So in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of days (or simply haven’t turned on any news sources), Paula Deen, 64-year-old Southern-cook turned Food Network celebrity chef has been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. She’s kept the news on the down low for the past three years, but it made headlines as soon as Paula revealed that she has the condition on the Today Show a few days ago. Paula’s reluctance to alter her diet coupled with her endorsement of a diabetes drug, Victoza developed by the Danish drug company Novo Nordisk have both sparked a lot of heated discussion.
“Moderation”: An Excuse to Binge
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.” ~ Oscar Wilde
In her announcement on the Today show, Paula reminds us that diabetes can be triggered by a lot of different factors, including “genetics, lifestyle and stress.” But what about diet? Paula shies away from admitting that diet plays a huge role in disease development. Instead, she uses my favorite word when it comes to dieting (note my sarcasm): “moderation.” I’m sorry but saying you want to eat junk food in moderation just means that you want to make allowances for eating it more often than you would like to admit. Whenever someone I know says that they feel comfortable eating unhealthy foods “in moderation”, I tell them that unless they’re vigilant with their diet, what they think is moderate will become a lifestyle that allows junk into the body — and that this strategy never fails to bring disease along with it.
Sadly, even Paula’s attempts to be “healthier” are misguided. In this cooking segment on the Today show she, along with her two sons, also chefs, show us how to make a supposedly “lighter/healthier” lasagna. The focus points: use low-fat cheese instead of full-fat, lean beef (quality or source of beef is given no mention), egg whites instead of an extra egg, low-sodium tomato sauce, low-gluten pasta. None of the changes they have made are actually healthier! Instead of focusing on macro-nutrients like fat and dietary cholesterol – which have nothing to do with developing diabetes – they should have instead focused on the QUALITY of the foods, and reducing sugars and grains. Is the beef from grass-fed cows grazing on pesticide-free grass? Is the cheese from healthy cows and not processed in a way that oxides the healthy cholesterol therein? Are the eggs pastured? Is the tomato paste from organically grown tomatoes and packaged in glass? Is the pasta healthy at all – weather made of ‘whole grain’ or not? No to all of those! Paula’s use of low-quality ingredients that have been processed to reduce fat will not make anyone “healthier”!
I don’t expect Paula to know anything about nutrition and healthy eating. But what about the so-called diet experts and educated media pundits? Do they also know nothing? After being irritated with the speculations about healthy eating that have been thrown around as “facts”, I had to write a post to rectify some of the misinformation…
Butter is not the culprit!
Paula’s cooking is unhealthy, no doubt about it (donuts fried in rancid vegetable oils are disgusting!). But if someone else yells out “No wonder she got diabetes — it’s all the butter and fat!” once again, I’ll scream. Eating butter doesn’t have an impact on unmanaged insulin levels, which is the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes. When a person has diabetes, his or her body either does not produce enough insulin or has enough insulin but cannot use it because the body has grown resistant to it. In both cases, this results in excess sugar (blood glucose) accumulating in the bloodstream, making one hungry for more insulin-spiking foods (like sugar and grains), which are again not metabolized properly by the body. This unregulated insulin stores calories as fat, instead of burning them up as energy. Frequent carb-rich meals that aren’t nutrient-dense (for example, cereal and Tropicana orange juice for breakfast) spike blood sugar, and if done excessively, can lead to diabetes. Eating fat does NOT spike the blood sugar, and therefore keeps the person satiated for a longer period of time.
The Healthy Advocate has the right idea:
News reports are claiming that Paula Deen’s “high fat recipes” may be a cause to her possible diabetic diagnosis; however, natural fat from things like butter, coconut oil or lard has virtually no effect on insulin resistance. It is true that hydrogenated forms of these fats can be a contributor to a number diseases; natural fats like butter do not raise blood sugar levels or insulin.
In fact, fat slows down the break down of carbohydrates in the body, leading to a slow release of insulin. The cells are then not bombarded by an onslaught of insulin, which can weaken insulin receptors. Cells actually need dietary fats to provide stabilization to receptor sites. Natural fat also lowers the glycemic index of a meal, which is one of the reasons why coconut oil is promoted as a healthy fat.
Instead of butter, what should be vilified are the processed, artificial foods, refined carbohydrates – refined, processed grains (even those marketed as “healthy”) - and refined and artificial sugars … all ingredients that she has used copiously in her cooking. And yet, these nasties are given no attention and ‘butter’ continues to receive all the negative press.
Elevated Sugar/Carb Intake Responsible for Diabetes
I recently watched Fathead, a documentary uncovering the “big fat lie” we’ve been fed by the food industry (pun intended) regarding the supposed unhealthiness of saturated fat. While I have some serious issues with the documentary, to which I’ll dedicate review soon, I believe that the crux of the message that Tom Naughton shares makes sense scientifically. Take a look at the short segment from the movie below, which highlights the actual culprits behind unregulated insulin:
If you’ve watched this all the way through, you’ll understand that dietary cholesterol and fats (from good sources) have nothing to do with diabetes. Sugar and refined flour/grain are the real culprits. For a great analysis on the relationship between chronically elevated blood sugar and type 2 diabetes, take a look at Mark Sisson’s post over at Mark’s Daily Apple. Mark, author of The Primal Blueprint, advocates a diet rich in healthy proteins and saturated fats (from grass-fed animals), vitamins from fresh organic fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds. Many who followed these guidelines have reversed chronic conditions such as diabetes. Diabetes should not be seen a a lifelong chronic condition that requires harmful (and oftentimes unnecessary) medication, because it’s entirely reversible with a truly healthy diet and enough body movement!
Not All Butter is Created Equal
Michael Pollan, the famed food writer and author of Omnivore’s Dilemma, posted on his Facebook page that he has “taped an interview with Good Morning America about the Paula Deen ridiculousness; airing Friday am.” Looking forward to watching it! I’m not yet sure what he’ll say, but this is my comment on his status, which received 45 likes so far and counting:
Butter (and other animal products) from grass-fed/pastured animals never given hormones and not pumped with antibiotics IS healthy. Grass-fed butter is a healthy saturated fat that our body needs to function properly. Butter, bacon, eggs, meat, full-fat cheese – these are not things can can be labeled as ‘good or bad’ – the quality and source makes all the difference in their nutiritonal profile. A cow raised on pasture under the shining sun will not produce milk (and butter) that have the same nutritional profile as a GMO-grain-fed cow that is pumped with antibiotics to fatten it up, and is crammed into a confined feedlot where there’s no space to move and graze. And since we know that Paula “has lucrative endorsement contracts with big food companies including Smithfield Hams and Philadelphia Cream Cheese” – both industry giants that manage large CAFO operations, and have no relation to anything sustainable — it’s no surprise that she’s not focusing on the quality of the bacon and cheese that she’s using in her cooking. Quality though, makes all the difference … enough of a difference that either leads to health or disease.
Nature Is the Expert
Whatever the reason that prompted all this media exposure, the commentary and dialogue that has resulted from this has confirmed what I had always known to be true: The current conventional medical community and dietary “experts” know diddly squat about nutrition. And if the people who should know most know so little, then it shouldn’t surprise you that the majority of the population is so misinformed and confused about what it is exactly that they should eat for good health. Studies are always coming out proving and disproving the same thing. For example, at one point, the dietary cholesterol in eggs was thought to be bad and studies linked their consumption to high serum (blood) cholesterol, and then now, years later, studies have come out that show that dietary cholesterol isn’t really linked to cholesterol in the blood, and that there’s nothing bad or scary about eggs (yes, even – and especially – the yolks which have most of the nutrition!) Actually, here’s one study that shows how regular egg consumption can improve the blood glucose of type 2 diabetics. So Paula shouldn’t be skimping on the egg yolks!
This really isn’t about the studies though. I have given up on studies (read this excellent article to understand why I take them all with a grain of salt). I believe in time-tested nutrition (i.e. looking at human evolution). Considering all the innovations in food over the past century, lifestyle diseases have soared, and overall, human health has deteriorated. I don’t need a “scientific” study to prove to me that margarine made in a lab is going to clog my arteries and that butter produced from a grass-grazing cow is going to give me fat-soluble vitamins that I need. It makes sense — based on our evolution — that the natural, unprocessed foods are good for health, and processed foods aren’t!
In conclusion, I want to say that I love butter. I love cheese, and I love a good steak. And I’ve lost weight eating these things (along with organic vegetables and fruits)…. but I’m VERY picky about my sources. Grass-fed, local, unprocessed – it really makes all the difference! Here’s to hoping Paula gets the message soon and makes some real lifestyle changes that can improve her health! Until then, quit bashing her and gloating – that’s another thing that bothers me about the media coverage surrounding Paula Deen’s disease … We’re all here to learn about health and nutrition together!