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Miriam Expert: Is Beer Good for You?

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

 

Just in time for summer parties: Knocking back a beer or two each night could have some health benefits, according to recent reports from the American Dietetic Association. According to the ADA, some of the chemical and nutritional components of beer has potentially bone-building, heart-helping benefits.

Fiber, B vitamins, silicone, oh my!

Beer is a source of B vitamins; a twelve-ounce beer has about 3% of the RDA of B12 and 12.5% of B6.  These nutrients help maintain a healthy heart and reduce blood clots. Further, some of the components in hops could lower the risk of kidney stones and the ADA also cites beer as a source of fiber (about 0.75 grams in a lager, 1.3 grams in a dark beer). 

Silicone, which has been linked to stronger bones, is also present in beer. A study at Tufts University found that men who drank between one to two beers a day had up to four and a half times greater bone densities than men who did not drink at all, perhaps attributed to the silicone content. 

Still not as healthful as wine 

Mary Flynn, PhD, a nutritionist with Miriam Hospital and Brown University, says that the ADA’s declaration that beer is a health food is a stretch. “It’s a bit comical of the ADA,” she says.   

Flynn, who has done some work in osteoporosis, says that the study's proposed correlation between increased beer consumption and bone density could be on to something. “But," she says, "I think the stereotype of guys who drink a couple beers a day tend to be laborers. If they spend their day lifting things, they will have stronger bones.”  

The beneficial effects of beer are simply associated with the health benefits of any alcohol in moderation, she explains. Alcohol increases insulin sensitivity. It will also make your blood less clotty, says Flynn.   These beneficial effects are greatest in an alcohol like red wine and fewest in an alcohol like beer.  

“Alcohol in general has benefits, mainly heart disease related, but beer is really on the low end,” says Flynn. “When you look at lifetime alcohol consumption, beer is related to higher body weight and waist sizes.”  Of course, she notes that this could be associated with the lifestyle of wine drinkers, who tend to have higher levels of education and be more health-conscious generally.

Moderation lowers stress 

Additionally, the benefits are from a small amount of alcohol consumed daily, whereas “most Americans pile it up on Friday and Saturday nights,” she says.   

Flynn does note that moderate alcohol consumption has also been shown to reduce stress, but this might come from the indulging quality that a beer brings. This brings Flynn to disagree with the ADA’s suggestion it is best to drink light beer, because it has fewer calories, carbohydrates, and less ethanol.

“We eat to taste, this has been shown time and time again.  I always say to patients: ‘If you’re going to have a treat food, like ice cream, cake, or beer, then have the best quality you can have.’ With light beer, they’ll consume two instead of one, to get that satisfaction,” says Flynn, who mentions the relaxing effects of drinking a Narragansett after a day of gardening. 

So if the beer is consumed in moderation, and still considered as a special treat, you can cheers to the fact that your craving for a brew could also be helping your heart, bones, kidneys, and a bartender’s tip collection.

 

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