Highly acclaimed chef and restaurateur PAULA DEEN is battling a deadly disease – and insiders reveal why she’s kept the life-threaten­ing condition a secret from her fans.

The silver-haired, plus-size cook – who’s parlayed her flair for rich Southern cooking into a business empire – has been diagnosed with diabetes, The ENQUIRER has learned exclusively.

Despite her condition, Paula continues to tout butter-rich recipes with high-fat in­gredients that experts say can lead to diabetes – even though sources say she’s under doctors’ orders to steer clear of those foods.

Paula, 64, was diag­nosed with diabetes several years ago, says a family friend, but she continues to plug artery-clogging dishes like  “Lady’s Brunch Burger” – a hamburger topped with bacon and a fried egg and served on a glazed donut.

“When Paula was diagnosed with diabetes, I think she worried that if the secret got out it would make her look like a hypocrite,” a family friend told The ENQUIRER.

“Ironically, the very thing that made her rich and famous turned her into a poster child for what could happen if you follow in her footsteps!”

When The ENQUIRER called Paula to ask about her condition, her pub­licist refused to comment.

Experts blasted her for covering up her con­dition.

But insiders say there’s more to Paula’s diabetes cover-up.

All the details are ONLY in the ENQUIRER – still on sale!