The major problem when addressing the health benefits or health hazards of beer is that not all beers are the same. Especially among the microbrewery selections, beers can be made with different ingredients and so the potential effects and benefits vary widely.
Take for example Lambrucha, which melds a Belgian lambic, a type of sour-tasting beer brewed in a very different style than most contemporary beers, with kombucha, a fermented sweet tea. With lower alcohol (3.5 percent) by volume than most beers and added B and C vitamins, this beer has a very different nutritional profile than most. A quick search can provide more than a few articles offering suggestions as to the most healthy beer, including this one. Yet, some researchers have found the positives in beer consumption, undifferentiated by type or brand.
Four Benefits of Beer
Any contemporary reader of Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms will possibly be surprised to read that Catherine’s doctor recommends she drink beer while pregnant. Believe it or not, doctors did that in 1929, when the novel was published. Beer was known to be a source of B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamins B6 and B12, and folate, which scientists now understand can help guard against birth defects of the brain and spine. In fact, a single bottle of beer (12 oz.) provides up to 12.5 percent of the recommended requirement of vitamin B6, which is known to be generally helpful on a cellular level and also heart-healthy.
Along with whole grains, cereals, and some vegetables (green beans among them), beer provides silicon, which is known to improve bone matrix quality. “Silicon supplementation in animals and humans has been shown to increase bone mineral density and improve bone strength,” researchers found in a recent study examining prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Yet, caution is advised. Although researchers at Tufts University give evidence that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol (wine as well as beer) is related to greater bone density in men and women over 60, they also found that bone mineral density was significantly lower in men who drank more than two servings of liquor per day.
A study published earlier this year and conducted by Italian researchers found that beer may reduce the risk of developing kidney stones by a whopping 41 percent. This may be due to beer’s high water content and diuretic effect, some hypothesize. In any event, the same was certainly not true for soda and punch, which increased the risk of developing kidney stones.
Again and again it seems, scientists release reports suggesting moderate — and that is the operative word here — alcohol consumption is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact, “moderate drinkers were 30 to 35 percent less likely to have had a heart attack than non-drinkers,” according to Harvard School of Public Health.
Despite these four benefits, a recent French study came to some surprising conclusions about beer drinkers.
What Are You Having With That?
French researchers collected data on a total of 196,604 regular clients of a large supermarket chain in France. First, they classified purchased food items into three categories: healthy foods, unhealthy foods, and others. Next, they calculated the number of purchases among those who drank wine, those who drank beer, those who drank other alcoholic beverages, and those who did not drink alcohol.
What did they find? Wine drinkers purchased healthy foods more often than those who did not drink alcohol at all or those who drank beer. Overall, beer drinkers made the least number of healthy food purchases. “The ratio of the budget for healthy to that for unhealthy foods was also distinct between the groups, being highest for wine and lowest for beer,” the authors wrote in their study.
Clearly, this study is culture-specific and may have more to do with the French than with either wine or beer. That said, any beer drinker worth his or her salt should take heed and remember to purchase broccoli, say, instead of chips with the next six-pack.
Sources: Hansel B, Roussel R, Diguet V, et al. Relationships between consumption of alcoholic beverages and healthy foods: the French supermarket cohort of 196,000 subjects. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 2013.
Price CT, Koval KJ, Langford JR. Silicon: a review of its potential role in the prevention and treatment of postmenopausal osteoporosis. International Journal of Endocrinology. 2013.
Ferraro PM, Taylor EN, Gambaro G, et al. Soda and other beverages and the risk of kidney stones. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 2013.