So, I've been wanting to write a post about how amazing beer is for a long time, and then I found out that today is National Beer Lover's Day...I think. (Honestly, I'm not sure if this is actually a sanctioned holiday, or some creation of Anheuser Busch, to push their latest crappy lagers.) Either way, I support it. Both as a lover of the craft brew and a scientist who is able to interpret the literature to support my drinking habits.
|Guinness. The Good Stuff.|
In all seriousness, it actually does look like beer is pretty great for you. Brilliant! You knew it all along! But heads up, as researchers are finding out, some beer is better than others. It can now be scientifically stated that Bud Light is absolute trash. No redeeming qualities what-so-ever. Guinness, on the other hand, is pretty damn great.
|Strong Process Beer.|
In 2003, researchers at the University of Wisconsin did this fantastic study where they made dogs drink beer (medically supervised and within safe limits, animal people...) to see how it would affect their cardiovascular system. The scientists hypothesized that both the alcohol and the antioxidants in the beer would vasodilate the dogs blood vessels and reduce their risk for strokes and heart attacks. Turns out, the Guinness worked, but the lager did not. Go figure.
|Dogs play poker & drink beer.|
Anyway, a bunch of food scientists started to break down the chemical make-up of all kinds of beer to figure out exactly what could have been causing this healthful effect, and why it would only happen with certain types of beer.
Another group of researchers decided to get hampsters with atherosclerosis drunk. This time, they compared two Czech beers - Pilsner Urquell and Gambrinus Dark (perhaps the scientists were settling a bet on which Eastern European beer was superior...). In this study, they found that the lager outperformed the dark beer, but that both beers had antioxidant capacity that was superior to that even found in fruits and vegetables! Further, when they looked at the cholesterol profiles of the hamsters (after they sobered up), they found that the antioxidants were working directly on the LDL (bad) cholesterol particles by preventing them from being "oxidized", whereby they want to wreak havoc on the walls of arteries.
|The Nerdy Stuff.|
It was determined in the Czech Beer study, that small compounds called phenols - which come from the barley and hops - are what were producing these heart healthy benefits. These phenolic compounds have names like ferulic, sinapic, vanillic, and caffeic acids. A study that was done in 2010 showed that beers with the highest content and activity of these antioxidants was in bock, ambers and ales. Wheats, pilsners, and lagers had about half that of the bocks.
So, the take home from this little scientific look into your pint glass is this: drinking darker beers is better for your heart, your blood vessels, your cholesterol, and your taste buds (watery beer sucks, and is never a good idea...ever). But remember, the benefits of drinking beer (like drinking wine) occur in a U-shaped curve - too little and too much are equally as bad for you. They will also add a ton of calories to your day, so drinker beware. Enjoy your brews in moderation, and drink the good stuff.