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Paula Deen: Poster Child for Type 2 Diabetes and Excessive Sugar Consumption

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There’s a lot of judgment floating around right now about Paula Deen, the queen of southern cuisine, who recently announced she’s a Type 2 diabetic and the new spokesperson for an injectable diabetes drug called Victoza.

The big gripe is that Deen’s cooking and eating style not only contributed to her own disease, it probably contributed to others getting sick, too. And, even worse, now she’s making money from it. To paraphrase Anthony Bourdain, it’s like breaking someone’s leg and then selling the person a crutch.

Deen claims she’s always advocated eating in moderation. Even more defiantly, she says she’s not going to change her cooking style just because she’s sick. In response, former foodie fans are just saying no to Paula Deen. After all, she kept her diabetes a secret for the past three years, and then she sold her soul to Novo Nordisk, the makers of the drug she now endorses.

Deen, however, is not the badass we make her out to be. Rather, she reflects a basic lack of awareness that’s shared by many. For example, most people believe in the power of drugs to make up for all kinds of lifestyle indulgences, so to speak. Of course, drugs help but they also hurt, and the message about harm is relentless. Day in and day out on TV we hear about the side effects that come with every drug, and Victoza is no exception. Last year the FDA issued a warning about all liraglutides (the common name for all similar drugs) about the increased risk of thyroid cancers and damage to the pancreas. Technically, Victoza is glucagon-like peptide 1, or GLP-1, which stimulates the pancreas to make more insulin after eating.

Victoza is also a sure thing for good business because the type 2 diabetes business is booming. In 1958, the diabetes population was 1.6 million people, which was less than 1% of the total. As of 2010, the diabetes population is estimated at 26 million people, 11% of the adult population. That doesn’t include another 74 million who are “pre-diabetics.” Altogether, the type 2 diabetes universe comes to about 100 million people or 44% of the adult population. That makes Victoza a pretty good bet, and the CDC projects the uptrend to continue.

Type 2 diabetes is the kind of diabetes where your body either doesn’t make enough insulin or isn’t able to use the insulin it makes. Insulin is an important and necessary hormone that gets the sugar out of your blood and into the cells that need it. The underlying problem is a condition known as insulin resistance. The cells in your muscles, liver, and fat simply stop responding to (or resist) the insulin that your body makes. The pharmacological solution is to get more insulin in the body or to artificially provoke the body to produce more insulin. Sometimes people have such raging type 2 diabetes, they get more than one type of drug to keep high blood sugar under control.

Unfortunately, putting more insulin into the bloodstream doesn’t do anything to solve the underlying problem of insulin resistance. It just makes it possible for the type 2 diabetic to control blood sugar levels and to more or less live with the underlying insulin resistance. Predictably, the reliance on drugs never ends. In fact, there’s a progressive need for more and more drugs as time goes on.

Another approach is to control and self-manage blood sugar production before it becomes excessive and problematic. When you don’t have excess sugar in your bloodstream, you don’t need excess insulin to deal with it. The foods that contain the most caloric sweeteners like sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (or the foods that quickly convert to sugar) are the very same substances that dramatically contribute to high blood sugar levels, which then require high levels of insulin to move it into the cells. When you eat less sugar, you have less sugar in your blood. It’s not really rocket science.

Paula Deen and the majority of American adults don’t understand the relationship between sugar through the mouth and sugar in the blood because it’s not the message we’re hearing from major health organizations or from our government. Almost 50 years ago Robert Atkins, the famous diet doctor, warned that “sugar is metabolic poison.” At long last the scientific establishment is coming around to embrace this basic and essential understanding.

About Karen Bentley

Author, Educator, Founder of The SugarFreeInstitute and SugarFree Nutrition and Weight Loss Expert. Over 15 published books. The Power to Stop: Stopping as a path to personal power, self-love and enlightenment is currently a bestseller on Amazon Kindle. For more info visit www.sugarfreeinstitute.com, www.powertostop.com or www.karenbentley.com.
  • Meredith Wheeler

    Very interesting article–thank you.
    You don’t mention the glycemic index–but isn’t that also a helpful guide?

  • http://www.sugarfreemiracle.com Karen Bentley

    The glycemic index is partially helpful, but also misleading because it only measures glucose, not fructose. Popular caloric Sweeteners like table sugar (also called sucrose) and HFCS are both made with glucose and fructose. Table sugar is about 50% glucose and 50% fructose. HFCS is about 55% fructose and 42% glucose. So the glycemic index misses the dangerous health and weight impact of overloading your body with too much fructose. We are talking about the fructose that food manufacturers ADD to drinks and foods, and not the fructose that’s naturally found in fruits. Fructose is processed differently than sucrose. It goes straight to the liver where it’s converted to triglycerides, which is FAT! Unfortunately, measures like the glycemic index allow the dangers of fructose to go completely under the radar, so to speak.

  • Carolyn

    Thank you for this informative, very well written article. IMO, Paula Deen should be ashamed of herself. Also, I wish the ADA would embrace stricter guidelines, and for a start read this article you wrote. They are a sham as well, considering the power they have.

  • Dina

    Not really.

    While being overweight is a factor in developing Type 2 diabetes, the simple act of eating sugar is not. There have been numerous scientific studies that have confirmed this. Where the sugar/diabetes connection comes into play is the fact that sugar can increase weight, which increases risk.

    Diabetes journals Diabetes.org

    In addition, Type 2 diabetes does have a strong genetic component and is influenced by other common medical conditions, such as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. If we want to start controlling it, we need to look at the larger picture and stop with the blame game.

  • http://www.robin-ellis.net Meredith Wheeler

    Thanks for the clarification on the glucose/fructose issue. I thought the glycemic index and load charts also rated fruits–so my husband, who is type 2, avoids certain fruits.

    It is quite a dizzying and confusing subject!

    The NYTimes had a big article recently saying sugar is a big villain–so I’m perplexed when people defend it (I eat it too sometimes–but only in 90% cacao chocolate squares! ;-) and in moderation.

    I see Paula Deen is using the “in moderation” mantra–and while there is truth to that, on the other hand, some foods should clearly be avoided or dropped altogether.

    I too am concerned that the ADA is pressured by the food industry to adopt this “in moderation” theory because to tell people to stop eating white pasta, white rice, potatoes not to mention cookies, cakes, pies would upset American agribusiness too much.

  • http://www.sugarfreemiracle.com Karen Bentley

    Thanks so much for the lively dialogue! Of course, weight (especially around the waist), exercise, age, genetics all play a role, but so does diet. And it could turn out to be the biggest role. Sugar (and I’m using the term in a generic way) in the mouth = sugar in the blood. On the other hand, fat in the mouth has a moderating effect. The “establishment” has been very slow to acknowledge that excessive, chronic consumption of caloric sweeteners has more of an impact than simply empty calories that add to weight. Caloric sweeteners alter insulin production and disrupt metabolism, and type 2 diabetes is, after all, a disease where insulin is rendered dysfunctional and metabolism doesn’t work properly. The opinion about caloric sweeteners is still an out-side-the box opinion, but the 30-year track record of the low-fat/low-calorie message and treatment hasn’t stopped the type 2 diabetes trend or even slowed it down a bit. Maybe it’s time to try a different tack. My service is to offer a new and different idea. Until recently, most research and mainstream messaging has been focused on dietary fat and cholesterol, not on caloric sweeteners and highly processed flours. It will take many more years for the harmful effect of these substances to become a popular, generally-accepted health principle.