Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is Beer Healthy? Which Beers are Healthiest?...

Is beer healthy?...

With a resounding YES, I hereby declare that beer consumed in moderation is healthy!  Thank goodness I could honestly say yes here, or I think I might have set off a boycott amongst our readership, and certainly risked losing my job here at Four EL!  Beer is considered divine around here at Four EL and everybody on the staff is an aficionado.  I know that I’m the resident fitness guy here, but we have some (self-proclaimed) beer connoisseurs that write for us, that I’m sure would have loved a chance to field this month’s nutrition topic.  Admittedly, I drink beer almost daily, but I often find myself in a New Belgium Fat Tire (Amber Ale) rut, for lack of a better word.  Hey, when you find something love, why not stick with it?!  But some of our staff is out there field-testing in our local San Diego bars & microbreweries by noon every day, so they no doubt have a more well-rounded palates than I, so I must confess, a lot of my research was done via the internet.  San Diego is also home to some incredible microbreweries like Stone Brewing and Port Brewing, so we are also a bit biased to our home brews! 
                But let me dive into this discussion of what criteria it takes to consider a beer a healthy anyway.  Well I just applied the same criteria that one would to all other foods:  Is it nutritious, low in sugar, low in saturated fats, low in sodium, and relatively low in calories?  The good news is most beer inherently qualifies based on all these criteria!  (Caveat: As long as no more than 2 to 3 are consumed daily for the average man.)  In my consideration, alcohol content was a neutral factor and not a criterion, as there are as many cons as there are pros regarding alcohol consumption.  Generally speaking, the lower the calorie the beer, the lower it is in alcohol content, but then the more likely one is to drink more of that particular beer, to attain the satiety and ‘buzz’ they’re desiring when choosing to drink a beer in the first place.
Originally written for and printed in Four EL magazine by me, OCT 2013

                A quick detour regarding the nutrition break down of alcohol is needed here.  Alcohol is not sugar, nor does it break down into sugar when digested, so therefore alcohol by itself does not trigger insulin secretion.  Alcohol falls into its own category of nutrient and is in fact used by the body as an energy source.  In moderation alcohol consumption had been shown to lower risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as lower stress levels, especially when consumed with good friends.  Alcohol has 9 calories per gram, and most beers I researched had average of 4.5% alcohol content per beer.  Alcohol is absorbed through the lining of the stomach and small intestine directly into the blood stream and then heads to the liver for digestion, also known as ‘oxidation’, solely by the liver enzyme Dehydrogenase, (ADH), into Acetaldehyde and then finally into Acetic Acid, which are cells can use for energy.  Without this liver enzyme alcohol cannot be metabolized, and healthy livers make plenty of this enzyme enabling most of to easily completely metabolize about 2 beers per hour.  10% of the alcohol we consume bypasses liver oxidation completely and is exhaled from the longs or excreted in urine.  The end byproducts are CO2 and water.  The good news is moderate, consistent drinkers over time naturally produce more ADH liver enzyme allowing them to oxidize alcohol more efficiently building up an increase in tolerance.  Heavy, abusive drinkers just end up destroying their liver cells and are at risk of Fatty Liver Disease.  It is a fine-line fellas between health & alcoholic.
                When we add back the rest of its liquid contents into the serving of alcohol that it contains, we get lots of healthy ingredients that truly qualify beer as a superior beverage.  All beers inherently contain an abundance of antioxidants and polyphenols, which do lots of powerful things on the micronutrient scale including neutralizing free-radicals and further contributing to cardiovascular health.  These nutrients all come from the plant and hops ingredients that they are brewed with.  The more fruity and complex the flavor the more nutrients the beer is packing, especially with some of these specialty craft brews that are now being aged in oak wine barrels, where they pick up not only more flavor and color, but also more vitamins, nutrients and even probiotic (healthy) bacteria.  Wheat beers were consistently receiving high health marks in the research I found because the wheat-beers were shown to help reduce inflammation, associated with exercise and arthritis.  However, now there is a popular gluten-free movement in the diet industry that claims wheat-gluten causes intestinal inflammation, so this could pose a problem for wheat beer fans.  However if you search your local Whole Foods store or health food market, you can even find gluten-free beer now, so if you’re one of those gluten-free diet types, you can still drink beer!  (Note: Some 'Gluten-free' specialists feel that in most cases, the gluten in beer is so diluted that it is at low enough ppm to be negligible and not harmful.)  Beer is also inherently low in sugar because most of the sugar used in brewing is converted into alcohol by the yeast – how convenient!  Most of us will take this fermentation trade-off of sugar for alcohol any day.  Yeah for beer!  There are carbohydrates in beers, but very few of the grams are from sugar, and remember, alcohol is not a carb either.
                So now what you’ve all been waiting for:  What beer currently holds the undisputed title for healthiest beer?  (This was based upon the ideal compromise of nutrition content vs. calorie content.  For all intents and purposes, Light beer was not considered.)
Guinness Draught.  Guinness won hands down across all rankings I found in my diligent and sober research.  Guiness claimed the title because it is surprisingly low in calories for a stout at only 126 per serving (per pint), and is packed full of antioxidants and polyphenols not to mention flavor.  The Irish are on to something.  There are more nutritious beers and there are certainly lower calorie beers, but Guiness found the sweet spot.

Other honorable mentions that I found were consistently among the top ranks of healthiest beers, were Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Yuengling Lager and Samual Adam’s Light Lager.  Another big factor worth considering is that all these beers are very available almost every bar across America so if your favorite niche, craft brew at your local market or pub happens to blow these brands away, well that is good for you but may not help the rest of us if we can’t find it.  Personally I like my Guiness as a black & tan hybrid with Bass ale.  I think the bottom line, is beers with more color and flavor and complex fruity notes are going to pack more nutrition, but the trade-off is they generally pack more calories and higher alcohol content too.  So if you’re not on a ‘diet’, then I recommend going with a darker beer with more depth for health and enjoyment!  Ales tended to be the best mix of nutrient content with moderate calorie content, so have a go-to ale.  And by the way, this another discussion for sure, but beer does not cause a beer-belly!

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