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Celebrity Chef Paula Deen Comes Out as Drug-Endorsed Diabetic

Allegra Tepper |
January 21, 2012 | 7:19 p.m. PST

Senior Reporter

After three years, Paula Deen has finally come clean about her diagnosis, but only after a big-ticket endorsement. (Creative Commons)
After three years, Paula Deen has finally come clean about her diagnosis, but only after a big-ticket endorsement. (Creative Commons)
The Food Network's Butter Queen Paula Deen confirmed rumors this week that she has Type 2 Diabetes. The announcement coincides with an endorsement deal from pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, the makers of Deen's noninsulin injection, Victoza. 

The diagnosis doesn't come as a surprise to fans or skeptics. After all, Deen is the woman behind "The Lady's Brunch Burger" --that is, a bacon cheeseburger between two glazed donut buns. But a loud peanut gallery chorus is unified in its frustration that it took this long for Deen to come clean. 

"I made the choice at the time to keep it close to me, to keep it close to my chest," Deen told USATODAY in her first interview about the disease. "I felt like I had nothing to offer anybody other than the announcement. I wasn't armed with enough knowledge. I knew when it was time, it would be in God's time."

The multimillion dollar empress with a rags-to-riches story for the books insists that the delay in talking about her diagnosis had nothing to do with fears of damaging her reputation.

"That was not why," she told USATODAY in that same interview. "My knowledge about the disease was very limited. But now I'm coming with good information, something that can help and bring hope to other people. It may sound cliché, but it's the God-honest truth."

Together with the drug company, Deen has launched a website, Diabetes in a New Light, with the intention of helping fellow diabetics manage their lifestyles. 

As for her own lifestyle, Deen told CBS she's making serious changes: taking walks and cutting down on sweet tea, "a big deal for a southern girl." She's also working with sons Jamie and Bobby on creating lighter versions of some of her classic recipes for people with the disease. Granted, it might be hard to revamp a deep-fried cheesecake for the health-conscious.

Deen once quipped on her show that "butter is probably the fruit I love to eat the most." Now, according to Dr. Loren Greene, who has been studying diabetes at NYU's Langone Medical Center for 20 years, says the star is "getting paid for her hypocrisy."

World-renowned Spanish chef José Andrés, who is often credited with making tapas popular in the States, says blame shouldn't be thrust upon Deen, but rather The Food Network.

"It's not like Paula Deen is the cause of diabetes in America," he told CBS. "The Food Network should be doing more to send the right message." 

In addition to the television network, he said that this should be a red flag for movie theaters, baseball stadiums, and other venues that serve and encourage poor culinary habits. 

"The TV shows are only the tip of the iceberg," he said. "I'm at least happy the issue is coming forward."

It's far from the first time Deen's held stake in the blame game. In 2009, the chef appeared on ABC's "The View" to promote "Paula Deen's Cookbook for the Lunchbox Set." Host Barbara Walters outright scolded Deen for her contributions to childhood obesity.

"This is a cookbook for kids," she said. "Obesity is the No. 1 problem for kids today. Everything you have here is enormously fattening. You tell kids to have cheesecake for breakfast. You tell them to have chocolate cake and meatloaf for lunch. And french fries. Doesn't it bother you that you're adding to this?"

Deen's response to Walter's criticism and that which she faces today is the same: it's all about moderation. And whether her cookbooks, restaurants, and television recipes have shown any regard for it in the past, she insists that it will become a more constant theme in her kitchen.

She said, "I suspect I'll stick to my roots but will say a little louder, 'Eat this in moderation.'" 

Reach reporter Allegra Tepper here.

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