Brewing Up Good Health with Beer—in Moderation
The words “health” and “beer” aren’t usually mentioned in the same sentence. However, evidence suggests that this ancient, plant-based beverage may provide heart-health benefits, as long as you drink it in moderation. Beer has been enjoyed since as far back as 9500 BC, and our appreciation for the brew hasn’t slowed down—the global beer industry sees revenues of about $500 billion annually.
The process of making beer relies upon ingredients such as grain (wheat, sorghum, or barley), water, hops, and yeast. The starches from the grain are converted into an alcoholic beverage during a fermentation process. Today, beer has never been bigger. Microbreweries and brewpubs have popped up all over, brewing up interesting flavors in an already wide variety of beers, such as ale, stout, lager, and even “light,” “low-carb,” “gluten-free,” and non-alcoholic.
Health Benefits in a Mug
Beer is the most widely consumed fermented drink in the world—two billion people drink some sort of alcohol daily. Moderate consumption of any alcoholic beverage, including beer, increases “good” HDL cholesterol, lowers “bad” LDL cholesterol, and reduces the risk of blood clotting, thus reducing heart disease risk by up to 40 percent. Imbibing moderately also is associated with greater lifespan and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and dementia.
Beer may have some unique nutrition attributes, thanks to a nutrient lineup that includes small amounts of protein and micronutrients, such as folate, vitamin B6, niacin, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, and selenium. Despite the fact that nutrition labels list the fiber content as “0,” researchers found that beer contains a dietary fiber complex, providing 1.3 to 3.8 grams/liter (depending on variety,) as well as antioxidant polyphenol compounds known to benefit the gut microbiota. The antioxidant content of beer, which is higher than white wine but lower than red wine, is due to the grains and hops used to produce it. But, because beer is more highly consumed than red wine, daily polyphenol intake is likely highest among fermented beverages, according to a review of studies published in the November 2019 journal Metabolites.
Emerging science is revealing specific health benefits due to the effect of polyphenols from hops on the gut, including the improvement of diabetes-associated issues like weight loss, glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity. These compounds have also been linked to anticancer activity in several types of cancer. Studies do show that the moderate consumption of beer provides beneficial diversity to the gut microbiota, however, one study published in the June 2019 journal Alcohol found these benefits with non-alcoholic beer, but the presence of alcohol interfered with the positive effects.
Watch that “Beer Belly”
Beer may provide some potential health benefits, but it’s possible to get too much of a good thing. Adding a few too many beers to your day, with 153 calories per 12-ounce serving of lager, 165 of wheat beer, and up to 195 calories of stout, can lead to weight gain, which can dry up any potential health bonus. Excessive alcohol intake—more than three drinks per day for women and more than four drinks for men—is linked to a string of negative health consequences, including brain deterioration, liver damage, and early death. Even moderate alcohol intake is linked to increased cancer risk. If you like beer, enjoy it in moderation—up to one daily serving for women and two for men.
Beer by the Numbers
Nutritional content of regular beer (12 fluid ounces)
Protein: 2 g
Carbohydrate: 13 g
Riboflavin: .1 mg (5% DV)
Niacin: 1.8 mg (9% DV)
Vitamin B6: .2 mg (8% DV)
Folate: 21.4 mcg (5% DV)
Magnesium: 21.4 mg (5% DV)
Phosphorus: 49.8 mg (5% DV)
Potassium: 96.1 mg (3% DV)
Selenium: 2.1 mcg (3% DV)
Note: g=grams, mg=milligrams, mcg=micrograms, DV=Daily Value, based on 2,000 calories/day
Image: Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN
Written by Sharon Palmer, MSFS, RDN in May 2012; updated on February 3, 2020.