Paula Deen Announces She Has Diabetes

TV chef Paula Deen—the queen of deep-fried Southern cooking—joins Halle Berry, Randy Jackson, Dick Clark and 28.5 million other Americans in battling diabetes. 

The Daily reported last week that the Food Network star--famed for artery-clogging fare as deep-fried macaroni and cheese—wrapped in bacon—would soon come clean about a “big fat secret," her type 2 diabetes diagnosis. Deen just announced the diabetes news with Today’s Al Roker.

Rumors about Deen’s diabetes first surfaced in April when both the National Enquirer and The Daily Mail reported that the bestselling cookbook author was keeping her disorder hidden due to concerns that it would harm her career. However, learning that she has a disease strongly linked to obesity and unhealthy eating would hardly shock fans who have watched her prepare such belly-busters as egg-and-bacon-topped burgers served between two glazed donuts.

Deen, who has described butter as “a little stick of smiles and happiness,” has already come under fire for the lavish amounts of fat and sugar in her cooking. Now that the diva of the deep fryer has confirmed a diabetes diagnosis, what might be ahead for her? Here’s a look at a disease that’s predicted to affect in one in three Americans in coming years if current trends continue.

Use these 7 diabetes tips to manage your condition

What triggers type 2 diabetes? 

While the cause isn’t fully understood, type 2 diabetes starts when the body becomes insensitive to insulin, a hormone that acts like a key to let sugar—the body’s main source of fuel—into cells. This forces the pancreas to pump out higher and higher amounts of insulin, to try to keep up with demand. Ultimately, the pancreas becomes exhausted and blood sugar rises, leading to diabetes. A diet that’s high in saturated fats—such as the deep-fried dishes that figure prominently in Deen’s cooking—also increase insulin resistance.

Who’s at risk? 

Like Paula Deen, about 90 percent of people who develop type 2 diabetes are overweight. And the more belly fat you have, the more likely you are to develop insulin resistance. A particular danger zone is a waist circumference of more than 35 inches for a woman and 40 inches for a man.

Other risk factors include family history, a couch potato lifestyle, age (risk rises significantly after age 45), and ethnicity, with African-Americans and Hispanics, Native Americans and Asian Americans facing a greater threat of the disease. Women who have had gestational diabetes during pregnancy or who have given birth to babies weighing over 9 pounds are also at higher risk.

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What are the symptoms? 

One-third of the 28.5 million Americans with diabetes and the 87 million with pre-diabetes (an earlier stage) don’t know it because the disease may not cause symptoms until serious complications set in.

Warning signs include increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, blurred vision, slow-healing wounds, and frequent infections, such as gum infections, bladder infections, or yeast infections.

How dangerous is diabetes? 

The disease triples the danger of heart attacks and strokes. Other complications, particularly if diabetes goes undiagnosed and untreated, include kidney damage, nerve damage, blindness, foot infections and lower leg amputation.

Recent research suggests that high blood sugar may also boost for Alzheimer’s disease in diabetes with a certain gene. A 2011 study linked high blood sugar to increased risk for colon cancer.

Read about how diet affects your children's risk of diabetes

What’s the best test to check for diabetes? 

The American Diabetes Association (ADA) considers the oral glucose tolerance test the “gold standard” for diabetes detection. After an overnight fast, you’ll drink a sugary liquid, with blood samples taken at timed intervals to measure sugar levels. The ADA also recommends the A1C blood test, which measures your average blood sugar level for the past two to three months. Have your blood sugar checked every three years, starting at age 45, or at a younger age if you are overweight with at least one other risk factor.

Is there a diabetes diet? 

There’s no specific diet advised for everyone with the disease. However, large studies show that focusing on low-fat, high-fiber foods—such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains—is the healthiest plan for diabetes.

Figuring out the what to eat can be complex for people who are newly diagnosed, so doctors advise working with a registered dietician to develop a meal plan that takes health goals, food preferences and lifestyle into account.

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What’s the treatment?

Along with a healthy diet, therapies for type 2 typically include medication—which can include both diabetes drugs and statins to reduce heart disease risk--exercising at least 150 minutes per week, and weight loss. Deen may want to take cooking lessons from such chefs as Art Smith, who shed a whopping 85 pounds after getting a diabetes diagnosis.

And if you have pre-diabetes, a review of 28 previous studies, published in Health Affairs this month, finds losing 5 to 7 percent of your body weight (10 to 12 pounds if you weight 200), coupled with stepping up exercise and improving your eating habits, cuts the risk of progressing to full-blown diabetes by 50 percent.

Will Deen now revamp her famously fatty recipes to trim down calories? And if so, will her fans be willing to give up deep-fried Twinkies and eat more veggies? Stay tuned to see what the TV chef dishes up next.

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