I’m from Texas, so that was genuine. I’m not making fun of Paula Deen. In fact, unlike practically everyone else in America right now, I’m giving Paula a big thumb’s up. I think she deserves it for coming out with her type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Yes, I know Paula’s coming out story has a big paycheck attached to it, and I know it came three years after her diagnosis, but I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that as the new spokeswoman for Novo Nordisk (a drug company I admire) Paula is going to make a difference in the giant world of diabetes. I am willing to believe that we’ll see good things, not just drug pushing in the months to come.
I know those are big assumptions. But we’re talking about Paula Deen, a woman who went from nothing to everything. She’s captured the attention of millions and millions of people. If she’s given bad advice in the past, she now has the power to undo it and use her influence to put people on the path to better health. Paula must want to do this, otherwise why would she come out with her diagnosis at all? She’s smart enough to know that ridicule would come with her diabetes announcement. Surely she anticipated the finger-pointing and blame that would come her way. And she still had the courage to do it. Well funded courage, but courage nonetheless.
I’ve never seen Paula Deen’s show, nor have I ever been interested in her until now. I’ve never tried her recipes. The only thing I can say about them after clicking through her website for a few minutes is that they don’t seem any worse to me than those of the very, very popular Pioneer Woman who, like Paula, can be seen on the Food Network. (Have you seen the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Dr. Pepper shredded pork? It contains two cans of Dr. Pepper and two tablespoons of brown sugar… and it’s a main course, not dessert!)
But does it help in any way to blame Paula or the Pioneer Woman for America’s obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemic? Not really. At least they’re at home cooking and encouraging people to cook. That’s a step or two above McDonald’s. And at least they’re honest. Paula Deen’s sweet tea, which she claims to have given up since diabetes, contains just under a tablespoon of sugar, according to the New York Times. Sweet tea is what it is. The name says it all. Compare that now to a container of Yoplait yogurt. You think Yoplait is healthy, right? It says 99% fat free on the front of the container. That makes you think it’s good for you. But one itty bitty container of Yoplait yogurt has 33 grams of carb, 26 of which are sugar. 26 grams of sugar! That’s over two tablespoons. (The light version has 20 grams of carb, 15 of which are sugar.) The so-called healthful yogurt has more than twice as much sugar as Paula’s sweet tea. Yoplait and companies like it, not Paula Deen, are the ones screwing with our heads.
Before we laugh at Paula Deen, let’s give her a chance. There’s nothing funny about diabetes and often the people suffering from it, or at high risk, are hard to reach. Education is scare. People don’t understand just how dangerous diabetes is, and also how well it can be managed. Paula has an audience with an appetite and she’s got Big Pharma funding. If she can get people to soak up diabetes information, give up sweet drinks and walk a mile a day, she may very well prevent them from getting diabetes. Paula Deen, if you’re reading this, please don’t underestimate your power. You can get in where doctors can’t. You can save toes, eyes, and kidneys. You can save lives.
The Paula Deen persona America loves doesn’t speak to me. I’m a serious low-carber who weighs 90 pounds, exercises, and has never had a taste for burgers, let alone Paula’s burgers covered in bacon and eggs. And unlike Paula, I’ve gone far from my southern roots. But what does speak to me is change. I’m betting on Paula. I’m counting on her. If she doesn’t come through, I’ll have to eat these words. My words, fortunately, are both calorie and carb-free.