Beer: It does the body good? Your favorite brew has health benefits!
My brother knows me too well! For Christmas he and his family bestowed upon me a gift card to my favorite local brew pub. You see, my favorite “tradition” is to try all of their eight seasonal beers whenever I visit. Okay, don’t panic. I’m not a large person to begin with, so there would be no way that I could safely or comfortably consume eight 12-oz glasses of beer in one sitting. Or two sittings, for that matter. The cool thing is, I can order a “seasonal sampler” consisting of small 4-oz portions of each of the those beer varieties, which is certainly more manageable for me (although the burden of sharing the last few drops still tends to rest on my husband, bless his kind heart!)
Sample the diversity of beer ... and the health benefits!
So now you know that beer ranks right up there on my list of favorite beverages, but the truth is I haven’t always enjoyed the diversity of beer that I do now. Prior to meeting my husband, a long-time beer enthusiast and home-brewer, I stuck strictly to the “light” varieties, as I didn’t see the point in taking in additional calories since it was all the same stuff. After all, beer is beer, right? Well, if that attitude didn’t cause a divorce, nothing will! Patiently yet definitively, my husband pointed out the flaws in that assumption, in a sort of indirect way. He poured me stouts, IPA’s, ales, porters, ambers, and stuff I can’t even pronounce. Wow. I had no idea what I was missing. The depth of flavor, the smoothness, the …. health benefits.
Health benefits? I had no idea. Being a frequent drinker of red wine (now you’re probably getting the wrong idea about my habits …) I have been well aware of the nutritional benefits of that beverage for quite some time. But beer?
Once I decided to quell my curiosity and do some serious research, I ended up discovering a whole bunch of good stuff about this tasty beverage. Literally!
Check out the healthy ingredients in your favorite brew
Beer is made of water, malted grain, hops and brewer’s yeast. The exciting thing is that each one of these ingredients boasts it’s own set of health benefits. Malted grain, for one, is rich in enzymes that actually help with digestion and it is a great source of antioxidants – nutrients that prevent free radicals from forming due to oxidation in your cells. Barley, which tends to be the malted grain of choice, is also rich in silicon – an element that has been linked to bone health (more info to follow).
The next ingredient, hops, is a nutrient powerhouse in it’s own right. Not only does hops help to control the sweetness in beer by delivering a crisp citrus-and-pine punch to your taste buds, but it’s also a significant source of polyphenols – compounds that lower cholesterol, fight cancer and kill viruses. Hops also acts as a natural antibiotic, ensuring that the beer remains fresh to drink.
And not to be outdone, the final basic ingredient, brewer’s yeast, offers significant amounts of nutrients, most importantly the B-complex vitamins: B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), and H or B7 (biotin). These nutrients help break down carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, which, in turn, provide the body with energy. They also support the nervous system, help maintain the muscles used for digestion, and keep skin, hair, eyes, mouth, and liver healthy. Chromium and selenium, two very important trace minerals, are also present in brewer’s yeast.
What has intrigued me most about what I’ve read are the significant amounts of folate (B9) in beer and what exactly that means. It has only been over the last decade that we’ve come to realize the importance of this vitamin to our health. Basically, if your body doesn’t get enough folate, homocysteine (an amino acid) levels increase in your blood and your risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer goes up. On the other hand, with adequate supplies of this B vitamin, homocysteine is converted to harmless methionine. Realistically, sufficient folate intake could prevent 2-4% of cardiovascular deaths, not to mention a multitude of diseases.
Lastly, the most recent health-based finding that I’ve come across with regard to beer is regarding its silicon content. Silicon enables the deposit of calcium and other minerals into bone tissue, promoting bone strength, and since beer contains one of the most bioavailable (easily absorbed) forms of silicon, you can bet that you’re helping prevent bone-related issues like osteoporosis when you consume it!
So drink up people! ??? Hold on there ... not so fast!
A couple of points too important to leave out. First, the benefits that I’ve outlined above are drastically eliminated when moderate beer drinking turns into excessive beer drinking! Moderate is defined as one 12-oz beer per day for a woman, and two 12-0z beers per day for a man. Consumption upwards of that will begin to negate the positive effects.
Second, try to stick to small, craft brews whenever you can. Small microbreweries are popping up all over the place these days, so they’re increasingly easy to find. Or if you want to go one step healthier, go organic! Organic beer, like organic food, is made with ingredients grown without the use of pesticides or chemical additives. Interestingly, a study done in 2004 on the mass-produced beers showed 30 different pesticides in 45 samples. And some breweries use chemical additives for a host of reasons, not limited to enhancing the foaming quality of the beer! That’s just plain creepy! Who would’ve thought?
So with that in mind, here's a summary of the benefits of drinking a beer or two daily:
- Beer drinkers seem to be less prone to dementia
- Mild sedative
- Reduces risk of Type 2 diabetes
- Reduces risk of heart failure
- Reduces risk of hypertension
- Reduces risk of coronary artery disease
- Estrogenic compounds counteract menopause symptoms
- Decreased risk of BPH in men (enlarged prostate)
- Promotes secretion of gastric juice, aids digestion and may reduce the risk of stomach ulcers
- Thins the blood
- Increases HDL (the beneficial cholesterol)
- Decreases homocysteine levels in the blood, preventing a host of conditions and diseases
- Increases bone density and decreases risk of osteoporosis
So, feel free to indulge moderately with a home-, organic-, or micro-brew! Me? Well, I’m going to feel a little less guilty next time I go to sample my favorite seasonal selection! After all, beer does the body good!
- European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001;55:605-9.
- Am J Epidemiol 1999;149:106-15.
- International Journal of Epidemiology, Vol 30, Issue 3, pp 626-627
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