Beer specifically has been associated with additional health outcomes. Beer was found to lower the risk of kidney stones in men compared to other alcoholic beverages, possibly due to its high water content and diuretic effect. Compounds in hops may also slow the release of calcium from bone that is implicated in kidney stones. In addition, moderate alcohol consumption is associated with greater bone mineral density; however, moderate beer drinkers seem to have a more protective effect because of the high content of silicon in beer.
“Red wine enjoys a reputation for sophistication and health benefits, but as interest in artisan brewing gains momentum and emerging research reveals unique nutrition properties, beer is finding redemption not only as a classy libation with deep roots in many cultures, but as a bevy with benefits,” says registered dietitian Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD.
Macronutrients, Water and Alcohol
Like wine, beer is fat free. Carbohydrates, which make up about one-third of the calories in beer, mostly come from partially broken down starch. Protein, which is nearly non-existent in wine, is present in small amounts in beer—about 4 percent of the total calories.
Alcohol (ethanol) calories make up roughly two-thirds of the calories in a regular beer, as opposed to 86 percent of calories in wine. The typical American beer ranges from 90 percent to 94 percent water and averages 4.6 percent alcohol by volume, or ABV.
“Most beers are between 3 and 6 percent, but many beers can be upwards of 10 percent and some are much higher,” says Giancoli. “Wines are between 12 percent and 14 percent ABV. Because the average beer has a lower ABV and more than two and half times as much water, it contributes to fluid intake more so than wine.”
Fiber for the Imbiber
Although the USDA Nutrient Database lists beer’s fiber content as zero grams, it turns out there is a discrepancy with respect to fiber.
The study “Dietary Fiber Complex in Beer,” published in a 2009 Journal of the American Society of Brewing Chemists, found lager to contain 2 grams of soluble fiber per liter while a dark beer has 3.5 grams of soluble fiber per liter. For a standard 12-ounce serving size, that equates to approximately 0.75 grams for a lager and 1.3 grams for a dark beer. An earlier study, “Dietary Fiber in Beer: Content, Composition, Colonic Fermentability, and Contribution to the Diet” referenced in Beer in Health and Disease Prevention (Academic Press 2008), found both lagers and dark beers contained 2 grams of soluble fiber.
Beer Outshines Wine with Many Micronutrients
“One 12-ounce regular beer contributes folate, vitamin B6, niacin, pantothenic acid and riboflavin. Beer is also a plant source of Vitamin B12, supplying about 3 percent of the recommended daily amount for adults, according to the USDA Nutrient Database (although other sources claim higher B12 contents in beer), says Giancoli. “Although wine and beer are neck-and-neck when it comes to mineral composition, each providing some potassium, magnesium, phosphorus and fluoride (the latter presumably contributed through the water source), beer is the winner when it comes to selenium and silicon.”
“Red wine may have more polyphenols and antioxidant power in test tube assays than beer, but that doesn’t mean the human body can use them for benefit,” says Giancoli. “In fact, very few studies have been conducted on the absorbability of polyphenols from food and beverages, which is key before claiming health benefits.” And while much credit for the health benefits of red wine has been attributed to resveratrol, says Giancoli, the amount of wine one would have to drink would cause more damage than good.
Choose Your Brewski
“While nutrient analyses refer to an average “regular beer,” there are more than 100 different categories of beer—and the brewing process, ingredients and proportions used can influence the nutritional content of each,” says Giancoli. Some areas where alterations in ingredients and the brewing process produce noteworthy nutritional variances include:
- The more malt in the brew, the more B-vitamins.
- The more sugar in the wort, the more alcohol.
- The more hops, the more phytochemicals.
- “Light beers” are brewed either to be lower in alcohol, carbohydrates or both.
- Similarly, “low-carb” beers are typically brewed to remove the carbohydrates.
- Darker beers may have more fiber.
From a food safety perspective beer is always safe to drink no what matter where you are in any country. This is for a number of reasons, including alcohol content, the bitter compounds that stop the growth of some bacteria, and also the low pH making it an unfavorable environment for bacteria.
“Whether you’re exploring the cultural roots of an ancient beverage, expanding your culinary prowess, supporting a local brewer or just enjoying a cold one,” says Giancoli, “remember that moderate consumption means one 12-ounce beer per day for women and two for men.” Cheers!