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 percent of chronic disease, happens because of bad choices, not bad genes. New research proves that type 2 diabetes is nearly 100 percent 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 overwhelmingly demonstrated 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 percent of diabetics and 90 percent of pre-diabetics are not even diagnosed.
Caring for these people will cost $3.4 trillion over the next 10 years. Today, one in three Medicare dollars is spent on diabetes. Our country is becoming the United States of Diabetes. And globally we are becoming the United Nations of Diabetes. Since 1983, there has been over a 1,000 percent increase in diabetes worldwide.
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 percent preventable and curable with dietary intervention. When Deen says she doesn't blame herself, then whom does she blame?
This week in Indian Wells, Calif., former President Clinton convened the best and brightest minds in health care, business and fitness to put a stake in the ground that "Health Matters." The former 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 health care, 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 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 that included eating real whole fresh food, getting off of the addictive drugs of sugar and processed fats from industrial food, and learning 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 their 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.
My new book The Blood Sugar Solution, which comes out at the end of February, is a personal plan for individuals to get healthy, for us to get healthy together in our communities and for us to take back our health as a society. Obesity and diabetes is a social disease, and we need a social cure.
My personal hope is that together we can create a national conversation about a real, practical solution for the prevention, treatment and reversal of our diabesity epidemic.
To learn more and to get a free sneak preview of the book go to www.drhyman.com.
Now I'd like to hear from you:
What do you think Paula Deen should do to help America reverse the diabetes epidemic?
How have you transformed your health with food?
Should media personalities be held to account for being part of the solution, rather than contributing our collective suffering?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.
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Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.