Amid warnings that we should avoid softdrinks and fruit juice due to their high sugar content, some experts have suggested we drink only milk or water.
But another, rather unlikely low-sugar beverage is increasingly being hailed for its health benefits: beer.
Research suggests it can help protect against Alzheimer’s disease, aid weight loss and even balance hormones – and now it’s attracting more and more health-conscious men and women.
A raft of female celebrities are also embracing the brew.
Actress Mila Kunis says her favorite drink is Blue Moon beer, while supermodel Elle Macpherson revealed recently that she washes her hair with it.
Even saintly Hollywood star Gwyneth Paltrow has said she ‘can’t get enough of Guinness’.
So what are the benefits of beer, and can it really be good for you?
A VITAMIN-PACKED PINT
‘If you analyzed beer you would be amazed at how many super-nutrients there are in it,’ says Dr. Stephan Domenig, medical director of The Original F.X. Mayr Health Centre in Austria. ‘Beer contains all of the essential – and many of the non-essential – amino acids.’
As well as these protein-building blocks and minerals including phosphorus, iodine, magnesium, and potassium, beer is rich in calcium so could benefit your bones.
A study by Tufts University in the United States in 2009 found that moderate beer consumption can protect bone mineral density.
For years Guinness was even prescribed to pregnant women due to its high Vitamin B content. ‘It’s now recommended that pregnant women avoid alcohol but other people could benefit,’ says nutritionist Vicki Edgson.
Choose unpasteurized beer for the greatest health benefits. Pasteurising, or heating to prolong its shelf-life, reduces some nutritional value as the ‘living’ content is removed, says Georgina Young, head brewer at Fuller’s. And cloudy beer is best as filtering removes the yeast and therefore a lot of B vitamins.
BANISH THE BELLY
While high in vitamins, beer is actually low in sugar, high levels of which have been linked to diabetes and obesity.
While a can of Coke contains seven teaspoons and an orange juice six, half a pint of beer contains just over one.
‘Compared with soft drinks, it will give less of a blood sugar spike,’ says nutritionist Dr. Kathryn O’Sullivan, who last year carried out a scientific review of beer. ‘Beer is about 93 percent water so it’s quite hydrating.’
In fact, moderate beer consumption may even help prevent diabetes. A 2010 study of more than 38,000 men in the US found that when men who rarely drank beer increased their consumption to one or two glasses a day, after four years their risk of type 2 diabetes fell by 25 percent.
And despite the threat of a so-called ‘beer belly’, a study of nearly 2,000 regular beer drinkers by the University of London concluded it’s unlikely that moderate intake is associated with large weight gain.
‘Drinking beer increases the production of bile, which helps us to digest fatty food,’ says Dr. Domenig. Beer is a rich source of fibre – two glasses provide between ten and 30 percent of our recommended requirement. Fibre is known to help keep us full and ward off hunger.
STAVE OFF DISEASE
Although beer drinking is usually associated with brain fog, research suggests it might help prevent Alzheimer’s. The disease, which affects almost 500,000 people in the UK, has been linked to high levels of aluminum, but the silicon in beer may offset the damage.
A 2008 study published in the journal Food And Chemical Toxicology found the silicon was able to reduce aluminum uptake in the digestive tract and slow the accumulation of the metal in the body and brain tissue. But beware of overdoing it: a University College London study warned that men drinking more than two pints a day could suffer memory loss.
Beer could also help heart health. A 2013 study at Harokopio University in Athens found it boosted the flexibility of the arteries. Scientists measured the cardiovascular health of non-smoking men under 35 two hours after drinking 400ml of beer and compared that with drinking vodka or alcohol-free beer. While all three drinks had some beneficial effect on the stiffness of arteries, beer had the greatest benefit.
Beer can raise good cholesterol too. ‘The main component that helps protect the heart is alcohol, which raises “good” HDL-cholesterol and has other benefits,’ says Dr. R. Curtis Ellison, professor of medicine and public health at the Boston University School of Medicine.
However, that’s not a license to binge. ‘Large amounts of alcohol may cause disease of the heart muscle,’ warns Dr. Ellison.
While red wine is known for containing the anti-aging plant compound resveratrol, beer drinkers also get skin-boosting benefits. Made from barley, beer is rich in ferulic acid, a potent antioxidant shown to protect skin from sun damage. This is also found in tomatoes, sweetcorn, and rice bran, but research from Guy’s Hospital in London in 2000 suggests beer contains a more absorbable form. Men given low-alcohol beer absorbed all the ferulic acid present against just 25 percent absorbed from tomatoes. Studies indicate that darker beers pack a stronger antioxidant punch.
Though it’s not just drinking beer that health fans love. Catherine Zeta-Jones uses it as a conditioner, saying: ‘I smell like the bottom of a beer barrel for days afterward but it’s very good for the hair.’
‘The hops in beer contain silica which adds luster, increases volume and fortifies the hair from within,’ says Janey Lee Grace, author of Look Great Naturally… Without Ditching The Lipstick.
To condition the hair using beer, she recommends first boiling the liquid to remove alcohol, which can strip hair of natural oils, then mixing it with extra virgin coconut oil.
BOOST YOUR LIBIDO
It may not be ‘beer goggles’ getting people in the mood – the hops in beer are said to have aphrodisiac-like qualities. ‘Hops are a wonderful relaxant,’ says Dr. Marion Gluck, an expert in hormonal imbalances. ‘And you don’t need much to get the benefits,’ she adds. Research shows that the phytoestrogen from hops – estrogen-like compounds found in plant foods – may help reduce hot flushes, low libido and other symptoms associated with menopause.
Beer may help balance hormones in cases of polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and perimenopause, according to Vicki Edgson.
‘The phytoestrogens help to regulate either hormone deficiencies or excess estrogen,’ she says, advising that ‘half a pint once or twice a week would be ample to have an effect’. Edgson emphasizes it does not work for everyone, though. ‘It should be tried in moderation initially to see whether symptoms are relieved.’
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