What is the story here? Do we receive any benefit from this delicious intoxicating beverage or is it just a devil in disguise?
I am personally happy, as a nutrition guru and lover of the microbrew, to tell you that indeed beer provides a solid nutritional profile. Let’s look at the main ingredients: Water, hops, grain, and yeast. Each of these brings its own chemical makeup to the table, or rather, glass.
Water is essential for life. We can’t live without H2O. We are 70% liquid. Beer, regardless of other properties, is 90% water. It hydrates! Body water transfers nutrients, removes wastes, lubricates joints and tissues and overall ensures our cells stay alive and well.
Hops have been shown to have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, they were originally added to beer as a preservative; the bitter alpha acids protect the beer from bacterial growth. Hops also contain a number of different polyphenols, which are special chemicals that act as antioxidants. In short, antioxidants protect our bodies from unstable compounds (free radicals) that could otherwise damage or mutate our cells. In addition, hops may help to decrease calcium release from bones. Less calcium leaking into the blood plus beer’s hydration and diuretic effect, which clears body water, means less risk of excess minerals that may otherwise build up as deposits in organs, arteries and other soft tissues. Translating to bone health and kidney stone prevention!
Grains also provide polyphenols, as well as fiber, B vitamins and an array of various minerals. Many of these are retained in the liquid throughout the fermentation and distillation process. The most widely used grain for malting and fermentation is barley. Barley is especially high in silicon, a nutrient that helps form bones and connective tissue. Recent studies show high levels of silicon in beer, one of the main dietary sources of this nutrient, giving beer potential preventative properties against bone loss. One to two liters of beer will give you all the silicon you need for the day to assist in healthy bones and connective tissue. The hoppier and maltier the beer, the more silicon it will contain.
Yeast are live organisms, technically fungi, that eat the sugars from the grain malt to produce the ethanol, or alcohol, found in beer. The yeast may provide some flavor, but are otherwise disguised in your beverage without any clearly known stand-alone nutritional benefit. Yeast will provide some protein, B vitamins and chromium, among other nutrients, in trace amounts.
The ethanol yielded from the yeast is known to affect health. The combined effect of polyphenols and ethanol have shown positive changes to the lipids in our blood as well as decreases in inflammation. High density lipoprotein numbers have been shown to rise while low density lipoprotein oxidation decrease, both lessening the risk of cardiovascular disease. An observed decrease in platelet aggregation and coagulation factors from beer consumption also help decrease this risk. Ethanol itself has been shown to increase insulin sensitivity, meaning improved blood sugar regulation and decrease risk of diabetes.
There you have it. Some justification for your beer enjoyment. However…
…“they” say there is always a catch, so here is Beer’s; too much can kill you. Quite literally. Quickly or slow and painfully. Drunken car accident or liver disease in 15 years. Either way if ever you are to follow the advice of moderation, drinking alcohol is a good time to do it.
All of the above positive benefits of beer are seen when consumed in moderation; one drink a day for women and two for men. More than this is a detriment to your health.
Ironically, the positive decreases in inflammation seen with moderate alcohol consumption is reversed when too much is consumed; ethanol metabolism decreases the production of antioxidants in the body, mainly glutathione, and will act as a free radical and potential carcinogen itself, in high doses.
Regardless of the ingredients to make it go down smooth and satisfying, alcohol is above all a toxin.
So, enjoy your beer in moderation and reap the nutritional, medicinal, and tasty benefits.
Article: “Silicon in Beer and Brewing.” Troy R. Casey and Charles W. Bamforth. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture Published Online: February 8, 2010 (DOI: 10.1002/JSFA.3884); Print Issue Date: February 2010
Warner, Jennifer, Beer for Better Bones? WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/osteoporosis/news/20100208/beer-for-better-bones
Ansel, Karen, Have a Brewski! It Can Help Your Health. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: http://www.eatright.org/Public/content.aspx?id=6442463947
Sewalish, Andrew, Hops: Anatomy and Chemistry 101 http://bioweb.uwlax.edu/bio203/s2009/sewalish_andr/Humulus%20Lupulus%20-%20Common%20Hops/Hop%20Anatomy%20and%20Chemistry%20101.html
Beer Advocate: http://beeradvocate.com/