San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Study: Can a beer a day keep the doctor away?

Now that I have officially recommended that readers stick to a glass of wine as their occasional alcoholic tipple, a study has been publicized saying that beer can be good for you. In anticipation of the backlash from those beer drinkers feeling obliged to turn to wine, I thought I should conduct a little research myself.

A study carried out by Spanish researchers concluded that those drinking a moderate amount of beer on a regular basis were less likely to suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes and had a lower body-fat content. It is worth noting that study participants typically followed a Mediterranean-style diet and drank a small beer with a healthy snack. So it is moderate beer consumption, in the context of a generally healthy lifestyle that includes exercise as well as a diet rich in fish, fruit, vegetables and olive oil, that positively contributes to long-term health.

Various Internet sites laud the health benefits of beer, and in times past, U.K. doctors actually recommended a daily glass of stout. My grandpa had the pleasure of such a prescription, which he adhered to most faithfully. So what’s in beer that’s so good for you? The malted grain (usually barley), hops and brewer’s yeast provide calcium, magnesium, potassium, selenium, B vitamins and other useful substances such as antioxidants, which among them are thought to boost the immune system, hinder cancer formation, help protect against heart disease and promote well-being. Beer’s high water content – about 90 percent – helps flush out the kidneys and counteracts the dehydrating effect of the alcohol. Moderate levels of alcohol, regardless of the source, are thought to help reduce blood pressure, increase “good” cholesterol levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

Be aware, though, that all beers are not created equal, even within a single brand. The exact ingredients and the complete brewing process, including filtration, bottle conditioning, etc., can all affect specific nutritional content. It seems to be generally accepted that dark beers brewed with a minimum of processing tend to be more nutrient-dense. While exceptions will always exist, lighter, very processed filtered beers may well have had some of their useful components removed during processing.

Those of you thinking that perhaps the alcohol overindulgence during the holidays was not in vain after all, remember my favorite word: moderation. In this case, increasing intake does not increase benefits. In fact, one 12-ounce beer a day for women, and two for men, is the commonly agreed limit for obtaining these positive effects. More than that will do far more damage than good.

If you are not a beer drinker, don’t worry; you don’t need to start now. There are alternative ways of prolonging your health. But if you are an avid beer consumer and want to keep it that way, then enjoy. Experiment a little and try new varieties, especially darker beers and stouts. Just remember to limit yourself to one or two a day and keep an eye on what you eat with it.

Sources: Medscape (, U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information (, Amer-ican Diabetes Association (, U.S. Department of Agriculture Nutrient Data Laboratory (, Healthmad (

Julie Godfrey is a nutritional therapy practitioner and full member of the British Association of Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT). For more information, see or e-mail jgod

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