Is beer good for you?

beer gobletWell, according to the Brewers of Europe it is. At least in moderation! They produced a booklet called "The Benefits of Moderate Beer Consumption", currently in its third edition (2004) which is based on a symposium held in October 2003. This conference was billed as revealing that moderate beer consumption can "reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, potentially protect against late onset diabetes and reduce the risk of osteoporosis amongst other benefits". This article takes a quick look at the booklet, and pulls some of the key points out, tongue firmly in cheek!

In terms of reducing cardiovascular disease, it's commonly accepted these days that a glass of red wine a day clears the pipes (so to speak) with anti-oxidants. According to the Brewers organisation, beer has very similar properties. In fact, what they say is;

It is the alcohol that is having the protective effect and no individual type of drink can claim the monopoly."

Which does sound a bit like sour grapes (sorry, couldn't resist!), but they also say;

There is strong evidence that people who are moderate consumers of alcoholic drinks (beers, wines or spirits) have a substantially reduced risk of coronary heart disease when compared to teetotalers and heavy drinkers."

"How so?" you may well ask. According to this booklet, a glass of beer a day can increase levels of HDL Cholesterol in your blood, the so called "good fat" (I wish all my fat was good fat!), which is apparently associated with lower risk of heart disease. In addition, it is said that alcohol may have a blood thinning effect which can help prevent clotting, and also an anti-inflammatory effect which apparently reduces risk of atherosclerosis, which can contribute to heart attacks.

Certainly the pictures they use show lots of healthy looking people enjoying a sip of good Belgian beer with their salad! It must be good for you!

Of course, this is all under the assumption of drinking in moderation, so those who go on the binge (apparently the majority of the drinking Irish population according to newspaper polls) probably wouldn't fit into that nice healthy little slot. So what does moderate drinking mean? They have an answer for that too!

To drink moderately is to drink within the limits set by your health, the society in which you live and your obligations towards your family and friends"

Yes, that sounds good. But considering where we live, "the society" could expect a lot...

1 - 3 drinks a day for most men. Women are more sensitive to alcohol so they are advised to drink less than men: 1 to 2 drinks a day." In European terms, one drink is 250ml."

Ah, ok. That's just under one-and-a-half pints a day for a bloke. But most of us don't go out for one-and-a-half pints every day. Can we go out one night a week and still get the benefits? Well?

...people who occasionally ‘binge' (in academic literature ‘binge drinking' is usually defined as five or more alcoholic drinks consumed in one sitting) show an increased risk of coronary heart disease even when their consumption over a week is moderate and may not benefit from the reduced risk of type II diabetes seen in moderate consumers."

So, more than probably not! But can't beer still be good for you? Well yes, I suppose it can, as it is a good source of vitamin B12, apparently providing up to 50% of your recommended intake in half a litre. Not only that, but it has loads of B vitamins which all help to protect the pump. Add to that the potassium and magnesium, and you're set to be protected from gallstones and kidney stones. And the osteoporosis protection mentioned earlier? It's the silicon! The wha? Yep, beer contains dietary silicon which is said to improve bone density (but shhh, they're still testing this!).

beerbelly.jpgReading further down the booklet reveals another interesting bit of news. On first reading the section leader, it appeared that the beer belly may in fact not be a beer belly at all.

Until recently it has been assumed that consumption of alcoholic drinks has been adding to the cause of the obesity epidemic but this has now been shown to be unjust."

To paraphrase Freud, sometimes a belly is just a belly? Well, maybe not. A few lines down reveals what we all knew in our heart of hearts (the sluggish straining one);

Heavy consumption is associated with increased weight and several studies have indicated this."

Ok, fair enough, but they mention some theories about how moderate consumption may actually help women decrease weight! And a table showing comparative levels of calories for beer, wine, juices and soft drinks, where on the whole, beer comes out pretty favourably at 107 calories (for a standard server of 250ml) while a can of cola comes in at 155, and whole milk at 156. I won't get into the table of food calories they show, as it's a bit depressing, but suffice to say that if the monks considered beer to be a type of food, it could be on the weight watchers plan!

So as with anything, the old sayings still ring true; too much of a good thing can be bad for you, and a little of what you fancy does you good. So enjoy your beer and savour its goodness, just please, please, savour it in moderation!

The full booklet in PDF format can be downloaded by clicking here. Be prepared for lots of images of loving couples spending quality (and healthy) time with their beer!

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