Queen of comfort cuisine Paula Deen confirmed to Al Roker Tuesday that she has type-2 diabetes.
In her first broadcast interview discussing the disease, Deen said she intentionally kept the diagnosis secret after discovering she had it during a routine physical three years ago. “I came home, I told my children, I told my husband, I said, ‘I’m gonna keep this close to my chest for the time being’ because I had to figure out things in my own head,” she told Roker on TODAY.
Rumors that the 64-year-old Southern cook suffers from the disease have been persistent. The National Enquirer first reported the diagnosis in April 2010. Deen neither confirmed nor denied the reports – until now.
“I’m here today to let the world know that it is not a death sentence,” said the Food Network star, who is now being paid as a spokesperson for Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical company that supplies her diabetes medication. Coinciding with her announcement, Deen and her family are appearing in a new ad campaign for the company this month.
The news puts a spotlight on Deen, who has been criticized for promoting the type of high-fat, high-sugar diet that leads to weight gain – a major factor believed to cause type-2 diabetes. Deen said her reputation wasn't the reason she kept the diagnosis under wraps. "I wanted to bring something to the table when I came forward," she explained.
When asked about whether she will make a change in how she cooks on her show, “Paula’s Best Dishes,” Deen didn't give a direct answer, instead encouraging viewers to practice moderation.
“Here’s the thing, you know, I’ve always encouraged moderation,” she said. “On my show, you know, I share with you all these yummy, fattening recipes, but I tell people 'in moderation... You can have that little piece of pie ...'"
Deen told USA Today that since the diagnosis, she walks on the treadmill and quit drinking sweet tea. "That's a big trick for a little Southern girl," she told the paper. "I calculated how much sugar I drank in empty calories, and it was staggering. I would start drinking tea at lunchtime and drank it all the way to bedtime."
When asked by Roker about changes to her own diet, The Lady & Sons restaurateur emphasized her moderation mantra.
"I have always eaten in moderation," she said. "You know, people see me on TV two or three times a day and they see me cooking all these wonderfully Southern, fattening dishes. That’s only 30 days out of 365," she said. "And it’s for entertainment. And people have to be responsible. Like I told Oprah a few years ago, honey, I’m your cook, not your doctor. You are going to have to be responsible for yourself."
Deen, who told TODAY.com last year that she couldn’t do without butter or a deep-fryer, was called out by fellow food personality Anthony Bourdain in a TV Guide article for being “the worst, most dangerous person to America," who "revels in her unholy connections with evil corporations" and is "proud of the fact that her food is f---ing bad for you."
Deen responded, telling the New York Post, “Anthony Bourdain needs to get a life.” Positioning herself as relatable to the home cook, she added, "Not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills."
Bourdain, who says he was flooded by requests for quotes after news of Deen’s announcement leaked, shared his reaction with Eater.com. “When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut, and you've been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you've got type 2 diabetes... It's in bad taste if nothing else.”
While Deen will continue cooking her fatty comfort meals on her show, her son Bobby has been promoting lower-calorie versions of his mom’s recipes (sans the butter and heavy cream), with his new Cooking Channel show, “Not My Mama’s Meals.”
More on Paula Deen: