Beer and Health: Nine Questions Answered

Beer has been around for a long time. Evidence of beer dates back about 5,000 years (those ancient Sumerians surely knew how to have a good time). Archeologists have unearthed vessels from about 3,400 BC lined with beer residue. And the ancient Egyptians enjoyed beer as part of their daily lives — even children drank this bubbly brew.

1. What is beer?
According to the website A Perfect Pint[1], beer is an alcoholic beverage usually made from malted cereal grain such as barley that is flavored with hops (female flowers of the hop plant that impart a bitter flavor) and brewed by fermentation with yeast. (The fermentation process is what creates the alcohol.) Some craft beers are made with grains such as rice, corn, or sorghum instead of barley.

2. What are the different types of beer?
There are two main types of beer: ales and lagers. The difference lies in the temperature at which the beer is fermented and the type of yeast used. Ales are generally fermented at warmer temperatures than lagers and involve top-fermenting yeasts that rise to the surface of the liquid (lagers are made by a bottom-fermenting yeast). Ales come in a number of varieties, including India pale ale (IPA), Irish red ale, Flanders red ale, and Dunkelweizen. Lager varieties include Märzenbier, Munich Dunkel, and Doppelbock.

3. How much alcohol is in beer?
The alcohol content of beer typically ranges from roughly 2 percent to 12 percent but can vary considerably depending on the type. Most beers are, on average, about 5 percent alcohol. Alcohol content is based on volume. Light beer, by the way, is beer that contains less alcohol and/or fewer calories.

4. What is nonalcoholic beer?
Nonalcoholic beer is, as the name implies, beer that contains less than 0.5 percent alcohol. This type of beer is made by one of three methods: Making the beer traditionally, then distilling the alcohol off after the beer has been brewed; brewing the beer in a vacuum at a lower-than-usual temperature; or using a special type of yeast that produces less alcohol than typical yeast.

5. How many calories and carbs are in beer?
The nutrient content of beer varies, depending on the type. In general, though, a regular beer (5 percent alcohol) contains roughly 150 calories and 13 grams of carbohydrate per 12-ounce bottle. Light beer contains about 110 calories and 7 grams of carbohydrate per 12 ounces.

6. Does beer have any health benefits?
Perhaps surprisingly to some, beer does provide certain nutrition and health benefits. First, alcohol of any kind — beer, wine, spirits — may lower the risk of heart disease[2]. It’s thought to do so, in part, by making the blood less sticky and, therefore, less likely to clot. (Dark beers contain more antioxidants than light beers, which may be protective against heart disease.) Alcohol may help raise HDL, or “good,” cholesterol, too.

Second, beer may lower the risk of forming kidney stones. Third, beer might strengthen your bones. It contains silicon, a mineral found in some foods and beverages, that is needed for bone health. Fourth, beer is a source of B vitamins, which help the body derive energy from food.

7. How does beer affect diabetes?
Beer is an enjoyable, refreshing beverage, especially on a hot summer night. But people with diabetes do need to be smart about fitting beer (or any alcoholic beverage) into their eating plan. Some people (including pregnant women) shouldn’t drink beer or any type of alcoholic beverage, and it’s always wise to have a chat with your doctor if you have questions or concerns about alcohol. Beyond that, though, a serving of alcohol, which is 12 ounces of beer, is generally fine for most people with diabetes.

If you take insulin or sulfonylureas (a class of diabetes pills), you’re at risk for hypoglycemia[3] (low blood sugar). Any type of alcohol can raise the risk of low blood sugar, so it’s best to eat something that contains carbohydrate when you drink alcohol. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a low blood sugar from a serving of beer. Light beer may be a better option because it contains less alcohol and/or fewer calories.

You might alternately find that beer raises your blood glucose due to the carbohydrate content. In either case, it’s a good idea to learn how any type of alcoholic beverage affects your blood sugar by checking your level with your meter before and after you drink. Remember also that alcohol should be consumed only in moderation (no more than two servings per day for men, no more than one serving per day for women), particularly if you’re trying to lose weight.

8. Does drinking beer cause “beer belly”?
The term “beer belly” is often used to describe a person with a large stomach. In general, taking in too many calories from any food or beverage can cause weight to accumulate around your midsection. Beer isn’t necessarily the culprit — unless you drink too much, of course.

9. Is it better to drink wine or beer?
It pretty much boils down to personal preference. Both wine and beer are thought to have heart-health benefits. You may prefer the taste of beer over wine. Just remember: Everything in moderation!

  1. A Perfect Pint:
  2. heart disease:
  3. hypoglycemia:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.