Do They Enjoy Really Being Dinner Party Don’t-Invite-’ems? : They Pointed Out the Perils of Popcorn, Chinese Food, Even the Unassuming Tuna Salad Sandwich. But What Really Goes On Inside the Center for Science in the Public Interest?

The staff of about 45 are for the most part slim, fit, and young. They are compelled to follow a strict no-junk-food-in-the-office rule that was set down by Jacobson as a way to keep reporters from playing “gotcha.” In the office lunchroom, there are cases of Bluebird orange juice instead of sodas. A giant metal bowl holds fat-free graham crackers. The refrigerator is crammed with bag lunches–salads and healthy-looking leftovers in plastic containers–and there must be a dozen fat-free salad dressings. One jar of regular Hellmann’s mayonnaise stands alone, with barely a teaspoonful missing, clearly the remnant of a study past.

The staff seems used to this type of inspection, and nobody flinches when queried not just about their work but also about their eating habits, height, weight, cholesterol level and what their kids eat for snacks.

Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director and chief interpreter of food science for the hungry and hurting masses who read the Nutrition Action Healthletter, has three young children whom she tries to keep on the dietary straight-and-narrow except when they attend birthday parties.

“I’m not going to send a note that says ‘Hannah can’t eat ice cream,’ ” says Liebman of her 8-year-old daughter. “If you deny children certain food it becomes an obsession.”

But Liebman, 42, sees the wisdom in adults’ striking some foods from their regular diets. “If people just ate fettucine Alfredo once in a while it would be one thing,” says Liebman. “But no: it’s a doughnut for breakfast, a burger for lunch, topped off by fettucine for dinner.” Rather than consume these “bad” foods, people should use healthy substitutions. “We at CSPI created a subset of more health-conscious Americans who prefer SnackWell’s [a brand of low-fat cookies and crackers] over Oreos,” she says.

The center, in fact, has been at the forefront of the movement that has embraced a low-fat diet as if it was a holy writ. Liebman sees no point in changing course now, as some scientists have suggested, to warn only against saturated fats and leave the public alone about counting grams of other fats such as olive and peanut oil. It’s more practical, she says, to ask the public to lower its total fat consumption rather than ask Americans to totally change their way of eating.

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