Did you know that along with tasting delicious, your favourite pint may actually have some amazing health benefits?
Research shows that people who consume alcohol moderately live longer than those who don’t drink alcohol at all.
"The key to enjoying beer's health benefits, is moderation. And what is moderation? It means no more than two to three 340ml cans of beer per day for men and no more than one to two for women," explains dietician Ashleigh Caradas.
She lists seven health benefits here:
Increased intake of protein, B vitamins and antioxidants
Beer contains more protein and B vitamins than wine. According to a 2001 antioxidant food review in Nutrition Reviews, beer contains around double the amount of antioxidants as white wine but half of that of red wine. The specific antioxidants in beer are different because the barley and hops used in the production of beer contain flavonoids different from those in grapes.
Healthier bowel function
Beer is a good source of soluble fibre, which is derived from the cell walls of malted barley. One litre of beer can contain up to six grams of soluble fibre, which is a third of the recommended daily intake. Soluble fibre aids in healthy bowel function, and also helps mop up excess cholesterol and sugar in the digestive system. A half pint of beer (about 236ml) will contain about 5.7g of total carbohydrates. Of those, just 2.5g will be residual sugar and the rest dietary fibre. In comparison, a standard (175ml) glass of wine contains 5.9g of carbohydrate but 5.6g of that will be free sugars and wine has no dietary fibre.
Reduced risk of heart disease
The topic of heart disease and alcohol is controversial because it can be both a protective and a causal factor, explains Caradas. It really depends on the mechanism of action and what the individual is going to benefit from moderation or abstinence most. Evidence from a variety of studies suggest that moderate alcohol consumption reduces the risk of heart disease, when compared to heavy drinkers and even teetotalers.
This is achieved by increasing our levels of HDL, or good cholesterol and by preventing clotting (by lowering clotting factors like fibrinogen) and therefore thinning the blood. However, people with high triglycerides or hypertension are still encouraged to exercise caution when drinking alcohol, which exacerbates these two risk factors for coronary artery disease.
A 2014 report released by the Mayo Clinic looked at evidence over the past 15 years and concluded that habitual light to moderate alcohol intake is associated with decreased risks for total mortality, coronary artery disease, diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, and stroke. However, higher levels of alcohol consumption are associated with increased cardiovascular risk.
Beer is high in the mineral silicon, which can act as a powerful bone strengthener. In fact, beer is the only natural source of silica for post-menopausal women. According to a 2009 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, moderate beer drinkers had a higher bone mineral density when compared to people who drank more or fewer beers. Pale Ale tends to have the highest silica content of all the beer types.
"High intakes of calcium, lots of vegetables and weight bearing exercise are key to a healthy bone density," advises Caradas.
Reduced cancer risk
Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are carcinogenic compounds produced when meat is cooked at high temperatures. Marinating meat or chicken in beer or wine has been shown to reduce the formation of carcinogenic HCAs by up to 88 percent with beer to be the more effective HCA reducing marinade according to a 2009 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. At the same time, high alcohol intake has been linked to certain cancers, like those of the mouth and digestive system as well as breast cancers.
Reduced risk of diabetes
"Contrary to what you might think, alcohol actually lowers blood sugar rather than raising it," says Caradas. A large 2011 Harvard study of about 38 000 middle-aged men found that when those who drank moderately (around two drinks per day), their diabetes risk dropped by 25 percent. Beer, however, has a high glycaemic index of 100, which means it can cause spikes and then drops in blood sugar levels. In moderation, however, the effect is not severe because beer has a moderate glycemic load of six due to its relatively low carbohydrate content.
"In high amounts alcohol can cause brain damage, but in moderation it can actually sharpen the mind and even prevent dementia," says Caradas.
Results from the Nurses Health Study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2005, which looked at the health of 11 000 older women showed that moderate drinkers (those who consumed about one drink a day) lowered their risk of mental decline by as much as 20 percent, compared to non-drinkers. In addition, older women who drank moderately were found to benefit the most from moderate drinking.
Regardless of your alcohol choices, Caradas warns that in excess, alcohol can raise blood pressure and triglyceride levels (thus increasing heart disease risk) and can leach calcium from the bones (thus increasing osteoporosis risk), or could lead to liver or kidney damage.
Before you get too excited about that next drink, remember that alcohol is a double-edged sword with moderation and responsibility being the key to a healthy balance, so remember to keep it safe.