In the late 1980's oenophiles were stirred into an orgasmic frenzy when the media started reporting that red wine was beneficial to one's health. Wine producers were happy to jump on that bandwagon and promote wine as health in a bottle.
Wine does contain resveratrol, a polyphenol (think antioxidant), thought to help prevent damage to blood vessels, reduce bad cholesterol, and prevent blood clots. But nearly all this research has been done on animals. And it's the resveratrol, not the wine, which yields the alleged benefits. Resveratrol comes from the skin of grapes. Eating grapes or drinking grape juice should yield any of the same benefits without the alcohol.
This is an important distinction. The food industry has always been guilty of tying research to spurious claims their products are healthy. For example, vitamin B12 plays a key role in our brain and nervous system functions. The junk food cereal Froot Loops, composed of 41% sugar, contains fortified B12. Therefore, Froot Loops IS healthy because it's a source of B12. Lycopene, found in tomatoes, is a pigment found in tomatoes thought (but not documented) to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer. Therefore, Heinz suggests that dousing your burgers and fries with their heavily sweetened ketchup is an ideal way to get your source of lycopene.
For the moment, beer is being touted as the drink of the healthy, more so than wine even. You don't have to go far on the internet to find 6, 10, or 12 reasons why beer is good for you. Ten benefits to get you started:
* A healthier brain
* A stronger heart
* Guarding against stroke
* Reduced risk of cancer
* Stronger bones
* Boosting vitamin levels
* Reduced risk of diabetes
* Healthier kidneys
* Lower blood pressure
* Longer life
Any beer drinker would love to be able to justify his drinking habit in the name of health. If you start spouting out these benefits at a bar because you "read them somewhere," you stand the fair chance of looking like an idiot when you'll undoubtedly be asked for more details.
How seriously should we take any of these claims?
First, you have to understand what is behind the supposed health benefit before you can assess whether a claim should be considered a valid one. that the consumption of beer can lead to a healthier brain and guard against strokes. A Boston scientist found, through magnetic resonance imaging, that light to moderate drinkers (1-14 drinks weekly) had fewer strokes than nondrinkers. Why? No one knows for sure, but the going theory is that the alcohol in the beer thins the blood to prevent clotting in the brain. Wine makes the same claim. Any alcohol beverage, in fact, could say the same. If thinning your blood is paramount, eating strawberries and/or applying spices like curry powder, cayenne, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and cinnamon to your food will get you to the same place.
What about stronger bones? at drinking beer prevents osteoporosis. Silicon is behind the claim. Silicon holds tissues together and prevents aging of skin and joints. One 330 ml lager contains about a fifth of one's recommended daily silicon intake and almost eight times more than a glass of wine. Drink five beers and you are set for the day!
Or you could eat oranges, apples, plums, cherries, cucumber, white onions, lettuce, cabbage, nuts, sunflower seeds to get your silicon – in other words, a varied and healthy diet. The silicon in beer comes from the grains from which it's made. If getting silicon in the healthiest way possible is really your motivation, you could incorporate the rice, barley, and oats into your diet before they get turned into your favorite lager and stout.
A boon for the kidneys? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, beer can minimize the risk of kidney stones. Compounds in the hops slow down the release of calcium from the bone. Sounds great. Maybe you should order three pints next time instead of two. Or consider drinking more water and eating/drinking fruits which contain citrate, like lemons or limes.
We could go on. Beer contains fiber and
high fiber diets reduce diabetes and cancer risk and lower blood pressure. You know what also contains fiber? Fresh fruits and vegetables and brown rice, but I know. It's a sin to actually waste your calories eating those.
It's important to be educated the right way. If you were off to the bar to decide on wine, beer, or whiskey – and you were actually thinking about your health – beer is probably the drink to choose. "With beer, more of the antioxidants actually get into your body," reports Charlie Bamforth, professor of brewing sciences at the University of California, Davis.
Four hundred years ago in Europe, beer really was healthy. Beer brewing was popular in areas which couldn't sustain grapes. It was regarded first and foremost for its nourishing properties and referred to as liquid bread. Bear in mind that those historical brewers were brewed primarily for nutrition, with just enough alcohol to keep the ingredients preserved. Kids drank it, too. Taste and maximum ABV were not the considerations. Equating the three quadrupels you drank last night to a healthy breakfast is pushing the comparison too far.
The big myth is that darker beers are healthier than light ones. A
pint of Guinness contains roughly the same amount of nutrients as a pint of Budweiser. And craft beer should not be considered any healthier than industrial beer, as both are made with natural grain-based sugars most of the time.
You can't fully trust food research anyway.
Yesterday's big claims about resveratrol longevity magic have morphed into more tempered claims today. Resveratrol may not offer the benefits everyone was saying it did. In twenty-five years, what might researchers be saying about beer?
Beer provides one benefit to drinkers that no researcher, today or tomorrow, can refute. Beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy," someone once said and ascribed it to Benjamin Franklin. Benjamin Franklin never did say this, but if he were drunk enough in a Belgian beer bar, he was a witty enough man to maybe have said it. A good craft brew does make you happy, and happiness for most of us isn't always in ready supply.