BY MARTIN HINTZ | PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAN BISHOP
Surprise! Savoring a beer might be just what’s needed as part of one’s health regime. But, the caveat emphasizes, it’s a tactic only in moderation.
Beer in general and in moderation is beneficial for heart and cognitive function, both attributed to the beverage’s alcohol content, says registered dietitian Joan Pleuss, a nutrition consultant to TOPS, a weight-loss support group. In addition, beer helps increase bone density because of its silicon content, she adds.
Pleuss, also the bionutrition director for the Translational Research Unit at the Medical College of Wisconsin, indicates that ingredients such as wheat, yeast, malted barley and hops contribute to the B vitamin content of beer. Varieties of beer might offer different benefits, such as India pale ales with their additional malt and hops contributing to more silicon in the body and darker beers containing more antioxidants than lagers.
Pleuss adds that a study done in The Netherlands shows beer supposedly can decrease fibrinogen, a protein that contributes to blood clotting. It also decreased C-reactive protein, helping lower the risk of inflammation that leads to heart disease, according to Pleuss.
Keeping in mind the importance of not overdoing too much of a good thing, a glass or two of beer a day might be considered as much a part of a health regime as red wine. Pleuss, of course, emphasizes that women not exceed 12 ounces of beer per day and men 24 ounces.
There are several benefits to light or “low-cal” beer, Pleuss explains, especially since they do not have as many calories. “This variety of beer doesn’t have the same risks for cancer, either,” she explains, adding that it’s the alcohol in beer that increases the risk for some types of cancer.
A number of organic beers have arrived in the marketplace, a factor to consider especially knowing that some ingredients in mainline beers, such as hops, are often treated with pesticides. “By 2013, organic beer will need to use organic hops where they now can use a combination of organic and nonorganic,” Pleuss says.
“I would suggest the first priority in buying organic would be putting the extra money toward organic produce,” she says.
Another new product, bottle-conditioned beer, has brewer’s yeast added before the bottle is closed, supposedly augmenting the health benefits in yeast, such as B-complex vitamins, protein, chromium and other good “stuff.” But the health value would depend on how much extra brewer’s yeast is in the beer and how much is in the sediment on the bottom that would not be ingested, says Pleuss, whose favorite style of beer is a pilsner. She enjoys the occasional Miller MGD 64, with only 64 calories and 2.4 carbs. Pleuss says, “The colder, the better.”
While some researchers have said beer can improve cholesterol metabolism and is a source of antioxidants, Pleuss still warns that beer — or any alcohol — actually increases the risk of cancer, especially breast, liver, rectum, throat, mouth and esophagus. As a last word regarding beer as part of one’s health plan: “Don’t start drinking if you currently don’t drink,” she advises.
Dr. Robert Gleeson, director of the Froedtert Hospital and The Medical College of Wisconsin Executive Health program, agrees with much of what Pleuss says and emphasizes, “I highly doubt the addition of fruit to beer has any added health benefit.” He adds, “Sorry, but I cannot find what I accept as good science anything that separates the health benefits of beer from other alcohols.”
When Gleeson needs such backgrounding and resources in his work, he often cites Dr. David J. Hanson, of the State University of New York at Potsdam, who has researched the subject of alcohol and drinking for more than 40 years.
“Moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who are either abstainers or heavy drinkers,” says Hanson, citing studies done by Harvard, University of London, the Cancer Research Center, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and research in Italy, Canada, Spain, Australia, United Kingdom, Denmark and China.
Hanson, more of a wine than beer drinker himself, along with enjoying an occasional gin and tonic, indicates that in addition to having fewer heart attacks and strokes, moderate consumers of beer, wine and distilled spirits are generally less likely to suffer from diabetes, arthritis, enlarged prostate, dementia and several major cancers.
As Hanson explains, a standard drink is a 12-ounce bottle or can of regular beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine and 1.5-ounce of
80-proof distilled spirits (either straight or in a mixed drink). “The alcohol content of a standard drink of beer, dinner wine or distilled spirits is equivalent. To a Breathalyzer, they are all the same,” he says.
“The pattern of consumption makes the most difference. It’s much better to consume a little on a daily basis, rather than infrequently, for maximum health benefits. In other words, saving up for a week’s worth of alcohol for the weekend is “unhealthy, even dangerous and clearly to be avoided,” Hanson says.
Looking over his long years of study on the subject, Hanson chuckles recalling a conference debating 10 studies on which kind of alcohol might be better healthwise. “Three cited wine, three cited beer, three cited distilled spirits and one was inconclusive. And then the conferees adjourned to the bar,” he says.
Among the positive aspects of alcohol, Hanson points out that it reduces coronary artery spasm in response to stress, increases coronary blood flow, reduces blood pressure and reduces blood insulin levels and increases estrogen levels.
As with other science and medical professionals, he urges moderation, rarely having more than one to three drinks per day. “Unfortunately, there really can be too much of a good thing,” Hanson emphasizes.