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What you should and shouldn’t drink

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Kai Ryssdal: Eating well — well, as in healthy — is getting easier. There are those calorie labels that are going on restaurant menus. And people are just more aware of things like fat content now, too. Drinks, though, are an entirely different thing. There are concoctions out there that pack as many calories as a Big Mac, and yet you’d never know it.

Dave Zinczenko is the editor in chief of Men’s Health magazine. He’s also the author of the latest installment of the “Eat This, Not That!” series, called “Drink This, Not That!” Dave, welcome to the program.

David Zinczenko: Kai, it’s great to be here.

Ryssdal: Any big surprises in this book, Dave?

Zinczenko: I mean, how about a vitaminwater with as much sugar as two Good Humor Eclair bars? That’s what you get with a Snapple Antioxidant Water.

Ryssdal: See, that’s crazy.

Zinczenko: It’s a lot. Traditional Lobsterita — this is a margarita Red Lobster with a twist — I mean, this is the equivalent of having two Wendy’s quarter-pound singles.

Ryssdal: I read some great statistic in a letter from the editor that you wrote in Men’s Health not too long ago: American men drink 460 more calories per day than they did 20, 30 something years ago.

Zinczenko: Yeah. So imagine that. Imagine if you could lose 23 pounds in a year without ever changing the way you eat or by exercising. You could do that if you just pay attention to what it is you’re drinking.

Ryssdal: Why were thinks made so fatty in the first place? I guess, to appeal to our desire to treat ourselves and to indulge and have all those sweet, savory things that we like?

Zinczenko: Well, I think a few things happened. First off, in the case of our drinks, beverages got cheaper to make. You replace the traditional sweeteners with artificial ones, either calorie-laden food derivatives, like high-fructose corn syrup or calorie-free chemical experiments, like aspartame or sucrolose. And companies like Pepsi Co. or Coca-Cola were able to produce billions of cans and bottles a year without needing to worry about the price of sugar.

Then packages got cheaper to make, as little as 30 years ago. And then, the beverage marketers started getting really creative. They started using healthy-sounding words, like “agave” or “melon” or “antioxidant” or “vitamins,” and mixing them up and making people believe that if they sought out these seemingly healthful beverages, it would make a difference. And in most cases, it really doesn’t.

Ryssdal: Yeah. So both in this book and in “Eat This, Not That!” you guys name names. You actually call out companies and restaurants and providers and say, you know what, don’t eat this, because it’s going to make you fat. Any push back from those companies?

Zinczenko: Yeah, we have a lot of them that come back at us and say, “Hey, I can’t believe you said that.” We call out the companies that don’t disclose their nutritional information. There are still companies like that out there: IHOP, TGI Friday’s, Cheesecake Factory. Seems like more than fair that people should know what it is they’re putting in their mouths. And when we call out these companies, it often becomes a lightning rod for certain dishes that are either then taken off their menu. In the case of a story we did, “20 Worst Foods in America,” half of them within a year had disappeared from the menus or been altered significantly.

Ryssdal: Where does the responsibility lie? Is it up to the companies to give us food that is better for us or is it caveat emptor, is it buyer beware, and we need to know what we’re eating and not be silly about it?

Zinczenko: Well, I think it’s a little of both. But it’s our responsibility. But if we all learn which products are healthier and stay focused on those products, manufacturers will be forced to follow.

Ryssdal: David Zinczenko is the editor-in-chief of Men’s Health. He’s also the author of “Drink This, Not That!” and others in the “Drink This, Not That!”, “Eat This, Not That!” series. Dave, thanks a lot.

Zinczenko: Thank you, Kai.

Ryssdal: If you want to know what you should definitely not drink if you want to imbibe what’s good for you, there’s a list here

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