Wine or Beer: Which Is
Better for You? By Jude Buglewicz
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Now that beer is
once again the alcohol of choice for Americans, with 41 percent claiming it as
their preferred drink, according to a recent Gallup Poll, it's worth asking,
are we making a mistake? After all, beer was a close second last year to wine,
and wine has gotten a lot of good press lately. Should we be chugging less and
sipping more? Which one is really better for youwine or beer?
It's well known that
moderate levels of alcohol have heart-healthy benefitsany kind of alcohol. The
key word, though, is moderate, whether it's beer, wine, or the hard stuff.
Recommended levels of alcohol raise "good" (HDL) cholesterol and help decrease
blood clots, which cause heart attacks and strokes. The American Heart
Association (AHA) recommends that men have less than two drinks a day and women
no more than one drinkand we don't mean a Paris Hilton-sized "one margarita."
According to the AHA, "one drink" means 12 ounces of beer, 4 ounces of wine,
1.5 ounces of 80-proof hard liquor, or 1 ounce of 100-proof liquor. (For more
on alcohol and your health, read Steve Edwards' "The 5
Best and the 5 Worst Cocktails.")
And by the way, if you're a teetotaler, it's
probably not wise to take up drinking in hopes of benefiting from alcohol,
especially if you suffer from liver disease, gastritis, or high blood pressure.
As the AHA cautions, it's safer to keep avoiding alcohol than risk becoming
dependent on it. (Try reducing stress or relaxing with yoga insteadgood
for drinkers, too!) But if you drink and you can stick to the recommended
levels, here are some things you might want to consider the next time you're
deciding between that bottle of vino or a six-pack of brewskies.
Currently in second
place with 33 percent of alcohol-imbibing Americans claiming it as their
favorite drink, wine was known in ancient times as the nectar of the gods. Over
the past 10 years, its popularity has steadily increased, peaking last year at
39 percent, and knocking the longtime champ, beer, out of the top spot. Some
credit the movie Sideways for that boost in popularity, while others
(beer drinkers, naturally) say it was a fluke or a statistical error. No
matter. If you're a wine lover, you have much to be proud of, like these
impressive findings, for starters:
- Wine drinkers live
longer. A 2000 Danish study found that "Wine drinkers had
significantly lower mortality from both coronary heart disease and cancer than
did non-wine drinkers." In fact, wine drinkers reduced their risk of death by
one third compared to nondrinkers. People who drank beer and other alcohol had
a 10 percent decrease in mortality compared to nondrinkers, so this group
showed beneficial effects of moderate alcohol consumption, too, though not as
much as the wine drinkers.
drinkers have lower cancer rates. This may be because of something
called resveratrol, a substance found in the skin of grapes (and to a lesser
degree in peanuts and blueberries). It's been touted as the answer to the
so-called French Paradoxor why the wine-drinking French have low rates of heart
disease though their diet is high in saturated fat and cholesterol (from those
rich cheeses and sauces and pork). Resveratrol has been shown to help slow the
formation and growth of cancer, though researchers say more studies are needed
to confirm this. It's only found in red wine, though, not white, since white
wine is fermented without the skin.
drinkers eat better. A more recent study (2006)again from Denmarkfound
that wine drinkers make healthier food choices than beer drinkers. For six
months, researchers tracked the sales of wine and beer drinkers in 98
supermarkets. Wine shoppers tended to choose healthy items such as fruits,
vegetables, olives, and low-fat cheeses, as opposed to the fattening chips,
cold cuts, soda pop, and sausages that beer buyers selected. These findings are
significant, since most of the information on alcohol consumption to date has
come from surveys, in which people tend to overstate how healthy their diets
are and understate how much they drink. This study is believed to be more
accurate, as it shows the actual dietary choices of drinkers.
Another interesting finding is that wine
buyers spent more than beer buyers, though people who bought both wine and beer
spent most of all. Researchers also noted that wine drinkers tend to be better
educated and wealthier than beer drinkers, which also results in better
So if we can extend our life span and
decrease our risk of getting cancer by drinking wine, why do more Americans
It's cheaper and
more accessible than wine. Also, the beer industry does a great job of
marketing its product. All you have to do is tune into a sports telecast,
especially a football game, to see the ubiquitous beer commercials. That may
explain why twice as many men as women drink domestic beer. Three companies
dominate the U.S. beer market, selling 81 percent of all domestic beer:
Anheuser-Busch, Miller, and Coors. American-made beer, by the way, includes
chemicals to prolong its shelf life (otherwise, it lasts about six months),
high-fructose corn syrup, and other ingredients that make it less healthy than
many imports. But how does beer compare to wine regarding health benefits?
- Beer is more
nutritious than wine. Unfiltered beer contains nearly all the B
vitamins, several minerals, and as many antioxidants as wine (though different
ones, since wine comes from grapes and beer is made with grains, mainly barley
and hops). And though beer has only a small percentage of the recommended daily
allowance of vitamins, it contains significant amounts of trace metals and
minerals. Both wine and beer are made with yeast, but the yeast is filtered out
of wine. Not so with the many varieties of unfiltered beer on the marketthe
vitamins in the yeast are preserved. (Look for "genuine draft beers," also
known as "ice" beers. They have to be kept refrigerated to preserve their
flavor. Unfiltered beer also includes many "craft" beers, which are nearly all
malt as opposed to best-selling American beers that are made with 30 to 40
percent rice or corn, and sugar.)
- Beer reduces heart
disease. Besides the fact already mentioned that moderate levels of
any alcohol reduces heart diseaseincluding beer and winea 2001 Czech Republic
study found that vitamin B6 in beer reduces the buildup of the amino acid
homocysteine in the blood, which has been linked to heart disease.
drinkers have low-cal alternatives. Light beer is the best-selling of
all the beer segments, with four of the top five leading brews consumed in the
U.S.: Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, Natural Light. Light beer didn't
even exist 30 years ago, so its triumph in the beer market is a testament to
the beer industry's willingness to cater to health- and weight-conscious
consumers. And though purists and beer connoisseurs may scoff at its "watered
down" taste, light beer is a good choice if you're watching your waistline.
The evidence points
to red wine. It's true, as some beer fans complain, that wine gets all the good
press. Beer, on the other hand, is linked to binge drinking and unhealthy
habits. (Drinking alcohol in excess reverses its good benefits and could even
lead to addiction or liver disease.) It's also true that wine drinkers tend to
have healthier lifestyles. In the U.S. in 1999, beer accounted for four-fifths
(81 percent) of all the alcohol consumed in hazardous amounts (five or more
drinks per day), compared to wine (4 percent). These stats may have something
to do with all those beer commercials that associate drinking beer with being
sexy, fun, and socially acceptable. For every "responsibility" and "awareness"
ad that the beer industry aired in 2002, there were 226 alcohol product ads. No
wonder beer is this nation's most popular drink and the alcoholic beverage of
choice for underage drinkers.
I have to admitI
prefer beer, Guinness Stout in particular. And though red wine does appear to
have the edge insofar as it has the most health benefits, since either wine or
beer is fine in moderation, we beer drinkers can hang on to our frosty mugs and
leave the elegant stemware to the wine drinkers. (Beer drinkers do have to be
extra conscious of the snacks we choose, though, and take a few tips from the
wine crowd, replacing fattening chips and dips and greasy pizzas with healthier
fare, like whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese or veggie platters with
low-fat dips.) Whichever you choose, remember this:
- With red wine, you'll get the benefits of
resveratrol (not with white wine and not with beer).
Red wine also has eight times as many
flavonoids (cancer-fighting antioxidants) as white wine.
Most red wines have
slightly more calories than white wines, though sweet dessert wines have the
most calories of all.
Dark beer has three times as many
flavonoids as ales; however, it also usually has more calories, so check the
If it's calories you want to know about,
here's a breakdown for recommended levels of beer, wine, and spirits:
|Beer (12 oz.)
|Dark (Beck's, Guinness
|Dark (Sam Adams, Sierra
|White wine (4 oz.)
|Red wine (4 oz.)
|Red zinfandel, cabernet
Beaujolais, merlot, claret
|Sweet dessert wine (4 oz.)
|Champagne (4 oz.)
|Distilled spirits (1.5 oz. shot)
|80-proof liquor (most
vodkas, rums, tequilas, gins, blended whiskeys, etc.)
Ditte Johansen, et al. "Food Buying
Habits of People Who Buy Wine or Beer: Cross Sectional Study." BMJ. 20 Jan.
2006; 332: 519-522.
Greenfield, Thomas K., Rogers, John D. "Beer Drinking
Accounts for Most of the Hazardous Alcohol Consumption Reported in the United
States." Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 1999; 60: 6.
Gronbaek, Morten MD,
et al. "Type of Alcohol Consumed and Mortality from All Causes, Coronary Heart
Disease, and Cancer." Annals of Internal Medicine. 19 Sep. 2000; 133;6:
Mayer, O. Jr, Simon, J., and Rosolova, H. "A Population Study of
the Influence of Beer Consumption on Folate and Homocysteine Concentrations."
European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. July 2001; 55: 605-609.
Thomas K., Rogers, John D. "Beer Drinking Accounts for Most of the Hazardous
Alcohol Consumption Reported in the United States." Journal of Studies on
Alcohol. 1999; 60:
Beer statistics from www.beveragemarketing.com,