Full disclosure, I love beer! Now that I have that out of the way, I’m pleased to say that beer — in moderation — can be a healthy addition to your diet. The taste of beer can be very complex but as Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams, points out, “[beer] is as simple and basic as bread. I could teach anybody in this room to make a pretty decent home brew between now and dinnertime.” To me, this is the real beauty of beer. It has a short ingredient list that delivers a big and delicious flavor.
A Short History of Beer
Beer is the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage, and it’s the third most popular overall behind water and tea. It’s also one of the oldest prepared beverages dating back as far as the early Neolithic Period around 9,500 years ago. Archaeologists even speculate that beer was instrumental in the formation of civilization.
The average alcohol level of beer is between 4% and 6%, but there are much stronger beers released every year. In 2013 Scottish Brewery Brewmeister, released a beer named Snake Venom which has an astounding 67.5% alcohol by volume (ABV). I personally don’t recommend that you drink beer with an alcohol level exceeding 12%, and only have one of those on a rare occasion. In my opinion, the alcohol tends to overwhelm the lovely taste of the beer. Stick with the average ABV if you plan to have a daily beer.
The Health Benefits of Beer
In 2008 Tufts University released a study to determine the association between alcohol intake and bone mineral density (BMD). The study determined that men consuming 1-2 beers daily had higher BMD than men who drank no beer. But moderation is important. Men who drank more than 2 beers per day had significantly lower BMD.
A Decrease in Heart Disease
In 2011 the European Journal of Epidemiology analyzed 16 studies involving more than 200,000 people. The conclusion was that people who drank about one pint of beer per day had a 31% reduction in heart disease. But moderation is extremely important here because the risk “surged” for those who drink more than one pint. Augusto Di Castelnuovo, head of the Statistic Unit at the Research Laboratories emphasizes: “What we are talking about is moderate and regular drinking. I think we will never stress enough this concept. Wine or beer are part of a lifestyle. One glass can pair with healthy foods, eaten at proper time, maybe together with family of friends. There is no place for binge drinking or any other form of heavy consumption.”
A 1998 study by the National Public Health Institute in Helsinki found that drinking one bottle of beer every day can lower your risk of kidney stones by 40% though theories differ on why. One theory is that beer is a good diuretic. Larry L. Alexander, M.D., Medical Director of Central Florida Regional Hospital’s emergency department, says “You can drink water or cranberry juice, but beer also works.”
Another theory is that the hops in beer helps to curb the loss of calcium from bones — calcium that could end up as kidney stones. As such, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) suggests that “Moderate intake of beer and wine may also protect against stone formation.”
A Healthier Brain
According to a study by The New England Journal of Medicine, women who drink less than 15g of alcohol per day have a 20% lower risk of cognitive impairment than non-drinkers. This analysis was done on a group of 11,000 women aged 30-55. So, moderate alcohol consumption in the form of one beer per day can improve brain health? Great news for women who love beer!
Reduced Cancer Risk
You may already know that antioxidants are chemicals that block the activity of free radicals which can lead to cancer development. But did you know that beer can help to reduce free radicals? A single beer has about 12.5% (0.164 mg) RDA of vitamin B6, and studies have suggested that vitamin B6 “modulates cancer risk”.
Guard Against Stroke
A 1980 study from The New England Journal of Medicine found that moderate alcohol consumption (3-9 drinks per week) decreases the risks of coronary heart disease and ischemic stroke. The study did not focus on the type of alcohol consumed, however, we’ll assume they were drinking beer!
A Longer, Happier Life
In 1999, Hoffmeister et al. suggested that if “European beer drinkers stopped imbibing there would be a decrease in life expectancy of two years — and a lot of unhappiness.” The psychological benefits alcohol consumption in moderation are many: stress reduction and an increase in affective expression, happiness, euphoria, and pleasant feelings.
We have been drinking fermented beverages for about 10,000 years. For many, it’s a tradition that would be difficult to live without. But again I must stress that the key to drinking beer (and any alcoholic beverage) is to do it in moderation. The Harvard School of Public Health summarizes it well, "alcohol is both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose."