Beer and Health
At least a couple of times a week, when I listen to the news on the radio, or open the newspaper, there is some doom and gloom story about how alcohol is ruining the health of the nation – and it is usually accompanied by a picture of a pint of hand pulled ale being poured. One of my colleagues once called this ‘lazy journalism’ because it suggests that beer is at the root of all the problems in society. So, I’m going to set the record straight. Any type of alcoholic beverage, when consumed in large quantities, is going to start having an impact on health, behaviour and lifestyle, but beer seems to face the harshest criticism.
First of all, let’s debunk some myths. Beer, when drunk in moderation, is one of the healthiest alcoholic drinks around, known through the ages as ‘liquid bread’. Beer contains zero fat and zero cholesterol. Surprised by this? Well read on, because it may make you feel a bit better about that pint in front of you.
Of all the health myths surrounding beer, none is more enduring than that of the link between beer consumption and the ‘beer belly’. However, beer itself has a relatively low calorific value. Let me just compare beer to some of the calories found in other drinks. If I choose to drink half a pint of a 3.8% beer, the calorific value is 85 calories. A single gin and tonic is 121 calories. If I opted for a medium size glass of white wine, that calorific value goes up to 131 calories.
So why is beer seen to be associated with weight gain? It has nothing to do with drink of choice, and everything to do with lifestyle. Think of the food you usually crave after having a few drinks. Usually foods packed with carbohydrates, yes, I’m talking about fish and chips, pizzas, kebabs – and usually after this type of food is eaten, you feel sleepy and bloated. It’s the worst time to lie down and go to sleep!
We are constantly told to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate by drinking lots of water to keep looking youthful. Drinks with a high alcohol content such as wines and spirits are not the best choice to maintain hydration as they increase the amount of water the body loses. However, because normal strength beers are much lower in alcohol, drinking them helps maintain balanced hydration. Remember, beer is around 95% water.
Beer is mostly made from barley. When malted, barley is a very rich source of B group vitamins including niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, folate. Recognise these names? Take a look on a packet of breakfast cereal – yes, they’re there. For the ladies, take a look at your moisturiser or face cream – yes, they’re there again. It is also these vitamins which protect against cardiovascular disease – far more than red wine and spirits.
There is a very high concentration of silicon in beer; it is found in the husk of the barley, and is dissolved into the fluid of the beer. What does silicon do? It plays an important part in the synthesis of collagen, the protein found in hair, nails, tendons and skin. More importantly it makes bones denser – fighting the onset of osteoporosis, a disease which affects 3 million Britons.
The hops, the plants which give beer it’s dry, bitter taste and aromatic aroma are brimming with healthy properties. They are a natural disinfectant and were used as a medicine in the 17th century to protect and fight off infections. Hops are said to ease constipation and sooth anxieties. And it’s all natural.
All in all, it’s time for the media – and all drinkers - to re-think beer. From a health and lifestyle perspective, it ticks the boxes we all want to hear. And it gives me a good excuse to order another pint.