Paula Deen: Butter is not the Culprit

Shelby Spees
Staff Writer

At the age of 61, Paula Deen, Food Network’s “Butter Queen,” was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes mellitus type 2, also known as “adult-onset diabetes,” is a disorder of the metabolism where the body’s insulin becomes less effective at lowering blood sugar levels, or the body just fails to produce enough insulin to convert the sugar into energy.

With modern medicine and the ever-growing diet industry, it should be easier than ever to stay healthy. But according to the American Diabetes Association, the opposite is happening, with 8.3 percent of the American population suffering from diabetes in 2011, and another 79 million people characterized as “pre-diabetic,” at a high risk for type 2 diabetes.

Why are so many people being diagnosed as diabetic? It’s a complicated issue, as Time Magazine’s Christine Gorman et al. writes in the 2003 article “Health: Why So Many Of Us Are Getting Diabetes.” Some overweight and obese people never have to deal with insulin sensitivity issues, while others suffer from type 2 diabetes despite having a healthy outward appearance. Two things that have demonstrated success across the board are a healthy diet and regular exercise, which, while probably not preventing the disease altogether, have consistently been shown to lessen diabetic symptoms or prevent a patient’s condition from worsening.

The trouble with this fact, however, is how to define a diet as “healthy,” or to determine which kind of exercise is best. As the booming diet industry and February’s empty gyms show, many people are simply lazy about a healthy lifestyle.

The average American eats 156 pounds of added sugar a year, says WebMD Weight Loss Clinic writer John Casey. This sugar comes from processed foods like soda, juice, cereal, snack foods and desserts, many of which contain high-fructose corn syrup. This cheap alternative to cane sugar is easy to over-consume, since it finds its way into many foods that don’t really need such sweetness. In fact, since the original response to America’s obesity epidemic was the low-fat foods trend, HFCS may have replaced healthy fats in an attempt to make low-fat food taste better.

The low-fat foods trend may have done more harm than good. In a 2009 peer-reviewed study by Risérus, et al., dietary fat was shown to be helpful in preventing adult-onset diabetes. “Taken together, the evidence suggests that replacing saturated fats and trans fatty acids with unsaturated (polyunsaturated and/or monounsaturated) fats has beneficial effects on insulin sensitivity and is likely to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.”

On top of this added sugar consumption, Americans eat carbohydrates left and right in the form of bread, rice, pasta, crackers and other foods. These complex carbs (yes, even whole grains) break down into simple sugars during digestion, which then flood the bloodstream and cause an insulin spike, inflammation and other problems, says Robb Wolf, author of the Paleo Solution Diet book.

Diets like Paleo, Primal and Keto are gaining recognition for faster weight loss, longer-lasting results and better overall health. Promoting a high-fat and low-carb lifestyle, proponents argue that sugar is a drug, if not a poison, and if Americans can end their sugar addiction and cook their grass-fed meat with healthy fats like coconut oil (or even butter) instead, the body can burn its body fat stores of energy and become a more efficient machine. The Paleolithic diet, which is described as the “original human diet” of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables and nuts (avoiding grains, dairy and legumes) has been shown to reverse the effects of diabetes in a 2007 study by Lindeberg, et al.

For an obese smoker with a high-carb diet, Paula Deen’s fatty treats probably kept her alive more than they killed her. This is especially demonstrated by the fact that she was not diagnosed with type 2 diabetes until the ripe age of 61, while childhood obesity is causing type 2 diabetes to appear more and more in children, says the Mayo Clinic.

While Deen’s shady pharmaceutical dealings leave a bad taste in many a mouth, let us not blame under-appreciated food groups like meat and healthy fats. Of course, the hardest part of staying healthy is giving up those sweet treats we all love.


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  2. Seriously. I’ve been saying this since the news came out. Didn’t *anyone* find it odd that with all the junk Deen eats and encourages on her cooking show, that she wasn’t diagnosed til age 61? And it wasn’t an oversight. She’s a celebrity and can afford a doctor for annual checkups. If she’d been diabetic earlier than age 61, they’d have found it when it happened.

    And it isn’t just fat in general that is protective. I really think it’s the animal fats. We’re eating less animal fat as a percentage of our fat intake than we ever have, and I don’t think the skyrocketing cases of obesity and type 2 diabetes are a coincidence.

    My mother can’t afford butter, probably doesn’t even like it (people habituated to margarine their entire lives tend to find butter off-putting, at least at first), and eats a lot of vegetable oil as a percentage of her diet. Her diet is also heavy in sugar and starch. And she was diagnosed 21 years earlier in her lifespan than Deen was in hers. And last I saw Mom’s blood sugar diary, her numbers were totally out of control. Doubtless her doctor thinks it’s because she’s not starving herself and exercising enough. It never occurs to most of them that if your insulin’s no longer working to take your blood sugar down or if you aren’t producing any at all, maybe you should prevent the high blood sugars from the *front* end–by policing what goes into your mouth.

    And of course of those who do think diet helps, what do they cut? The fat. Last I checked diabetes of either type is a disease of *sugar* metabolism. Sigh.

  3. Butter is not the culprit only if you talk about real butter from animal fat not from plants. Plants fat is cheeper than real and butter producers very common use that type of fat.

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