Picture of Paula Deen eating

One of the Food Network’s biggest stars, Paula Deen, recently announced she had diabetes. Deen is well known for her Southern-style cooking, loaded with butter, heavy cream, sugar, sweet tea, bacon, beef, with just about all of it deep fried.

Deen is famous in the nutrition world for her obviously over-the-top (toxic and uber fattening), recipes, such as a bacon-cheeseburger on a Krispy Kreme donut.

It appears Deen has had her diabetes for a few years, during which time she’s continued to push frightfully unhealthy recipes. Recently, however, she signed a contract with the Danish pharmaceutical company, Novo Nordisk. Deen will be endorsing Victoza, which is a non-insulin injectable diabetes medication.

Deen and her two sons will be the faces of the campaign called “Diabetes in a New Light,” which lays out a plan that includes eating lighter foods, increasing exercise, and using pharmaceuticals to treat diabetes.

According to Deen, “I don’t blame myself.”

That’s because Paula Deen claims she’s always preached moderation – even in all of the foods she cooks and recipes she supplies the public. Because of this, Deen has no plans to change the way she cooks or alter her lifestyle in any significant way.

False Role Models

Does the public really need a “role-model” like Paula Deen? After all, she’s decided that rather than making health-supporting lifestyle choices, she’s going to just take a drug and let that control her diabetes.

Unfortunately, that’s a trend in this country – not just with diabetes, but with other diet induced health problems, as well. Why make food choices that support your entire health picture when you can pop a pill to get rid of the symptoms?

 

Picture of pills in a hand

When you get ill, as Paula Deen has done with her type 2 diabetes, it’s your body trying to tell you something and I’m pretty certain that message is never, “You need to take a pill.”

In our Western style of medicine, however, we support this notion that we can fix whatever ails us with pharmaceuticals – not lifestyle changes. Heartburn? Try Prilosec. Migraines? Try Imitrix.

Instead of listening to our body’s signals, we shut them down with medicine, never realizing that by refusing to alter our lifestyle to deal with the root issue of the problem, we’re driving ourselves deeper into bad health.

Diet is important, and our society as a whole refuses to acknowledge it except in the most cursory way. Over the past 50 years, there’s been an alarming rise in all kinds of illnesses that can be linked directly back to diet.

Which health conditions have these rising rates? Autoimmune disorders, asthma, food allergies, eczema, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and fibromyalgia, just to name a few.

These are lifestyle-driven illnesses that could be significantly altered by changing our diets to the type of food human beings are meant to eat: healthy, organic plant-based foods that provide all the nutrients and enzymes we need, keep our toxicity low and our body’s pH at appropriate levels.

The “Unhealthy” Food Network

The issue extends far beyond Paula Deen, however. Her network, the Food Network, is also pushing bad health. If you ever watch shows on the Food Network (and other channels that feature cooking shows), you’ll find they really only judge food on three criteria: taste, presentation, and creativity.

Unless you are watching a “healthy” cooking show, nutrition has nothing to do with it – and even on healthy cooking shows, nutrition takes a back seat to calories, taste, creativity, and presentation.

The problem is that food shouldn’t be about these three things. Foods for energy should be the basis of all diets. That’s its main purpose, yet as a society we give only minimal attention to how well it fuels the body. And the way the Western diet is structured has actually changed the human palate.

With all of the flavors in our food from added sugar, fat, salt, and chemicals, we’ve come to crave things that are sweet, salty, fatty, or artificially flavored. Many Americans no longer recognize how good, healthy food tastes. Networks like the Food Network have changed the conversation we have about food, moving away from food’s most important aspect.

Mainstream media does the same, making food into a cultural and social experience rather than what eating actually is: supplying fuel to our bodies.

America’s health is suffering for it, and I believe the Food Network and other channels bear some responsibility for our obesity crisis. If that seems a harsh indictment, consider the Food Network’s lineup, which includes Deen’s show, as well as many others such as Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Cupcake Wars, and Dessert First.

None of these shows stops to consider the nutritional value of the foods they glorify. Even the seemingly more innocuous Giada at Home features recipes such as “Frozen Banana Ice Cream Sandwiches”, which includes ingredients such as 1 pound of of chocolate chip cookie dough, 1 pint of ice cream, and 2 chocolate-toffee candy bars (that’s right, not 1 but 2!).

These are not recipes that anyone should be eating, let alone teaching their children and the next generation to eat by giving to them as “treats.”

Her first fan favorite recipe listed on the Food Network Site is “Roasted Beef Tenderloin with Basil-Curry Mayonnaise. Hey, it’s only 4 pounds of red meat served with 1 cup of mayonnaise, right?

Food has become a drug in this country with the culinary industry as its main pushers. Everywhere we go, we are assaulted with messages that show us images of unhealthy food.

Advertising messages and culinary shows tell us how much better our lives would be if we just ate such foods: steaks dripping with butter, gooey chocolate desserts, hamburgers with three meat patties and bacon.

The problem with this message is that it promises one thing and delivers another. The promise of the Food Network, Paula Deen, and the culinary industry at large is that if you eat such foods, you’ll have a pleased palate, a brilliant social life, and be happier in general.

Unfortunately, their food delivers more than you bargained for, including a heaping helping of poor health, which diminishes quality of life far more than any bacon burger on a donut will ever enhance it.

It is true that everyone is 100% responsible for their own choices. But I do wish there were more food programs out there that could support and teach people to eat healthier.

So what do you think? How do you feel about the culinary industry’s focus on flavor over health? What responsibility do networks like the Food Network have for our country’s health crisis?

Let’s discuss!

In Love and Health,

Kimberly

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New York Times Bestseller and Nutritionist