February 2, 2012
Beer can be good for you? Perhaps one too many hangovers has led you to consider beer a mere vice, but research within the past few years has suggested that moderate alcohol consumption can have health benefits compared to not drinking at all. “Moderate” consumption is two 12 oz. servings of beer a day for men, and one 12 oz. serving a day for women. Drinking is considered “heavy” after more than four 12 oz. servings a day. It is still unclear whether there are different effects for regular, moderate drinkers and infrequent, heavy drinkers whose overall consumption averages out to be the same over the long term. It is also acknowledged that too much heavy drinking leads to serious physical (especially liver) problems, and earlier death on average.
But there are benefits to drinking alcoholic beverages — specifically beer. Among the benefits of alcohol are evidence of reduced cardiovascular disease. There is a suggestion that the causes which reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease can also improve one’s cognitive abilities over time. One study of 11,000 aging women indicates that moderate drinkers were less likely to contract forms of dementia such as Alzheimer’s compared to non-drinkers. Alcohol can also reduce blood clots which lead to stroke.
It’s become fairly common knowledge that red wine contains antioxidants which have been linked to cancer prevention. Malted barley, a main ingredient in beer, contains beneficial antioxidants as well, but different ones from those found in wine grapes. Another beer-specific health benefit comes from the yeast — the living single-celled organism which ferments sugar into alcohol, making beer what it is. Yeast is especially rich in B-vitamins, including vitamin B6, which is useful for recovering from hangovers. In fact, both barley malt syrup and brewer’s yeast are supplements which can be found at health-food stores. If you’re a homebrewer or know a homebrewer, see if you can steal some of the yeast left over at the end of fermentation — it’s good for you!
These benefits can be more pronounced in craft beers than in an average light beer, since most craft beers are unpasteurized. Pasteurization is the process of bringing beer to a high enough temperature that it destroys micro-organisms responsible for quicker spoilage of the product. This is obviously beneficial when beer travels long distances, but the side effect is that many flavorful and healthy compounds are removed. Craft beers are also likely to contain a greater diversity of ingredients which may have beneficial effects that we don’t fully understand. As with food, consuming a diversity of beers which are brewed with fresh, diverse ingredients with less processing, you are more likely to be consuming nutritionally beneficial ingredients. By drinking local beer, the beer is just as fresh, tastes better, and is better for you.