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Beer Nutrition

Is There a Six Pack in Your Six Pack?

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Beer Nutrition Chart

These days beer and other alcoholic drinks are generally considered unhealthy. This hasn’t always been the case.

Historically beer was seen as beneficial, and rightly so because it was often more sanitary than local water supplies. The water used to make beer was boiled early on in the brewing process which killed any pathogens. The alcohol produced during fermentation and the addition of hops helped to preserve it. Until modern civic water treatment plants became common beer was often the only reliable source of sanitary hydration.

Marketers that came up with the long time campaign for a famous Irish stout, “Guinness is good for you,” only helped to reinforce beer’s healthy image. Additionally, there has always been a perception that more robust alcoholic beverages increase virility. The honeymoon was named for the month’s supply of mead, honey wine, given to a newly wedded couple. It was believed that mead would aid them in successfully producing a son.

But the last half of the twentieth century saw a decline in the public’s opinion of alcohol in general. As the damaging affects of alcohol abuse became more commonly known the perception of beer as a healthy beverage all but died away. Then in the mid nineties studies of the benefits of red wine began to emerge. Suddenly alcoholic beverages, or at least one of them, had a chance at repairing a damaged public image.

But what about beer?

I found a breakdown of the nutritional components of beer at the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, see the chart below. Of course there is a lot of generalization in these numbers. There are beers with much higher or lower levels alcohol, carbohydrates, and protein. But this chart can give you a pretty good idea of what beer does and does not contain and in what amounts based on a 12 oz serving. Now, as far as what these components might do to your body, well, that’s a subject that leaves me in the dark. I enlisted the assistance of Shereen Jegtvig, About’s nutrition guide, to help interpret what’s here.

The first question on my mind concerns how beer compares to other alcoholic drinks like red wine or distilled spirits. The comparison is not that easy to make. In the first place, the main beneficial element that was discovered in red wine is resveratrol, a powerful anti-oxidant. Beer doesn’t contain any resveratrol. But the presence of folate in beer helps lower the risk of heart disease when consumed in moderation. Beer also reduces blood clots and it has been shown to improve mental function in women as well as increasing bone density.

Now, let’s look at the chart again. See the fat and cholesterol levels? It might come as a surprise to those that associate beer drinking with being overweight but there isn’t a trace of fat in beer. Brewers and beer connoisseurs have known this for quite a while. Even the slightest traces of fat or oil in beer can destroy many of the things that we love about our favorite ales and lagers. That beautiful, creamy head on top of a glass of good beer could never exist. Also, the delicate mouthfeel of many beers would be ruined.

But if there’s no fat, then where does the beer belly come from? Turns out it has less to do with drinking a beer and more about the customs of beer drinking. Think about bar foods. They are usually salty, greasy, fat laden stuff, right? Plus, drinking a few beers can make even the most energetic of us a bit lethargic. It’s no surprise that inactivity can add to an expanding waistline. But a beer, all by itself, won’t significantly affect your weight one way or another. In fact Shereen tells me that some studies have shown that beer helps to reduce triglycerides and LDL (LDL is the bad sort of cholesterol), problems that are often associated with obesity.

If beer has no fat and moderate consumption doesn’t contribute to weight gain, then what’s light about “light” beers? Are they better for you? Shereen says not necessarily. There’s nothing significantly different between light and regular beers except a slightly lower calorie count. If you’re trying to lose weight and feel compelled to have a beer, the light beer might be your choice. But Shereen asks, “Why not try different types of beer? Beer tasting is every bit as pleasurable as wine tasting. I think enjoying the food you eat is important too…not just looking at the numbers on a nutrition chart.” With all other things being equal, I think I’d rather reduce my calories somewhere else in my diet and enjoy a beer with some flavor.

So, what’s the bottom line? There might not be a six pack in your six pack but there doesn’t have to be a gut, either. “One beer a day is good for you,” Shereen says, “Several beers each day is not. The key to health with beer drinking is to limit your consumption to one beer each day.”

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