realize that not everyone wants to live a lean, raw, juice-based, low carb, paleo, gluten free lifestyle. In fact, I’d argue that the majority of Americans are so stressed over finances, mortgage, school for their kids and losing their job to a younger guy who’ll take less money that healthful foods plays a fairly minor role in their day to day lives.

    That isn’t the way it should be. But that is life. People should want to live long, healthy lives but most of us aren’t living in the “50 years from now” mode….most of us are just trying to get by day to day, week to week, or if we’re lucky….year to year. And as Maslow pointed out many years ago, if you’re struggling to meet even your most BASIC needs, the higher ones can never be addressed. So perhaps instead of hating on a single woman, you should turn off your TV, hold up the mirror to yourself and focus on what YOU can do to help YOUR community eat healthy and think differently about food. Sure, Paula has a great big soapbox that she COULD use to start a food revolution, but perhaps that’s not how she wishes to finish her career or her life. Not everyone is destined or desirous to be the next Oprah Winfrey. So leave Paula alone and tend the garden of your own lives. Take responsibility for YOUR actions. Sign up to teach children how to cook. Offer to volunteer at an organic farm. Get active. Stop shaming and blaming.