Is Beer the Healthiest
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When we think of Oktoberfest, we think of beer. In America, it's
arguably the only thing we know about this celebration. Since October is also
when tailgating, er, football season kicks in, it may as well be national beer
month. While this conjures up images of loud men with distended bellies,
perhaps it's time we gave beer another look. A bevy of recent studies seems to
indicate that beer may well be the healthiest alcohol we can drink.
This idea may take some getting used to. We
tend to see wine drinkers as beautiful and refined. Scotch drinkers are dashing
impresarios. Fabulous hipsters favor the martini. And beer, well, you don't
exactly think Tony
Horton or Shaun
T. Whenever you see a fat guy in American popular culture, a beer is never
too far away. Homer Simpson. Norm from Cheers. Willie from Bad
Santa. Heck, we even call their slovenly looking stomachs "beer
Is all this vilification justified? Maybe
not. According to England's Royal Society of Chemistry's (RSC) recent study,
Beer: Quality, Safety and Nutritional Aspects, beer is loaded with
good things: proteins, vitamins, and antioxidantsâeven fiber.
Taken in moderation, beer can offer a host of nutritional benefits.
A very, very brief history of beer in
been brewed, in some form, in every culture for about as long as humans have
inhabited the planet. But nowhere has it been more important from a cultural
perspective than in Europe. When America was colonized, this European influence
ensured that we'd become a nation of beer drinkers.
Originally, we were an ale country. When
more Germans began arriving, in the mid-19th century, we started drinking more
lagers. These lighter-style beers were more easily mass-produced and became the
bastion of the early American breweries, run by guys like Pabst, Schlitz, and
The lightâsome would say
wateryâtaste now associated with mass-produced American beer
didn't come around until World War II, when brewers started substituting the
traditional ingredients of beer with more available ingredients. Bland became
synonymous with "American beer" until the rise of microbreweries in the late
20th century. Now Americans are privy to more varieties and a larger selection
of beers than any place on earth. The epicenter of the beer world now seems to
be Portland, Oregon, which is commonly referred to as "Beervana."
If beer is good, why are beer drinkers
Before we discuss the benefits of beer, it's important to note that
beer isn't some magical nectar of the gods. It requires moderation. The reason
Homer and Norm have those bellies is that they don't just drink one beer, they
drink a lot of beer. A six-pack (a seemingly perfectly round number for many
beer drinkers) of pretty much any beverage in a day is going to have some
negative side effects, just due to the number of calories consumed. An excess
of beer can be especially detrimental for three reasons: carbonation, calories,
and alcohol. Carbonation can neutralize stomach acids and this hampers
digestion, so people trying to lose weight should avoid beer with meals.
Calories, well, we all know what calories do. The average beer has 150
calories. When Homer drinks ten beers, he's consuming over 1,500
caloriesâbefore a donut even crosses his lips!
About 70 of those calories come from
alcohol, an extremely controversial substance when it comes to its effects on
the body. The over-consumption of alcohol is responsible for all sorts of nasty
things, including cirrhosis of the liver and addiction. However, the RSC study,
along with several other studies, indicates that two or three alcoholic drinks
a day greatly reduce mortality rates, especially those involving cardiovascular
That said, alcohol has also been found to
inhibit muscular protein synthesis, which is the whole point of working out to
begin with! So popping a cold one after that big basketball game or that
workout video probably isn't the best idea. Best to wait a few hours.
One final note on the negative effects of
beer. Germany actually has beer purity laws (enacted in 1516) that guarantee
that their brews are made of nothing but water, hops, yeast, and barley. We
have no such laws in America, so you never know exactly what you're getting.
Most of the bigger brewers put rice or corn in their beers to keep prices down.
They can also load it with preservatives and chemicals. As a general rule, if
you're looking for a healthy beer, the smaller the brewer, the better the beer.
In fact, most small brewers proudly boast about their ingredients.
So what's so good about it, anyway?
Recent studies have been revealing many positive associations
between beer and health. These include a lowered risk of cardiovascular
disease, an improved mental state in women, and increases in life span.
Drinking beer can help reduce homocysteine levels, lower triglycerides and
LDL-cholesterol, and reduce blood clotting. An important note is that a
constant here is moderate consumption, but that should go without saying. So
let's take a closer look at just what's in beer that makes it healthy.
One might be inclined to lump excessive
carbohydrates in with the list of beer's problems, but this just isn't the
case. Although it does have some carbohydrates, the idea that each brewski is a
carb bomb is a myth. Generally, there are 5 to 11 carbohydrate grams in one
12-ounce bottle of beer. Milk has 18 grams. Soft drinks have 36 grams.
Thanks to its malted barley, beer also
contains protein, at the rate of 0.7 to 2.1 grams per bottle. While most of the
larger proteins are lost during the brewing process, beer still contains all
the essential amino acids.
barley also gives beer plenty of vitamins, particularly B vitamins. A bottle of
beer can contain 10 to 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of
niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, and folate. But mass-produced beer lovers take
note: beer's riboflavin comes from its barley, as well as its yeast. Beers
brewed with barley substitutes such as rice (Budweiser, for example) contain
Another benefit of drinking beer is the
water, which, among other things, prevents dehydration and helps maintain
electrolyte balances. A bottle of beer has between 327 and 337 grams of water,
as opposed to 12 ounces of wine, which is 302 to 323 grams water, or soft
drinks, which have 315 grams of water.
Because good beer uses good, pure water,
you'll also find a lot of minerals within, although which ones and how much
depends entirely on the water's source. It's safe to say you'll usually find a
good amount of potassium and magnesium, and plenty of calcium.
hops and malt add several phenolic compounds into the mix. Many of these
compounds are the same as or similar to the antioxidants found in wine, tea,
and several fruits and vegetables, all of which have been known to protect
against cardiovascular disease. So it would appear that "The French Paradox"
applies to ale drinkers as well.
So get out there and enjoy your Oktoberfest
with the knowledge that you could be doing yourself some good. Just don't
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