The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has long been an advocate of controversial food policies. Since the 1970s they have attracted media attention to many of their campaigns. Two reports brought my attention back to CSPI. The first was an article in The National about the history of popcorn which mentions the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). CSPI’s demonization of coconut oil caused many movie theaters across America to replace it with less healthy vegetable oils and to stop using butter. The pressure to change was bad because the charges against coconut oil were untrue and the butter and coconut oil were the most nutritious ingredients in the popcorn.
The second article, in the Kansas City Star, reveals more recent CSPI advice that’s still not in the public interest. To celebrate Food Day on October 24, Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, recommends six unhealthy foods you should remove from your diet. Note: Food Day was founded by the CSPI. He also recommends “nutritious” replacements. Let’s look at the better recommendations first, such as replacing soft drinks and sugary drinks with milk and water—that’s good, if the milk is whole and raw. He also recommends replacing packaged and restaurant foods with home-cooked meals—that’s mostly good if the home cook knows how to prepare real foods, and many no longer know how. And he recommends replacing refined sugar with raw honey and other natural sweeteners—that would be better choice as long as natural sweeteners are used in moderation. He recommends grass-fed beef replacing corn and grain-fed beef—that’s also very good and he gives the right reasons, too. Another good recommendation is to replace white bread with whole grains, good, but he overdoes the whole grains by saying “Fill your diet with whole grains . . . and you might feel less hungry.”
However, Jacobson offers some very bad advice, the worst being a heavy condemnation of salt, saying “Salt is the single most harmful substance in our diet.” REALLY? The single most harmful substance? What about MSG (he does includes MSG as another source of salt to be avoided), trans fats and other bad fats, pesticides, GMOs, unfermented soy? Aren’t those worse? If he had qualified his statement condemning salt by saying excessive consumption of processed, refined salt is bad, he could have been closer to the truth; however, salt is not only not the most harmful substance we eat, it is essential to life. Without salt we die. If we avoid processed foods and fast food restaurants and salt our real food to taste with unrefined sea salt, such as Celtic Sea Salt, then salt is not bad, in fact, it is good for our health and our taste.
Another bad recommendation–replace processed meats with fish (yes, that’s good) and vegetarian foods (not so good). The kinds of vegetarian foods he recommends are veggie burgers, i.e., fake meat, that, according to Jacobson, “have the feel and taste of a hamburger but are much, much lower in saturated fat.” He’s another health “expert” who hasn’t heard about the study released by American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. [See my previous post, Analysis Shows No Association of Saturated Fat With Cardiovascular Disease for the latest on saturated fats.] Why not replace processed meats with grass-fed beef, pastured chicken, etc., instead of ‘fake meat’ in the form of veggie burgers?
CSPI has great influence on dietary policies and practices across the nation which should require from them a higher standard of background research and truth for their recommendations. CSPI has been the instigator for changes in the nation’s eating habits that have been very harmful to our health. Dr. Mary Enig, a Ph.D. nutritionist and expert on the dangers of trans fats, says that the blame for the prevalence of trans fats falls largely on Jacobson. In 1989, CSPI put pressure on fast food restaurants to switch from beef tallow and palm oil to vegetable oils (trans fats) to cook French fries. In a 1988 newsletter, CSPI said that “the charges against trans fat just don’t hold up.” [CSPI did later reverse its approval of trans fats.] Fragile vegetable oils should never be used for high temperature cooking because, when heated, they turn into toxic compounds, including trans fats. All vegetable oils and all products made with vegetable oils contain trans fats. They react with oxygen to generate free radicals which damage our arteries and other body tissues and generate inflammation, while, at the same time, they reduce the nutrients found in the foods. So why would CSPI pressure restaurants to switch from a fat, beef tallow, that can handle heat well to vegetable oil that is so badly damaged by heat that it is harmful to our bodies? That’s the question, why do they continue to make harmful dietary recommendations that hurt our whole nation without doing the in-depth research to determine the truth? Here’s what some research turned up about CSPI . . .
According to Wikipedia, CSPI was founded in 1971 by current executive director Michael Jacobson and two co-workers at Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law. CSPI has relied on letters to the FDA, lawsuits, and demonstrations to accomplish its goals. It has targeted common foods such as meats, dairy, and alcohol. Jacobson is a vegetarian and has said that proper nutrition “means eating a more plant-based diet . . .It means getting your fats from plants (vegetable oils and nuts) and fish, not animals (meats, milk, cheese, and ice cream).” He says “that people can’t be trusted to make wise and healthful decisions on their own.” [For more information about the myth of better health through vegetarianism, see Twenty-Two Reasons Not to Go Vegetarian.] Many sources believe that CSPI alters data and misstates study results to support its goals. CSPI shows a history of ignoring the truth and doesn’t show much evidence of “science” based research for their proclamations.
My conclusion: due to the harm they have already caused to our health, we should view all of their campaigns and recommendations carefully and skeptically. Their use of the phrase “in the Public Interest” is completely misleading. Their recommendations are not in the public interest. Using the word “science” in their organization name indicates a respect for scientific truth that isn’t evident in CSPI campaigns. So the final question is why does such a flawed organization still get so much respect from the major media?