Beer is a popular alcoholic beverage made by brewing and fermenting cereal grains with yeast, hops, and other flavouring agents. Most types of beer contain 4–6 percent alcohol, but the beverage can range from 0.5–40 percent.
Because emerging research has shown that moderate amounts of wine may have health benefits, many people wonder if beer can be good for you. This article explores the nutrition of beer, as well as its potential benefits and downsides.
Though beer is often viewed as empty calories, it contains some minerals and vitamins. Below is a nutrition comparison of 12 ounces (355 mL) of standard and light beer according to fdc.nal.usda.gov:
|Standard beer||Light beer|
|Protein||1.6 grams||0.9 grams|
|Fat||0 grams||0 grams|
|Carbs||13 grams||6 grams|
|Niacin||9% of the Daily Value (DV)||9% of the DV|
|Riboflavin||7% of the DV||7% of the DV|
|Choline||7% of the DV||6% of the DV|
|Folate||5% of the DV||5% of the DV|
|Magnesium||5% of the DV||4% of the DV|
|Phosphorus||4% of the DV||3% of the DV|
|Selenium||4% of the DV||3% of the DV|
|Vitamin B12||3% of the DV||3% of the DV|
|Pantothenic acid||3% of the DV||2% of the DV|
|Alcohol||13.9 grams||11 grams|
In addition, both types contain small amounts of potassium, calcium, thiamine, iron and zinc. The content of B vitamins and minerals is a result of beer being made from cereal grains and yeast. Notably, light beer has around two-thirds of the calories of regular beer and slightly less alcohol. Though beer contains small amounts of micronutrients, it isn’t a good source compared with whole foods like fruits and vegetables. You would need to drink massive amounts of beer to reach your daily nutrient requirements.
Beer – the scientific benefits
Light to moderate beer intake may be linked to some health benefits.
Support heart health
Several studies suggest that light to moderate beer and alcohol intake may be associated with a lower risk of heart disease. One retrospective study by Pedro et al. (2018) found that a 12-week study in 36 overweight adults found that moderate beer intake such as one drink for women, and two drinks for men per day improved the antioxidant properties of HDL (good) cholesterol while also improving the body’s ability to remove cholesterol.
A study also found that beer is more nutritious than other alcoholic drinks such as wine as beer has a lot of antioxidants than wine. Beer and wine’s specific antioxidants are different because the flavonoids in barley and hops are different from those in grapes. Beer is also higher than wine in protein and vitamin B. Even better, beer contains iron, calcium, phosphates, and even fibre.
A large review by Gaetano et al. (2016) also found that low to moderate beer intake — up to one drink per day in women, up to two for men — could lower heart disease risk to a similar extent as wine.
In fact, studies evaluating the relative benefits of wine versus beer versus spirits suggest that moderate consumption of any alcoholic beverage is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular disease. One has to take note that these potential benefits are related to light to moderate intake only. On the other hand, heavy alcohol consumption can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.
Beer – blood sugar control
Light to moderate alcohol intake may improve blood sugar control, an issue for many people with diabetes. Three studies (Joosten et al. 2008; Suarez et al. 2017; Lee et al.2017)found that light to moderate alcohol intake appears to reduce insulin resistance — a risk factor for diabetes — as well as the overall risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Also, another large study by Holst et al. (2017) which included 70,500 participants associated moderate alcohol intake – 14 drinks per week for men and nine drinks per week for women – with a 43 percent and 58 percent lower risk of diabetes for men and women, respectively.
This notwithstanding, Polsky and Akturk (2017) found that heavy and binge drinking can counter these benefits and significantly increase the risk of diabetes. Take note that, you will lose these benefits if the type of beer or alcoholic beverage is one that contains high amounts of sugar.
Other possible benefits
Light to moderate beer intake may be associated with these benefits:
- May aid bone density – Three studies (Ganry et al. 2000; Tucker et al. 2009; Price et al.2013) found that low to moderate beer intake may be linked to stronger bones in men and post-menopausal women.
- May lower dementia risk – Two studies (Sabia et al.2018; Rehm et al. 2019) confirmed that light to moderate alcohol intake may lower the risk of dementia. However, heavy alcohol intake can instead increase the risk.
- Beer helps prevent kidney stones – Drinking beer could help reduce your risk of developing kidney stones. According to Ferraro et al. (2013), men and women who reported drinking a moderate amount of beer reduced their risk of developing a stone by 41 percent. Beers that contain a lot of hops – for example, pale ales – are rich in kidney health-promoting phytochemicals.
- Beer helps reduce stress – Researchers published this study in the American Journal of Psychiatry and found that two glasses of beer a day can reduce work-related stress or anxiety. However, routinely turning to alcohol to help cope with stress may do more harm than good. While alcohol may help with stress reduction at the moment, in the long run, it can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety, making stress harder to deal with (Moberg & Curtin, 2009)
- Beer helps you live longer – A study conducted by Holahan et al.(2010) at the University of Texas found that people who drink moderately live longer than those who don’t.
- Beer averts inflammation – A study by Cleemput et al. (2009) found that hops (an essential ingredient in beer) have anti-inflammatory properties. The researchers compared the anti-inflammatory effect of different hops and found that the consumption of hops in beer form interfered with inflammation-causing compounds.
- Beer cleans teeth – A study by Spratt et al. (2012) found that beer can keep bacteria from forming — and growing — on your teeth. The researchers tested the effects of beer extracts on the bacteria that form biofilm and promote tooth decay and gum disease and found that even the weakest extract of beer tested blocked the activity of bacteria. Beer was also one of the best extracts for blocking communication between bacteria, which slows their growth. The type of beer used in this study was Guinness.
Beer – negative side
Below are some of the negative effects of drinking too much alcohol:
- Increased risk of death – Two studies (Plunk et al. 2014; Westman et al. 2015) found that heavy and binge drinkers have a higher risk of early death than moderate drinkers and non-drinkers.
- Alcohol dependence – Becker (2008) found that frequent alcohol consumption can lead to dependence and alcohol use disorder.
- Increased risk of depression – (Moberg and Curtin, 2009; Cheng et al. 2012) studies suggest that heavy and binge drinkers have a significantly higher risk of depression compared with moderate drinkers and non-drinkers.
- Liver disease – Two studies (Bruha et al. 2012; Mathurin and Bataller, 2015) are of the view that drinking more than 30 grams of alcohol — found in two to three 12-ounce or 355-ml bottles of beer — daily can raise your risk of liver diseases like cirrhosis, a condition characterised by scarring.
- Weight gain – A standard 12-ounce (355-ml) beer contains around 153 calories, so consuming multiple drinks can contribute to weight gain according to US Department of Agriculture(nd)
- Cancers – Three studies (Connor, 2017; Betts et al. 2018; Choi et al. 2018) found that any alcohol intake has an increased risk of cancers, including throat and mouth cancers.
How much to drink?
How much to drink is a subject of interest. Many Christian advocates of drinking alcoholic wine point to a verse in 1 Timothy. Paul says: “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities” (1 Tim 5:23).
Paul did not clarify what a little means. Probably, Paul left this open to the scientific community to justify. Besides, the type of wine was also not justified by Paul. But whatever kind of wine Paul was talking about (fermented or unfermented), it is exceedingly plain that the purpose of his counsel to Timothy was due to his stomach ailments.
Paul’s counsel related to a medicinal use, not a social enjoyment. What kind of wine was Paul recommending? Would the apostle encourage the moderate use of a drink which Proverbs 23:31 says: “Look not upon the wine when it is red, “a drink which brings “woe, sorrow, babbling, and wounds” (Proverbs 23:29). A drink which is deceptive (Proverbs 20:1), a drink which perverts the judgment causing thine eyes to behold strange women and thine heart to utter strange things (Proverbs 23:32-33).
The Bible uses the word wine to refer to both an alcoholic fermented beverage as well as unfermented grape juice. According to Isaiah 65:8, the new wine is found in a cluster and there is blessing in it. This is obviously the unfermented, freshly squeezed juice of the grape. Referring to the communion wine served, Jesus told His disciples that He would not participate in the service again until He “drank it new with them in the Father’s kingdom” (Matt. 26:29).
It is clear that the Bible talks about a little and some instances refer to what binge drinking could have on the body. In John 10:10 in part says, “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” God says, in engaging in binge alcohol we participate in destroying not only our own life but often the lives of others.
Also, in 1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God“. It is impossible to engage in binge alcohol to the glory of God. Moving away from the Bible, the Centre for Disease Control(CDC) notes that to reduce the risk of negative health consequences, it’s best to limit your intake to no more than one standard drink per day for women and two for men.
The CDC further explained that:
Binge drinking, the most common form of excessive drinking, is defined as consuming:
- For women, 4 or more drinks during a single occasion.
- For men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion.
- Heavy drinking is defined as consuming
- For women, 8 or more drinks per week.
- For men, 15 or more drinks per week.
According to niaaa.nih.gov: in the United States, a standard drink contains approximately 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is the amount typically found in 12 ounces (355 ml) of regular beer, 5 ounces (150 ml) of wine, or 1.5 ounces (45 ml) of spirit.
Is beer good for you?
From Biblical perspective, Paul’s counsel to Timothy was related to a medicinal use, not a social enjoyment. Departing from the Bible to the scientific community, the health effects of drinking beer are mixed.
Though small amounts may be associated with benefits, heavy or binge drinking is associated with negative health effects. These include an increased risk of alcohol use disorder, depression, liver disease, weight gain, cancers, and death.
Keep in mind that even though drinking alcohol may offer some benefits, you can achieve the same positive effects by enjoying a varied nutrient-rich diet of whole foods like fruits and vegetables. In fact, a recent health article on CNN.com states in part,
“The latest studies show you can get all the same benefits from grape juice as you can from wine. The reason – purple grape juice contains the same powerful disease-fighting antioxidants, called flavonoids that are believed to give wine many of its heart-friendly benefits. The flavonoids in grape juice, like those in wine, have been shown to prevent the oxidation of so-called bad cholesterol LDLs, or low-density lipoproteins that lead to formation of plaque in artery walls.”
Compared with standard beer, light beer contains a similar number of vitamins and minerals but slightly fewer calories and less alcohol. This makes light beer a better option if you’re deciding between the two. On a final note, some people wonder if drinking beer after a workout can aid their recovery.
Beer as a sports drink?
I have encountered many people on the Ayi Mensah road engaging in alcoholic beverages immediately after their exercise. Is there science? Three studies (Desbrow et al. 2013; Parr et al.2014; Steiner and Lang, 2015) demonstrate that drinking a low alcohol beer with electrolytes can improve rehydration; other studies have shown that alcohol can hinder muscle growth and recovery. However, it’s more effective to rehydrate by drinking non-alcoholic electrolyte beverages.
Prof. Nyarkotey has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations to justify his write-ups. His articles are for educational purposes and do not serve as medical advice for diagnosis or treatment. His aim is to educate the public on evidence-based scientific Naturopathic Therapies.
In the United States, a standard beer is 12 ounces (355 ml). Drinking one or two standard beers per day may have positive effects, such as benefits to your heart, better blood sugar control, stronger bones, and reduced dementia risk.
- Moderate drinking = one drink/day for women and two drinks/day for men.
- Heavy drinkingis linked to cirrhosis, fetal alcohol syndrome, hypertension, malnutrition and pancreatitis. It also increases cancer risks.
- However, heavy and binge drinking counters these potential health benefits and is instead associated with a higher risk of early death, alcohol dependence or alcohol use disorder, depression, liver disease, weight gain, and cancers.
- Though low to moderate amounts of alcohol may offer some benefits, you can achieve the same positive effects by enjoying a varied nutrient-rich diet of whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
- For Christians still considering, Paul did not provide any standard recommendations on the quantity. Maybe, you need to ask God first. On the other hand, could this be God’s standard?: total abstinence for Christians. Instead of wine, we should be filled with His Spirit that we may be a holy people that seek and know righteousness. “But the end of all things is at hand: be ye therefore sober, and watch unto prayer” (1 Peter 4:7).
>>>The writer is a Professor of Naturopathic Healthcare, President, Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT)/African Naturopathic Foundation .E-mail: [email protected].
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