Beer: The Healthier Alternative
Get ready for some good news, everyone! The research is in. Beer, when consumed in moderation, provides numerous health benefits to the drinker. What type of benefits? Studies prove lower risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, osteoporosis, and even cancer. You also see increases in cognitive function and HDL cholesterol (that’s the good one).
Like all things in life, the key word here is “moderation.” The benefits we listed all reverse if you drink more than two beers each day.
The Nutritional Value of Beer
Beer, especially craft beers and microbrews, contains a variety of healthful ingredients thanks to the grains used to brew it. Malted barley, yeast, and hops are excellent sources of fiber; vitamins B1, B3, B9, and B12; alpha acids; antioxidants such as polyphenols and xanthohumol, which fight cancer and reduce thickening in arteries; and silica for calcium.
These nutrients give beer its healthy kick. In fact, moderate beer drinkers have lower risks for most chronic diseases associated with age than even teetotalers do! Some benefits are alcohol-based; however, even when compared to other alcoholic beverages such as wine, beer shows greater benefits. For example, wine has no fiber whereas 8 ounces of beer has over 3 grams of fiber. That’s about 15 percent of your daily fiber requirement!
The Health Benefits
According to Boston University’s Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, alcohol consumed regularly “decreases the risks of aging.” Again, note that all of these health benefits are for beer drinkers who practice moderation. This means an average of one to two beers each day. That does not mean drinking seven beers in a single sitting a few times per week. Binge drinking negates the positive effects of alcohol. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, men drinking five or more alcoholic beverages in a day raise their risk of heart disease by 30 percent, whereas men drinking in moderation lower their risk by 20 percent.
Now, let’s look at each of these benefits!
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
The main way beer lowers the risk of heart disease is through increased HDL, the high-density lipoprotein, also known as good cholesterol. HDL helps lower bad cholesterol and prevents clotting by thinning the blood.
Beer does not replace medication for those diagnosed with hypertension or high cholesterol. If you have this diagnosis, lower your risk of coronary artery disease by exercising caution with all alcohol.
Increased Cognitive Ability
A 2003 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that adults over age 65 consuming one drink per day have lower risk of dementia than both non-drinkers and heavy drinkers. A 2005 study of 11,000 women, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed a 20 percent decrease in mental decline when compared to non-drinkers, with greater benefit shown in older women.
The antioxidant properties of wine are well known; however, did you know that beer boasts its own antioxidants? These are unique to the flavonoids found in hops and barley, and help lower risk of certain cancers. For example, using beer as a marinade lowers the formation of heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a carcinogen formed after cooking meat at high temperatures.
All of the fiber in beer, over 3 grams per 8 ounce serving, helps keep bowels moving. Oh, that fiber also soaks up excess sugar and cholesterol hiding in your digestive system.
Silicon is a mineral that works to strengthen bones, and beer is a natural source of silica. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition released a study in 2009 revealing that moderate beer drinkers have higher bone mineral density, with pale ales typically boasting the highest silica content of all beers.
Beer should not form your main defense against osteoporosis, though. That belongs to weigh-bearing exercises, calcium, and lots of veggies.
Reduced Risk of Diabetes
In 2011, Harvard studied 38,000 middle-aged men and discovered that moderate beer drinkers reduced diabetes risk by 25 percent. Although beer has a high glycemic index (100), its glycemic load is only six. In moderation, it lowers blood sugar.
Moderation doesn’t come naturally to many of us, but it’s the key to health. Even things that are good for you become dangerous when done in excess. Like savoring a piece of chocolate, slowly drinking your beer allows you to appreciate its flavor fully. Enjoying and savoring the experience of drinking your favorite beer makes achieving moderation much easier. Salut!