London - We have long been told that a glass of red wine is good for our health, but now an increasing number of clinical studies show that beer can have even greater benefits.
“Beer has a bad image - it is more often associated with drunken football crowds than health-conscious, discerning drinkers,” says Dr George Philliskirk of The Institute of Brewing and Distillery, who specialises in yeast research. “But when drunk in moderation, beer provides a wider range of health benefits than wine.”
And it doesn’t matter whether you prefer ale or lager, as they are both produced from water, barley, hops and yeast. The only difference lies in the way they are fermented - ale is brewed for a week in a warm environment, while lager is produced over the course of a month at a much colder temperature.
“It needn’t be an expensive beer - just don’t drink so much you cancel out any of the benefits,” adds Dr Philliskirk. “This means no more than a pint a day for a woman and between one and two pints, depending on the beer’s strength, for a man.”
THE BEER-BELLY MYTH
Worries about ending up with the dreaded barrel-shaped beer belly put many people off enjoying a pint. But according to Dr Philliskirk, blaming a rotund figure on beer is misguided.
“Glass for glass, beer is less calorific than wine,” he says. “It is the lifestyle that gives a beer-drinker a belly, not the drinking itself. Although the volume of beer consumed is generally more than wine, if you limit yourself to a pint a day you are consuming only a few more calories than if you drank a large glass of wine.”
On average, beer contains about 180 calories per pint, while a large glass (250ml) of red wine contains 160 calories and there are 150 calories in a glass of white.
THE ATHLETE’S CHOICE
Although too much alcohol is dehydrating, a single pint of beer is more effective at rehydrating the body than the equivalent amount of water, according to a study at the University of Granada in Spain.
The scientists monitored 40 students - with half drinking beer and half drinking water after exercising in a 40C environment. They found that the carbon-dioxide bubbles in beer not only made the drink feel more thirst-quenching but increased water absorption, while the carbohydrates in beer replaced lost calories .
“It could be that the better hydration levels are also down to the sugars and salts found in beer,” says Dr Philliskirk. “It is a good source of potassium - which is needed after exercise to help rehydrate.”
Beer is also rich in B vitamins - particularly riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pyroxidine (B6), folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12) - necessary for maintaining energy levels and building new muscle tissue. Although amounts vary, Dr Philliskirk says a pint could provide about ten percent of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of some B vitamins.
“Beer is in no way empty calories,” says Charles Bamforth, Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at the University of California, Davis. “It contains far more nutrients than any other alcoholic beverage.”
KEEP YOUR BONES STRONG
Barley husks make beer rich in silica, a mineral vital for producing strong connective tissues - such as skin, hair and nails - as well as maintaining bone density. Low bone density increases the risk of developing the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.
Professor Jonathan Powell, the head of MRC Human Nutrition Research at Cambridge University, says: “Beer could be considered as doubly good for bones - small amounts of ethanol [alcohol] inhibit bone loss, while the silica enhances the speed and quality of bone formation.”
There is no RDI of silica, but according to the latest research, those who have more than 30mg a day have the highest bone density. The amount of silica in beer varies greatly, from between 6.4 to 56.5mg per litre.
“Whatever beer you drink, you are likely to get a significant amount of silica,” says Prof Powell.
A GREAT FIBRE PROVIDER
Beer is also rich in fibre - just one pint contains about ten percent of your RDI of soluble fibre, while some varieties contain up to 30 percent.
“This fibre is broken down to form prebiotics which help promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut,” says Prof Bamforth. “Research has shown that low doses of alcohol, including beer, stimulate appetite and promote bowel function in the elderly.”
The alcohol and hop content also make beer mildly antibacterial. Studies have found that regular beer drinking helps prevent the growth of helicobacter pylori bacteria which leads to stomach ulcers. The hop content also promotes the secretion of gastric juices needed for effective digestion.
NO-ALCOHOL BEERS GOOD FOR MOMS
Although zero percent beer contains no alcohol, all the vitamins and minerals remain. The Spanish Paediatric Association studied how the nutritional value of a mother’s milk varied according to her diet. Two groups of 20 mothers were monitored for 30 days, with one set drinking non-alcoholic beer each day while the other women did not.
Levels of antioxidants in the mothers’ milk were found to be significantly higher in those drinking beer.
STAVING OFF ALZHEIMER’S
Studies have shown that a small intake of alcohol can slow and even prevent age-related brain disease such as Alzheimer’s.
But beer has the added benefit of being a more mentally stimulating drink, according to Dr Philliskirk.
He says: “People are more likely to drink wine alone than beer. Drinking beer has been a social occasion for centuries.”
In addition, many people do not wish to, or cannot, drink strong alcoholic drinks for health reasons. “Beer is more inclusive because of the low alcohol content yet there is enough in it to have a relaxing effect,” adds Dr Philliskirk.
The average beer is between three and 5.5 percent alcohol and wine between 11 and 14 percent.
“People feel more convivial after a small amount. Indeed, beer ‘happy hours’ have been trialled at nursing homes in Germany and the United States. Elderly residents not only made an occasion of having a drink but engaged in good conversation.”
AS GOOD FOR YOUR HEART AS RED WINE
Much has been written about a daily glass of red wine contributing to protection against heart disease. However, studies have shown that beer works just as well.
This is because both drinks contain ethanol, which has been shown to prevent blood clots, lower the levels of “bad” cholesterol and reduce the number of stress-related heart spasms.
“Scientists also think the levels of folate in beer may help reduce homocysteine levels in the blood,” says Prof Bamforth. “Lower levels mean a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Beer is rich in polyphenols, an antioxidant thought to prevent coronary heart disease and cancer. On average, beer contains 150mg of antioxidants per litre - double that of white wine, but half that of red. However, there is evidence that they come in a more absorbable form in beer.
Silica could have a protective effect on the circulatory system, too. “One study found that a silica deficiency led to reduction in the circumference of the aorta [the major artery carrying blood to the heart],” says Prof Powell. “Silica is essential for maintaining veins.” - Daily Mail