Health 'n' hops

Is beer good for you?
By JOSH SMITH  |  March 29, 2011

Thomas Jefferson once asserted that beer, when drank in moderation, "promotes health." Trappist monks in Belgium and the Netherlands referred to it as "liquid bread." And opponents of the Temperance Movement used to ask: "Why should mother go without her nourishing glass of ale or stout on washing day?" It turns out all of these people may have been right.

All too often, beer is associated with adverse health effects — an assumption not without merit. Abuse of any kind of alcohol can lead to addiction, liver disease, or an alcohol-related accident. But what about for those craft beer drinkers who consume in moderation — say, a beer or two at a time? Could beer actually be healthy?

Many people already accept the assertion that a glass of wine per day can be good for you. Red wine has been credited by some for the "French Paradox," the fact the French suffer a relatively low rate of heart disease despite a diet high in saturated fat. Indeed, numerous studies have indicated wine to be heart-healthy, among other possible benefits. Increasingly, though, studies are revealing superior health benefits for people who drink beer over wine.

Let's start with the four main ingredients in beer: grains, hops, yeast, and water. Malted barley — and other malted cereal grains like wheat and rye — provide much of your daily dose of fiber. Yeast is an excellent source of protein, minerals, and Vitamin B. Water, of course, contains no calories or fat, and more than a dozen health-supportive minerals. And hops are a flower! How bad could this stuff possibly be?

According to the US Department of Agriculture, when combined these natural ingredients bring with them: carbohydrates, protein, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, sodium, niacin, Vitamin B, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, zinc, thiamin, and polyphenol antioxidants. All of these nutrients provide health benefits, such as improved bone density. Unfiltered craft beers are even better since the yeast and its many nutrients are not removed.

The alcohol present in beer can raise good cholesterol, line blood vessels to reduce clotting, protect against diabetes, and reduce the risk of a heart attack by as much as 35 percent. The fact that alcohol can decrease the risk of heart disease makes it particularly beneficial to middle-aged drinkers who are overweight or have high blood pressure. In other words, a beer or two a day could help your heart and let you live longer.

However, nearly all health risks posed by drinking beer can also be traced back to alcohol (meaning beers with low or no alcohol provide many of the same benefits and few of the risks.) Heavy consumption is especially worrisome since too much alcohol in a person's system puts them at increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis of the liver, obesity, osteoporosis, pancreatic diseases, and stroke. Sadly, while one beer may be good, more probably isn't better.

Let's consider another supposed side effect of drinking beer: the dreaded beer belly. Many so-called beer experts swear beer guts are a myth. The argument goes that a beer belly is caused by calories of any kind, not necessarily just beer. Now consider that alcohol makes you hungry and that you're often snacking on fried pub grub while drinking, and there's the source of your problem.

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  Topics: Liquid , Beer, Thomas Jefferson, Belgium,  More more >
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