Though better known for indulgent recipes such as Ooey Gooey Butter Cake, Deen has changed her recipe repertoire to feature lighter, healthier fare. Deen, 66, was diagnosed with diabetes three years before she made the news public.
During a recent promotional event at the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center in Orlando, Fla., the Savannah, Ga., native cooked up Chicken Fajitas, substituting wheat for corn tortillas and Greek yogurt for sour cream.
Looking trim in white cropped pants and a loose sweater, Deen explained what took her so long to spill her health news.
"I was heartbroken," Deen said. "I was in denial for 18 months. I loved my life and wondered, is my whole life going to have to change? I had umpteen cookbooks and a cooking show."
When the pharmaceutical Nova Nordisk, which makes diabetes drugs, called Deen and asked if she would create some diabetes-friendly recipes, she was stunned.
"I asked them, 'How did you all know I have diabetes. I haven't told anyone,'" she said.
Actually, the company didn't know. But that was the beginning of her public acknowledgement. Deen is now a spokeswoman for the company.
"It was wrong of her not to tell us," said Ana Mendiguren-Rodriquez, a nurse from Maitland, Fla., who was in the audience. "She had an obligation to her fans."
But Mendiguren-Rodriquez says Deen is doing the right thing now.
"I think people will listen because of who she is," Mendigueren-Rodriguez said. "She's showing by example."
The first thing Deen did was give up her sweet-tea habit. Then she worked on her portions.
"I thought I was practicing moderation when I had two biscuits instead of three," Deen said jokingly. "I still have biscuits. Just not as often and not as many."
She also changed "the architecture of my plate," making room for a lot more greens.
As a result, she's down 35 pounds and says she has 15 to go.
Acknowledging that much of the obesity and diabetes epidemic that is plaguing America is because of eating too much of the wrong foods, she conceded that it was time to rewrite the Southern cookbook.
"Yes! That's what I'm doing," she said.
Meanwhile, fans can prepare some of Deen's lighter recipes available at diabetesinanewlight.com.
In the United States, 26 million Americans have diabetes, a disease that is often related to diet and lifestyle. It contributes to more than 230,000 deaths a year, and is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, blindness and kidney disease.
Eating healthier and losing weight bring advantages that go beyond just looking and feeling better, Deen said.
"I can polish my own toes!" she said. "That makes me the happiest girl in town!"
Paula Deen’s strawberry and spinach salad
1 (10 to 12-ounce) package baby spinach, washed and dried
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1 quart strawberries, hulled and quartered
1 whole cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced
Juice of half a lemon (2 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon poppy seeds
In a large salad bowl, toss together the spinach, almonds, strawberries, and cucumber. In a small glass dish or jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, oil, and poppy seeds. Whisk in the glass dish or shake if using a jar. Dress the salad right before serving.
Nutritional information: Per serving (1 1/2 cups): 100 calories, 4 g fat (0 g saturated, 0 g trans), 0 mg cholesterol, 55 mg sodium, 15 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 3 g protein.
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