Q: Paula Deen adds butter by the stick to her meals. Did she get diabetes because of her diet?
A: Deen’s recipes are high in saturated fat, which triggers inflammation and can lead to insulin resistance. But the way she cooks is not the only reason she developed the disease, says dietitian Amy Campbell, RD, a certified diabetes educator at Joslin Diabetes Center. Many hereditary and lifestyle factors—high cholesterol or blood pressure, inactivity, and family history—can raise your chances. “While being overweight may have triggered diabetes, she had to have it in her background,” explains Geralyn Spollett, president of health care and education at the American Diabetes Association. People with diabetes should get less than 7 percent of calories from saturated fat, or about 15 grams per day (one tablespoon of butter has 7 grams).
Q: I read that Deen ditched her staple sweet tea after her diagnosis. Is that because sugar causes diabetes?
A: Sugar doesn’t “give” you diabetes, but there’s one caveat: A study presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions last year found that women who drank two or more sugary drinks a day, even if they were a normal weight, were more likely to develop abnormal levels of fasting glucose—a sign of diabetes. “Liquid sugar may work differently from other sugar,” explains Campbell. “It seems to start a cycle that increases dangerous visceral fat, which can lead to metabolic syndrome, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.” Be mindful of how many sugary beverages you sip, especially if you have other diabetes risk factors, advises Campbell.
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Q: Preaching portion control, Deen has said, “It’s not what you’re eating, but how much.” So can I enjoy whatever I want, if I have only a little?
A: “As a dietitian, I’m trained to tell you there’s no food you can never eat,” says Campbell. “While that’s true, you can’t eat whatever you want, whenever you want—even if it’s only a little. So if you want fried chicken or mac and cheese, you can have a small portion of it, but not often.” Most other times, it’s important to make healthy choices and balance nutrients. An easy way to do that: Divide your plate into sections. Fill half with vegetables (such as leafy greens, tomatoes, and carrots), use a quarter for a healthy carb (whole-grain pasta or rice), and add lean protein (chicken, sirloin, or fish) to the remaining quarter. Finish with a piece of fresh fruit.
Q: Deen is looking much thinner of late. Is there a goal weight I should aim for?
A: Shedding extra pounds is a primary strategy for reducing your risk of diabetes, says Spollett, but you don’t have to lose a lot. Studies have shown that dropping 5 to 7 percent of your weight—10 to 14 pounds for a 200-pound person—can significantly help reduce blood sugar. (It can also help improve blood pressure and cholesterol.)
Q: What food swaps has Deen made to her diet?
Deen shared her simple switches with People magazine: Before: "I was bad about missing breakfast." Now? Deen enjoys a fruit smoothie. Before: She indulged in potato chips. Now? She goes for a Greek salad. Before: She'd end a meal with cookies. Now? Deen has some sugar-free ice cream.
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Q: What does she stock up on to keep lean?
She told People: Parsley: "I have an herb garden and parsley is delicious in my dressings. It gives them the freshest taste." Greek Yogurt: "It's my son Bobby's go-to sub for sour cream and mayonaise, so I just bought some to try in my smoothies." Watermelon: "I adore it. Before bed, I sometimes have a bowl with kosher salt." Mustard: "I don't eat a lot of ketchup now because it's full of sugar. Mustard can be potent and strong in flavor."
Q: How is Deen balancing her meals?
“I’m arranging my plate differently,” she told Prevention magazine in May. "(Before) I would have had a lot of ham and just a little bit of squash. But the night before last, I had lots of squash, a little slice of ham, a nice serving of green beans and a tablespoon of fresh peas.” According to Huffington Post, Deen now has extra servings of salad and veggies and smaller portions of carbs. Additionally, she's been trying to walk 30 minutes a day.