A woman who knows Paula Deen –– inventor of the Krispy Kreme Burger and other calorie-packed dishes –– thinks the controversy over the celebrity cook’s diabetes announcement is a bunch of baloney.

A woman who knows Paula Deen –– inventor of the Krispy Kreme Burger and other calorie-packed dishes –– thinks the controversy over the celebrity cook’s diabetes announcement is a bunch of baloney.


Lisa Smith of Springfield, Ill., is a longtime fan of Deen’s who has dined with the star in her Savannah, Ga., home.


“I think she’s being unfairly criticized. It took a lot of guts for her to go public with this,” said Smith. She and her husband, Ken, got an invitation to the Deen home in October 2010 after donating to a Savannah women’s shelter for which Deen was raising funds.


TV’s doyenne of Southern cooking announced last week on the “Today” show that she has known for three years she has Type 2 diabetes. She is launching a gig as spokeswoman for drug company Novo Nordisk and its drug Victoza, an injectable medication that helps lower blood sugar in Type 2 diabetics. Other endorsements have included Smithfield hams and Philadelphia cream cheese.


The Food Network host has been roundly criticized on social media sites, portrayed as a hypocrite who waited until the rumor mill outed her before going public with her diabetes, which isn’t helped by the sugar and heavy cream that are staples of her recipes. On top of that, she’s now benefiting financially from having a disease that her eating may have contributed to.


“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,” TV chef Anthony Bourdain told Eater.com.


“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.


Being overweight is a risk factor for Type 2 diabetes, and about 23 million Americans have the most common form of it. People with the disease either do not make enough insulin or they use it inefficiently, allowing excess sugar, or glucose, to accumulate in the blood.


To be fair, classic Southern cooking is heavy food, and the public may not want to see it lightened. It can be argued that Deen, 65, gives her audience what it wants. Smith agrees.


“I don’t have Type 2 diabetes, so why should I cook like that? Why would I want recipes that are for her illness?” asked Smith, who owns all of Deen’s cookbooks and magazines.


Smith said celebrities have no obligation to reveal medical conditions. And she thinks patients should be given space to deal with the impact of a medical diagnosis.


“Sometimes we need time to get all the information we can and to deal with it within our family. Nobody knows the impact of having a disease until you sit there,” Deen said.


The dinner the Smiths shared with Deen included butter and parmesan-grilled oysters, a seafood boil, smoked chicken, coleslaw, Key lime pie with whipped cream and chocolate-pecan cobbler with ice cream. Smith said she didn’t notice what Deen ate that evening, which would have been after Deen learned she had diabetes but before she went public with it.


“When we were there, I said, ‘You look so much thinner in person,’ and she did say, I’m trying to change my life and lose some weight,” Smith said.


Deen said on “Today” that she has always preached moderation.


Bobby Dean, the star’s son, debuted a Cooking Channel show this month, “Not My Mama’s Meals.” On it, he re-creates some of his mother’s dishes with substitutions that cut calories and fat.


“I think everybody is being very hard on a very human person,” Smith said about the celebrity. “There’s nothing fake about Paula. She would do anything for any charity, and no one in the news media talks about that.”


Food editor Kathryn Rem can be reached at kathryn.rem@sj-r.com.