Beer is the world’s oldest alcoholic beverage — invented long before modern history.
Known as the “sweet nectar of the gods” in many ancient cultures, beer drinking is a social tradition in our country associated with ball games, card games, backyard barbecues and special occasions.
According to the Beer Institute’s Almanac, Americans drank over 6 billion gallons of beer and other malted beverages in 2009. Lately, there has been a decline in some types of pale lager commercial beers including brands such as Budweiser, Miller and Pabst Blue Ribbon and an increase in trendy craft beers.
Matt Simpson is a columnist for Beer magazine who feels that more people are expanding their tastes when it comes to beer and finding that the craft beers available today are not only light and refreshing but also offer a wide variety of flavor and aroma to satisfy the senses. Many craft beers are brewed to be enjoyed with food — to be more cultural, so-to-speak, almost like a fine wine. This takes beer out of the cooler and keg and pairs it with a delicious gourmet meal — something that many people are looking for today.
All beer is made from four basic ingredients: grain of some kind, hops, water and yeast. During the brewing process (which involves heating, cracking, drying, boiling and fermenting) the sugars from grains (usually barley) are converted into alcohol and CO2 to create beer. The type of grains — including wheat, corn, rice and barley along with a variety of fruits, herbs and spices — all work together to create a unique taste, color and alcohol content.
But, no matter how trendy and tasty, the question remains — even in moderation — just how healthy is beer and what should we be aware of when choosing and consuming a brew?
According to Harvard Researcher Eric Rimm, evidence seems to indicate that any type of alcohol can elevate good cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart attack by up to 30 percent. It also appears that alcohol may help increase insulin sensitivity which can reduce the risk of diabetes. Beer is 93 percent water, which may help reduce the risk of kidney stones and bladder cancer.
Dark beers have a greater number of antioxidants than light beers and also a higher iron content. Microbrewed beer tends to contain more hops than other varieties. Hops (Humulus Lupulus) are the flowering cone of a perennial vine that is a cousin of the cannabis plant. Although hops contain no THC. Female cones are used during the brewing process to season beer and keep it from spoiling. Hops contain polyphenols, also known as “lifespan essentials,” that can help to protect the body from cardiovascular and other chronic diseases. Polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that also help to regulate spikes in blood sugar and combat bacteria.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics tells us that beer contains beta-glucans — a type of soluble fiber that may help improve heart health by reducing cholesterol levels. This is especially true of darker beers that contain about 1.3 grams of fiber.
Yet another not-well-known benefit of beer is that it is a good source of B vitamins, including folate, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid and B6 and B12. Both B12 and B6 help protect the heart by lowering levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that can damage arteries and cause the formation of blood clots.
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Yes, excessive consumption of beer may weaken your bones but a couple of beers a day could make them stronger. A study out of Tufts University found that men who drank one to two beers each day had hip bone densities that were almost four times greater than those who did not drink beer. Researchers attribute this to the silicon found in the beverage.
Most people are familiar with the term “beer belly,” but is it really true? The sad answer is yes — a 12 ounce serving of beer may contain 150 calories or more. These calories come from the alcohol and carbohydrates. The body has very little use for these calories that get stored as fat — thus producing the infamous beer belly. If you do not closely monitor your consumption and do not exercise, then calories from beer can quickly lead to weight gain. This is further complicated by the fact that beer can wreak havoc on your metabolism because the alcohol is used as energy. So, if you are consuming a couple of beers with food, the food will be stored as fat and the alcohol in the beer used for energy. Consuming healthy snacks or a well-balanced meal while enjoying a brew can help balance out the impact as can leading an active lifestyle. The worst combination is living a sedentary lifestyle, consuming processed foods and drinking beer frequently. This is a trifecta that you want to stay clear of.
Additionally, many popular beers contains genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). According to the FoodBabe.com website, the following GMO ingredients are found in well-known beer:
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (Guinness)
- Corn syrup (Miller Light, Coors, Corona, Fosters, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Red Stripe)
- Dextrose (Budweiser, Bud Light, Busch Light, Michelob Ultra)
- Corn (Red Stripe, Miller Coors Brand, Anheuser-Busch Brands)
Of course, overconsumption of any alcohol is inherently risky to your health. Heavy alcohol use negates any of the positive impacts and can lead to liver cancer, cirrhosis, obesity and alcoholism. Persons who drink heavily are at an increased risk of stroke, hypertension, colon and breast cancer.
To enjoy the best that beer has to offer, choose a variety that is well-crafted, is open about its ingredients, and limit your intake to no more than two 12 ounce drinks per day. Live an active lifestyle, consume plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and protein and avoid processed and fast food. Do not use the calories in beer to replace nutrient-dense calories found in healthy food. Be careful of munching on empty calories while drinking and be mindful of your personal tolerance. Of course, never, never, never, operate a motor vehicle of any kind when drinking or consume alcohol of any kind if pregnant or nursing.
What beer do you prefer? Let us know in the comments section below.