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Paula Deen, change your diet

By Andrew Weil, Special to CNN
updated 9:18 PM EST, Fri January 20, 2012
Paula Deen appears at a cookbook promotion at a bookstore in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in October.
Paula Deen appears at a cookbook promotion at a bookstore in Ridgewood, New Jersey, in October.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Andrew Weil: Paula Deen has type 2 diabetes, says it won't change way she cooks
  • Instead she is a paid spokeswoman for a diabetes medication; a shame, he says
  • He says the food she makes can be made in more healthful way; she should set example
  • Weil: She and Food Network have responsibility to promote healthy eating, prevent diabetes

Editor's note: Andrew Weil is the director of the integrative medicine program at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, and professor of Medicine and Public Health, author of "Eight Weeks to Optimum Health," "Healthy Aging," "Spontaneous Happiness" and the forthcoming "True Food."

(CNN) -- "I'm just gonna put a little more butter in there, y'all," she said as she plopped a large chunk into the skillet. "Oh my," she added, "I've gone and put a whole stick in by now."

I was watching Paula Deen on the Food Network, whipping up a shrimp sauté to go over pasta. I thought to myself, "I could make a similar dish that would look much better (hers was murky from all the butter), taste much better (fresh, clean flavors from a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, dry vermouth and herbs), with a fraction of the fat and calories."

Later that day, I read about Deen's revelation that she had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes three years ago and is now a paid spokeswoman for Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical company that supplies her diabetes medication. She says the diagnosis will not change the way she cooks.

Andrew Weil
Andrew Weil

What a shame! Like many people, Deen has genes that predispose to weight gain, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes when physical activity is insufficient and calories are consumed in excess, especially from quick-digesting carbohydrate foods that cause spikes of blood sugar. Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition that greatly increases risks of cardiovascular disease, disability and premature death.

The good news is that many, if not most, cases can be put into remission through lifestyle changes: losing weight, increasing activity and adhering to a low-glycemic-load diet, especially minimizing consumption of flour and sugar.

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Paula Deen discuses diabetes diagnosis

Taking a drug to lower blood sugar without making those lifestyle changes is a classic example of trying to deal with a problem without going to the root of it. (Another is taking a pill to suppress stomach acid so that you can eat foods that cause heartburn without it.)

Eatocracy: Hugh Acheson on Southern food beyond the butter

The queen of high-fat, high-calorie "Southern comfort" food likes to say that she encourages her followers to practice moderation in eating her rich dishes. How about using her charm and culinary skills to teach them to make healthier versions of those dishes without sacrificing flavor or any of the pleasure of eating?

If she doesn't think that's possible, I'd encourage her to eat at one of the True Food Kitchen restaurants in Arizona and California.

The food there is designed to emphasize flavor and pleasure along with good nutrition. Too many of us -- including Deen, I would guess -- think that food that's good and food that's good for you are in opposition. Unless you have experienced truly delicious, healthy food, you won't believe it exists.

The Food Network has become a major entertainment channel. A lot of people watch it.

Sadly, most of the shows focus on making (or eating huge portions) of just the kinds of foods that promote obesity and all too often the disturbances of metabolism that can lead to type 2 diabetes. The societal problems resulting from our unhealthy eating habits are grave; for one, the Defense Department has expressed concern that the obesity epidemic in young people is shrinking the pool of acceptable applicants for military service. The Food Network could begin doing public service by teaching people to prepare more sensible meals.

It could start with you, Paula Deen. You have the perfect reason to change your ways and the perfect platform to disseminate your message. Forget Novo Nordisk. Show your loyal fans how not to need diabetes drugs. And whenever you're ready to accept my challenge for a shrimp sauté cook-off, y'all just let me know.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andrew Weil.

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