(CBS/AP) Paula Deen, the Southern belle of butter and heavy cream, waited three years to disclose that she has diabetes, as she continued to dish up deep-fried cheesecake and other high-calorie, high-fat recipes on TV. And she makes no apologies.
She said she isn't changing the comfort cooking that made her a star - though it isn't clear how much of it she'll continue to eat while she promotes health-conscious recipes along with a diabetes drug she's endorsing for a Danish company.
"I've always said, 'Practice moderation, y'all.' I'll probably say that a little louder now," Deen said Tuesday after revealing her diagnosis on NBC's "Today" show. "You can have diabetes and have a piece of cake. You cannot have diabetes and eat a whole cake."
But health activists and even one fellow chef are not pleased, calling Deen a hypocrite for promoting an unhealthy diet - along with a drug to treat its likely effects. Deen announced support of the Novo Nordisk company to a collection of lucrative endorsements that include Smithfield ham and Philadelphia Cream Cheese.
Deen, who will turn 65 on Thursday, said she kept her diagnosis private as she and her family figured out what to do, probably about her health and a career built on Southern cooking. What do her recipes include? A deep-fried cheesecake covered in chocolate and powdered sugar, and a quiche that calls for a pound of bacon.
"I really sat on this information for a few years because I said, 'Oh, my gosh, what am I going to do about this? Is my life fixing to change? Am I no longer going to like my life?" she asked. "I had to have time to adjust and soak it all in and get up all the information that I could."
Deen, who lives in Savannah, Ga., has made some lifestyle changes, including cutting out sweet tea and taking up treadmill walking.
Government doctors say that being overweight (as Deen is), over 45 (as Deen is) and inactive (as Deen was) increase the risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Growth of the disease in the U.S. has been closely tied to escalating obesity rates. Approximately 23 million Americans are estimated to have the most common Type 2 diabetes, in which patients' bodies either do not produce enough insulin or do not use it efficiently, allowing excess sugar, or glucose, to accumulate in the blood.
Deen is contributing diabetes-friendly recipes to the website for Novo Nordisk's new online program, Diabetes in a New Light. How do they compare to her original recipes on The Food Network? On the diabetes-conscious site, she uses extra-lean ground beef and cans of unsalted tomato sauce and diced tomatoes. On The Food Network's site, her fried chicken recipe includes Crisco shortening for frying, and baked French Toast casserole with two cups of half-and-half and a half-pound of butter.
Chef Anthony Bourdain is not a fan. He told 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."
In Yuba, Wis., Judd Dvorak watches Deen cook on TV all the time with his wife. He said it's wrong for Deen to accept money to become a paid spokeswoman for a diabetes drug after espousing a cooking style that helps lead to diabetes.
"It would be like someone who goes on TV and brags about how wonderful it is to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and then when he or she gets lung cancer becomes a paid spokesperson for nicotine patches," Dvorak said. "I feel it is in very poor taste and if she chose to become an unpaid spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association, that would be a better way for her to make a difference and help fight this horrible disease."
"I am who I am," Deen said. "I think the South gets a bad rap sometimes, saying our food is very unhealthy, but frankly I don't think that's the case. I think it's like any other food, whether it be Italian, French, Cajun. They all can be very high in calories and that's where we have to practice portion control and moderation."
Morley said the company didn't know Deen had diabetes when it approached her about promoting the new health initiative.
"We really just wanted to ask her, `Hey, Paula, do you think we could challenge you to change up some of your recipes and make them diabetes-friendly," Morley said. "And her reply was, `How did you guys know I had diabetes?'"
It was a surprise to the Food Network as well. Network officials found out only last week, said spokesman Jesse Derris.
"As part of the Food Network's family, our only concern is for Paula's health. We will continue to support her as she confronts this new challenge, taking her lead on what future episodes will offer her fans," he said.
Some health experts question the delay between the time Deen was diagnosed with diabetes and her move three years later to promote a healthier way of cooking and living.
"A more responsible approach would have been that once she was diagnosed with diabetes to really emphasize to her viewers the importance of eating a healthy diet," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.