By Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN
When it comes to beverages with benefits, wine always seems to get the credit. If you're a brew lover, that might make you want to cry in your beer. But before you do, you'll be glad to learn that, like wine, beer delivers some decided perks as well.
"A cold beer is the perfect way to relax at the end of the day, it tastes great and, in moderation, it can even be good for you," says Ethan A. Bergman, PhD, RD, CD, FADA, past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here are five ways your favorite brew can enhance your health.
It's Heart Smart
While wine gets all the glory for its heart-healthy benefits, beer consumption may have a similar effect, according to a 2012 study in the European Journal of Epidemiology. Italian researchers reviewed 12 studies that separated wine and beer consumption, and found that moderate drinkers (about one pint per day) had a 42 percent lower risk of heart disease than non-drinkers. The comparable protective benefits to wine could be because both contain polyphenols, shown to have antioxidant properties that may help your heart, the researchers write. No benefits were found for other alcoholic spirits.
It's Kind to Your Kidneys
That brewski may reduce your risk of developing kidney stones, according to an article in the Winter 2011 issue of ADA Times. Researchers found that beer lowered 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.
It's a Surprising Source of Fiber
Who knew that beer contains fiber? Made from barley, beer contains beta-glucans — a type of soluble fiber credited with lowering cholesterol levels. A 12-ounce bottle of lager sports 0.75 grams of fiber while the same amount of dark beer boasts 1.3 grams. Don’t get too excited: The recommended daily amount of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. After age 50, your daily fiber needs drops to 21 grams for women and 30 grams for men.
It Provides Brain-Boosting B Vitamins
That cold one has another hidden health benefit: One 12-ounce beer supplies 3 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin B12, which plays a key role in brain and nervous system functioning, as well as blood formation. It’s also a source of folate, niacin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and vitamin B6. However, the alcohol likely trumps any of the B vitamin benefits, though. In fact, a 2011 study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology found alcohol dulls brain signals responsible for self-control.
You'll Strengthen Your Skeleton
While heavy drinking can weaken bones, a beer or two may make them stronger. Beer is rich in silicon, an element found in few foods and drinks, which has been linked to stronger bones. In a Tufts University study, men who drank between one to two beers a day had hip bone densities three-and-a-half to four-and-a-half times greater than teetotalers.
While these benefits sound great, it’s important not to read them with beer goggles on. Moderation is the key word here. Typical recommendations for beer and wine consumption are no more than one drink a day for women and two for men, but are heavily reliant on age, gender, genetics and body type. That means science won’t back up your decision to knock back an entire six-pack and you shouldn’t start drinking just for the health benefits.
Reviewed October 2014
Karen Ansel, MS, RD, CDN, is a nutrition consultant, journalist and author specializing in nutrition, health and wellness.