By Nora Saul, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., Manager of Nutritional Services at Joslin
Everyone from celebrity hosts of network TV shows to chiefs of medical organizations have an opinion on the Paula Deen affair. It certainly has caused a buzz.
So what turns her three-year old diabetes diagnosis from a private matter into a nationwide news frenzy?
It’s the putative connection between the type of food her cooking show prepares and diabetes.
There is absolutely a connection between obesity in genetically susceptible people and diabetes. But some people have claimed that there’s more to it than genetics and obesity. Some are suggesting that her particular style of Southern cooking can cause diabetes—even when consumed in moderation. But there really has never been any proof for that idea to date.
We know that certain foods that are high in fat produce more insulin resistance when eaten. We also know that certain foods cause greater spikes in blood glucose than others—white versus whole grain bread, for example. And these are certainly some of the qualities found in Paula-Deen-style Southern cooking, not to mention high saturated fat and calories.
But it’s not just Southern food that can make that boast. French, Portuguese, and traditional Ashkenazi Jewish cooking—all of these high-fat styles should be eaten with an eye on portion control and frequency.
And that’s the key issue: How much and how often.
Paula Deen preaches moderation as she drizzles her concoctions with melted butter, but that principle is all too easy to cast aside when faced with a tasty, crunchy plate of fried chicken.
Eating this food judiciously is fine, as long as you exercise and maintain a healthy weight. But it also shouldn’t become a staple of your diet, since we still don’t have perfectly reliable genetic markers of who will develop heart disease and diabetes.
So other than as a precursor to obesity when eaten in large amounts, no one has proven that any particular food is a direct link to diabetes.
But should Paula Deen’s show change because she has diabetes? That is entirely up to her and the network.
Hers is an entertainment show, after all. It exists to have fun and make money — though it would be nice if there were more shows that taught people how to modify all of that potentially heart-unhealthy food to make it good for you and still make your mouth water.
Ms. Deen’s son Bobby Deen has started in that direction with “Not My Mama’s Meals,” a show on the Cooking Channel that drains out the fat while keeping the flavor. I hope that this type of show becomes more popular so it will be financially viable.
Being a dietitian I have to add my two cents. Medications work great and are usually part of the treatment of diabetes. However, lifestyle beats all the drugs as a treatment for pre-diabetes, and it remains the cornerstone of treatment for diabetes no matter what additional medications you may take.
A healthy diet is one that is overall high in fruits and vegetables, healthy whole grains, lean sources of protein and healthy oils, while low in saturated fat, sodium and processed grains.
Ponder that the next time you are sipping a mint julep.