Put Less in Your Pie Hole: Should You Steer Clear of Beer?

Wine is often spruiked as ‘heart healthy’, ‘artery unclogging’, ‘miracle juice’. There’s almost a headline a week about how wine helps ward off cancer, gallstones, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), cardiovascular (heart) disease, ‘bad’ cholesterol and more. But this begs the question: What about beer?

First, a bit of beneficial background about beer brewing. Beer is made from two plant sources: barley and hops. The act of ‘brewing’ allows the barley starch to morph into a sugary liquid called ‘wort’ (what an appetising name…). The ‘wort’ transforms into alcohol via fermentation by (brewer’s) yeast.

A fun fact about beer colour: Dark beer doesn’t equal higher alcohol content. Beer colour is determined by the type of malt. Alcohol content is determined by the amount of sugar in the wort.

Most beers use malted barley, although some beers use other grains, or combinations of grains including wheat, rice, oats and rye. ‘Malted’ simply means the grain germinates or sprouts before it is used. Hops, a flower from the hop vine, adds the bitter flavour and aroma typical of beer.
Some fun facts about hops:
  • It acts as a preservative (due to its acidity)
  • It has antibiotic properties that favour brewer’s yeast above other microorganisms, this aids in ‘head retention’ (it sounds dirty, but it’s the foam layer that sits atop your glass of beer)
As we said earlier, red wine is often promoted as ‘heart healthy’, but the truth is, it’s the ethanol (alcohol) that provides benefits like increasing ‘good’ cholesterol, decreasing ‘bad’ cholesterol and reducing risk of blood clots.

There’s a lot of talk about ‘polyphenols’, particularly regarding red wine. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants that have protective health effects like reducing risk of heart disease and blood clotting, and lowering ‘bad’ cholesterol. Both wine and beer contain polyphenols, but they originate from different sources. In wine they come from grapes and in beer they come from hops and malt. Basically, your yuppie, wine swilling neighbour isn’t getting a better deal on polyphenols with his expensive bottle of wine.

A fun fact about polyphenols in wine: The red stuff contains about 10 fold more polyphenols than the white stuff.
How does beer measure up against wine nutritionally speaking? Per oz (~30ml):

Wine is higher in calories due to the higher alcohol content. A bit of context: 1 gram of alcohol contains 7 calories. Compare that to 1g of fat containing 9 calories and 1g of protein/carbohydrate containing 4 calories. Alcohol is pretty energy dense, booze hounds beware.
Beer and wine contain a slew of vitamins and minerals. Beer beats wine per ounce in niacin, pantothenic acid (vit B5), vit B12, folate, selenium and silicon. Wine beats beer in the calcium, iron magnesium, potassium, zinc, manganese and flouride departments.

Things to remember:

  • Beer and wine contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants… In very small amounts
  • The health benefits of beer and wine are based on regular, moderate consumption
  • Health benefits of beer and wine are greater when combined with a healthy diet

Learn more about alcohol guidelines and ‘standard drinks

Home Brewing

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