Once again, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is going after restaurants, but this time there is evidence that their attack on choice may backfire, hurting the very people they profess to want to help.

In its July 1999 newsletter, CSPI quotes a researcher from Tufts University who says (yet again) that restaurants are responsible for people gaining weight. “The more often they ate out, the fatter they were.” Why? “Restaurants serve foods that are calorie-dense, palatable, varied and in large portions.” Translation: Restaurants offer generous servings of a large variety of tasty foods.

CSPI is well known for sacrificing flavor and selection for health. A CSPI lab technician once described a “[CSPI director] Michael Jacobson sandwich” as “a piece of lettuce between two pieces of bread.” CSPI’s latest newsletter claims that “a variety of foods may be the dieters enemy… Lack of variety may help some people lose weight.” But a recent study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that restricting children’s access to foods that they want may lead to over-indulgence when they are free to make their own choices – a concept known as the “forbidden fruit” effect.

CSPI’s “no fat” approach to eating may also have unintended consequences. The Los Angeles Times once described CSPI as “at the forefront of the movement that has embraced a low-fat diet as if it was a holy writ.” New research shows that a diet stripped of fat leaves people unsatisfied (not unlike a diet stripped of flavor and variety, one would guess). “A little fat helps you lose weight,” said Dr. Mary Flynn, a nutritionist affiliated with Brown University. “Fat makes food taste good, and it makes you feel full. Taste is vital to the success of any diet.”