Paula Deen and the Lost Teaching Moment

Paula Deen has diabetes. And a terrific opportunity for a “teaching moment” is being lost.

In case you’re not familiar with Paula Deen—apparently I’m the only person on the planet who hasn’t seen her show—she’s a famous chef with a hit program on the Food Network, and is known for her rich Southern cooking.

She’s also known as “the Buttah Queen” due to her liberal use of butter in virtually every recipe.

And therein lies the rub and the lost opportunity.

The press is having a field day with this one. Let me summarize the collective rap this way: “Of course she has diabetes! She cooks with all that fat! She’s the “buttah queen” for goodness sake! How could you promote all that high fat cooking and not be diabetic? Sheesh!”

OK, everybody, calm down.

Paula Deen is not diabetic because she eats too much butter. She’s not diabetic because she cooks with too much fat. She’s not diabetic because she eats “unhealthy” stuff like meat.

She’s diabetic because her body can’t effectively process sugar.


In fact, if all she ate was fat and protein, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion. (But of course, there would also be no Paula Deen show.)

Diabetic educators, the American Diabetes Association, and virtually everyone else in the mainstream is jumping on her high-fat cooking as the “cause” of her diabetes, but nothing could be further from the truth. Fat is NOT the enemy in the American diet. Fat doesn’t make you fat, and it most certainly doesn’t make you diabetic.

Let me explain.

Type ll diabetes is a disease of carbohydrate intolerance. Not fat intolerance. Not protein intolerance. Carbohydrate intolerance. And the reason the “teaching moment” is being lost here is because everyone is parroting the same old, past-its-expiration-date garbage about the “dangers” of fat, while ignoring the simple fact that it is carbohydrates- especially sugar and processed carbs—that creates the blood sugar havoc that ultimately results in diabetes.

(Before the vegan contingent starts sending hate mail, let me be clear: I’m not talking about vegetables, or even about moderate amounts of fruit, like berries. I’m not even talking about occasional portions of starchy carbs like peas, or “mixed” foods like legumes. [As the great C. Leigh Broadhurst, PhD, researcher at the USDA, once said to me—“No one ever got diabetic from eating peas and carrots”.] I’m talking about pasta, rice, bread, potatoes, cereals, and all the other crap we eat to the tune of 300 grams of carbs a day and more. We’re not getting those 300 plus grams of carbs from vegetables, folks.)

Diabetics—both type l and type ll—have an insulin problem. Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas whose job is to remove sugar from the bloodstream and get it into the cells. The higher your blood sugar, the more insulin is produced. Type l diabetics can’t make insulin at all, so they have to inject it. Type ll diabetics—of which Paula Deen is one—have the opposite problem. They make plenty of insulin. It just doesn’t work very well.

The scenario usually unfolds like this. You eat a ton of carbs, your blood sugar goes through the roof. The pancreas starts working overtime to pump out enough insulin to remove all that excess sugar. But our bodies weren’t designed to cope with the amount of carbohydrates/sugar we ordinarily consume, so eventually the system breaks. The pancreas is valiantly trying to pump out enough insulin, but it’s like a Volksvagen trying to go 110 miles an hour. At some point blood sugar is either too high for insulin to effectively remove it, or the cells just stop letting sugar and insulin in. You wind up with both high blood sugar and high insulin.

You wind up with diabetes.

Any logical 4th grader would immediately see the solution to this mess: Stop driving your blood sugar up so high. Which means eat less of the foods that send it to the stratosphere, which, in turn, means your body won’t have to pump out so much insulin. Then your Volksvagen will be running at a much more acceptable 60 miles per hour, and everything will be fine. High levels of insulin close the door to the fat cells making “fat burning” fiendishly difficult (one reason obesity and diabetes go hand in hand). High levels of insulin also raise blood pressure.

Conclusion: High levels of insulin are not a good thing.

Now here’s the kicker. Fat has virtually no effect on insulin, and minimal if any effect on blood sugar. (Protein has some effect, but not nearly as much as carbohydrates.)

So the ideal diet for most type ll diabetics is one with plenty of protein and fat and with just enough carbs to let you feel like you’re a member of the human race, but not so much as to raise your blood sugar (and your insulin) to levels that cause a host of metabolic problems.

If only the message from the media about Paula Deen had been “we’re all eating too much sugar!”

Instead, a perfectly good teaching moment was wasted in a sea of inanities about the “dangers” of eating fat.