The year before he died of lung cancer, actor Yul Brynner taped a commercial for the American Cancer Society. "Now that I'm gone," he pleaded into the camera, "I tell you: Don't smoke, whatever you do, just don't smoke." He didn't want anyone else to end up like him.
Celebrity chef Paula Deen, known for using doughnuts to bun her bacon-and-egg burgers, could have used her diabetes diagnosis in the same way, in hopes that others wouldn't make the same mistakes. Instead, she announced yesterday, she is partnering "with a reputable pharmaceutical company" as spokesperson for a $500-a-month diabetes drug (with side-effects that may include pancreatitis and thyroid cancer). Instead of withdrawing her endorsements for Smithfield ham and Philadelphia cream cheese, Paula Deen just added another to the list. It would be as if Yul Brynner's last breaths were instead spent hawking chemo.
Diabetes is the leading cause of kidney failure, nontraumatic amputations, and new cases of blindness. Currently it's the 7th leading cause of death in the United States. The good news Paula could have given to the millions of diabetics and prediabetics is that type 2 diabetes can be prevented, managed, treated, and even cured with a plant-based diet. A prospective study of nearly 20,000 vegetarians and vegans published recently found that even after controlling for obesity (and exercise, age, gender, education, income, television watching, sleep, alcohol use, and smoking), those that ate plant-based diets had just a fraction of the diabetes risk. See How to Prevent Diabetes, How to Treat Diabetes, and my other 20 videos on diabetes. Good books on the subject include Dr. Neal Barnard's Program for Reversing Diabetes and Defeating Diabetes.
When the "The Galloping Gourmet" chef Graham Kerr's wife and childhood sweetheart suffered a stroke, he changed his tune and became a champion for healthier cooking. It is too bad Paula Deen missed this opportunity to embrace healthier Southern traditions, like collard greens and black eyed peas, and instead just chose to add a pharmaceutical side-dish to her deep-fried butter balls.
-Michael Greger, M.D.