By Julie Upton, RD
President Obama’s beer summit made a big brouhaha with the media last week. All the politicos might have had their panties in a wad over what was said—or not said—and what kind of beer was being served. But I was more interested in the teachable moment it presented—a brewski can be a good thing.
While red wine is consistently lauded as a major cardiovascular aid, beer is rarely thought of as an alcoholic beverage that measures up to wine’s healthy attributes (the term beer belly doesn't help, either). However, several decades of research show that all alcohol—beer, wine, and spirits—provide similar heart-health benefits. Here are some other reasons why a cold one may be just what the President (and the doctor) ordered.
- Beer can be extra light: There are several options for extra-light beer that can be as low as 64 calories per 12-ounce bottle. Even regular light beer is only around 100 calories per 12-ounce bottle or can. In a country that likes more for less, beer wins hands down. For comparison: An ounce of any distilled spirit or just four ounces of wine is 100 calories, and a mixed drink can easily pack in 250–500 calories. My favorite summertime drink consists of half an extra-light beer (MGD 64, Beck’s Premier Light, or Michelob Ultra Lime Cactus) mixed with half of a Diet 7-Up. I believe Down Under they call these a Shandy, but on a hot summer day after a workout, I call it divine.
- Beer has antioxidants: A lesser-known fact about beer is that it contains antioxidants. In a study at the University of Scranton, researchers quantified the phenolic antioxidants in beer and found that ales contain the most, followed by lagers, light beer, and nonalcoholic brews. Based on their findings, the researchers noted that beer actually contributes more antioxidants to the U.S. diet than wine does. The researchers also provided beer to animals fed high-cholesterol diets and found that both dark beer and lagers helped protect the arteries from building up plaque. Beer’s antioxidants are thought to help temper inflammation in the blood vessels that are associated with heart disease.
- Beer may be good for the brain too: Although it is known that ethanol (alcohol's intoxicating agent) has cardioprotective qualities to help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, newer studies show that there are neurological benefits to the regular, nonbinge drinking of beer, wine, or spirits. In fact, they provide neuroprotection as we age. Scientists have already discovered pathways by which alcohol exposure helps protect against rogue proteins that are highly associated with Alzheimer’s and other neurological conditions.
The bottom line: Beer is good, as long as you drink it in moderation (one drink per day for women, two for men) and you don’t have a family history of alcoholism or a risk of breast cancer. Since I am at high risk for heart disease and do not have a family history of breast cancer, an occasional beer can do this body good.