‘He was a wise man who invented beer” sounds like the kind of quote that surely must have come from the Homer Simpson font of knowledge, sponsored by Duff Beer.
In fact, the ancient quote is attributed to Greek philosopher, mathematician and all-round clever clogs Plato, a chap who surely knew what he was talking about when it came to the occasional libation.
And, it seems, he was spot on. For while a new survey has confirmed that beer is the nation’s favourite drink, the even better news that will really have fans of the brew raising a glass, is that it could actually be quite good for us.
A new study by brewing giant Guinness reveals that for 55 per cent of Brits, beer in any of its forms – stout, draft, ale, bitter or lager – is the tipple of choice. We’re certainly buying plenty of the stuff, during the first week of the World Cup, sales of beer and cider soared in the UK by £27.7m, fuelled by pleasant weather and the lure of the football.
However while a cool refreshing pint might go down well with the taste buds, it seems that taken in moderation – and bearing in mind the multiple risks linked to overdoing it – beer might actually reach, and even boost, places we didn’t even know existed.
According to Colin Valentine, the Edinburgh-based national chairman of real ale campaign group CAMRA, for too long beer has been wrongly regarded as being a less healthy alternative to wine.
“It’s a common misconception that if you are going to drink, then drink wine as it’s better for you than beer. But there’s is no difference between the two – the same ‘good’ substances that are in wine, are also in beer.”
For a start, antioxidants which are said to help prevent illnesses like cancer and cardiovascular disease – typically found in fruit, vegetables and grains – are in both beer and wine, he points out.
“Beer is basically four natural ingredients: malt, water, hops and yeast,” says Colin. “Boil the malt in water which releases the sugar and starches, the yeast then goes for the sugars and starches and converts it to alcohol and the hops add the flavour.”
Professor Alex Speers, Chair and Director of the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University agrees beer seems to have some special qualities that have been linked to helping prevent cardiac and cancer problems.
“Some scientists are looking at the effects of beer on health and whether alcohol in moderation can be beneficial. Certainly there seems to be some evidence that there are certain benefits.”
The golden rule behind getting a healthy kick from your tipple, however, is to drink sensibly. “Moderation is the key,” he adds.
So with that in mind, settle down, pour your favourite brew and find out how a refreshing pint could be healthier than you think.
Energy drinks are stuffed with sugar and caffeine, not the world’s ‘healthiest’ ingredients. And one study claims they don’t actually rehydrate post workout quite as well as a refreshing lager. Scientists in Spain studied students running on a treadmill in the heat. Some were given water, others lager. The lager drinkers experienced “slightly better” rehydration effects than the others, prompting the researchers recommend moderate daily beer consumption of 500ml for men, 250ml for women as part of an athlete’s diet.
HOPS TO IT
Hops, a core ingredient in many varieties of beer, is linked to a host of health benefits, from improved sleep, to lowered cholesterol and reduced cancer risk.
Scientists in Germany found that xanthohumol, found in hops, can block the excessive action of hormones testosterone and oestrogen, which play a part in the spread of prostate and breast cancer. Unfortunately it is present in such small amounts in beer that a person would have to consume more pints than is considered healthy in order to consume the required amount.
Iron is essential for overall health, keeping energy levels up and enabling healthy blood function, but many of us are lacking in it. However it can be found in certain dark varieties of beer, used to improve the stability and quality of the brew. Beer also has a thinning effect on blood and can help prevent the formation of clots which cause blocks in coronary arteries.
Professor Alex Speers, Chair and Director of the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University, points to the French Paradox, the curious situation whereby France has a lower rate of heart disease than the rest of the world, and yet still consumes foods that are rich in fat. “That was attributed to their red wine consumption and the idea that red wine could protect them and enable them to live longer,” he says.
“That entered the public’s mind that wine is healthier than beer. However, they are more or less the same thing.
“Ethanol seems to be slightly cardio protective. And wine and beer both contain antioxidants and polyphenols which tend to soak up oxygen and seem to reduce the risk of cancer. “
Darker coloured beers and stouts have higher levels of polyphenols, potentially making them a ‘healthier’ option, he adds.
Beer also contains vitamin B6 which prevents the build up in the body of a chemical called homocysteine reckoned to be connected to an increased risk of heart disease.
HAIR OF THE DOG
For years a certain Irish stout extolled its virtues by declaring “Guinness is good for you” – and studies have shown it could be the case. Back in 2003, scientists at the University of Wisconsin in the US carried out a study which involved giving beer to dogs with narrowed arteries. Guinness was found to bring about a reduction in blood clotting, similar to the effects of taking aspirin - compared with the pooches that lapped up lager. It’s believed that the antioxidant compounds were the reason.
Enjoying a pint with your mates is a chance to relax and let off steam – good for keeping stress at bay. A Scottish-based Medical Research Council study in January this year found that visiting pubs actually improved men’s mental health by giving men a platform to open up and talk about their emotions. Beer is also high in Vitamin B12 which helps maintain good memory and concentration.
FULL BODIED BREW
Beer is said to increase the potency of vitamin E which helps keep our skin healthy. And thanks to the presence of silicon, moderate beer intake can increase bone density helping prevent breaks and osteoporosis.
Beer is also fat free and although it not as healthy as a glass of milk, it has few calories - around 30 calories per 100ml compared to 50 calories per 100ml of semi-skimmed milk.
In some places a glass of beer might actually be safer than a glass of water – even bottled water. If you’re heading abroad to a place where the water can be dodgy, a bottle of beer could be a better option – beer is boiled in the brewing process and then capped and sealed. A bad beer could give you a dodgy tummy but unlike a glass of water that’s alive with nasty bugs,it’s unlikely to seriously harm your health.
It’s not all good news, of course. Thanks to the alcohol in beer, many health benefits could be wiped out instantly if you imbibe too much too often. Liver problems, fertility issues, increased risk of various cancers, heart attack and high blood are all linked to high alcohol consumption. Alcohol is also connected with relationship problems, depression, weight gain and poor sleep, while getting drunk can put us in dangerous situations and risk-taking behaviour.