Wine gets all the love in conversations about the nutritional benefits of adult beverages. And make no mistake, I enjoy a juicy glass of cab. But sometimes a cold brew better suits my mood—a preference I apparently share with Hermosa Beach, CA registered dietitian, Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD.
A spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA), Andrea wrote a fun piece for ADA Times about the nutritional benefits of beer (“A Toast to Good Health”, Winter 2011). The article caught my eye and inspired me to call Andrea for more scoop on suds.
My notes from the conversation below, and just in time for St. Patty’s Day!
RK: Since beer has more ingredients than wine, I’m wondering to what extent do these ingredients contribute to the health benefits of beer.
AG: Beer confers many nutritional benefits, such as B vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. The basic ingredients of beer are water, yeast, barley and hops. These ingredients provide the nutrients. The more hops in a beer, the greater the phytochemicals. The more malt—or germinated barley—the more B vitamins.
Some craft brewers throw in additional ingredients to impart unique flavors, which may or may not lend to a greater nutrient profile. And, some lager breweries add adjuncts to their beer. Adjuncts, which are unmalted grains like rice or oats, are another source of fermentable sugars, and typically result in lighter-colored and lighter-tasting beers.
RK: Does the color or ABV (alcohol by volume) impact the health benefits of beer?
AG: Before researching beer for the [ADA Times] article, I originally assumed that darker beers had higher alcohol content. But, that’s not the case at all. Look at Guinness, a really dark beer with a pretty average alcohol content.
The first couple of steps in the brewing process involve steeping the barley and then heat-drying (or roasting) in an oven. This is called “making the malt.” For how long and at what temperature the grain, or malt, is roasted dictates whether the beer is light or dark colored. There may be some benefits of color. According to researchers in Spain, dark beers contained more fiber than lighter beers, but more research is needed to confirm their findings.
The higher ABV the more grams of alcohol in the beer, and thus calories—alcohol has 7 calories per gram. Alcohol content is actually determined by the fermentable sugars in the malt. The higher the fermentable sugar content, the greater the alcohol content.
RK: We know that most people don’t compensate for calories consumed in sodas, coffee drinks or energy drinks. Do you find that most people also ignore the calorie-factor of beer?
AG: Anecdotally, I find people do tend to overlook how many calories they consume when imbibing. However, one benefit I find about darker beers is that people feel fuller sooner, as compared to other beverages. And because beer contains more water than other alcoholic drinks, say wine or mixed drinks, people report becoming water-logged sooner and tend to stop drinking when they’ve had enough beer. Still, there are a lot of calories in beer, as there are in any alcoholic beverage, and the calories add up quickly. If you drink three 150-calorie beers in one sitting, you’ve just consumed 450 calories, the number of calories needed in a meal for some people.
RK: What’s your favorite food and beer pairing?
AG: Lager and lentil soup. At this one Italian restaurant I frequent, I love to pair their lentil soup with a cold lager. Makes a great meal!
RK: So, you think beer can enhance the taste of a meal? Do you think a beer can ever enhance the nutritional profile of a meal?
AG: Beer is more complex than wine and those complexities can greatly enhance the flavor of a meal. So, there is more potential for a greater tasting meal when eaten alongside a beer.
As for the nutrition benefits… Yes, enjoying a beer or two with dinner may offer some health benefits—beer can help improve lipid profile by increasing HDL and lowering LDL cholesterol and can improve blood flow. But, five beers at dinner negates those health benefits. So while we do gain nutritional benefits (like vitamin B12) from beer, we derive those benefits only when beer is consumed in moderation, which means that ladies stick with one 12-ounce beer and men with two 12-ounce beers a day. That being said, enjoying a beer with a meal can potentially improve our health and our meal.
Of course, no dietitian’s blog on alcohol would be complete without mentioning that beer, like all alcoholic beverages, is higher in calories than other carbohydrates, and health benefits can be negated if consumed in excess. To reap health benefits and maintain your weight, stick to one drink max per day for the ladies and 2 drinks or less per day for men.
What satisfies your beer craving? We’d love to hear from you!