Beer and Disease Prevention
We often hear about the health benefits (specifically related to heart health) associated with moderate consumption of red wine, but what we don't hear about is the beneficial nutrients found in beer, which is widely consumed across the world. Folate, found in beer, is a nutrient that can help protect against cancer and is known to prevent birth defects. Beer is also rich in B-vitamins. Other research finds that beer can help you stave off kidney stones, gallstones and coronary artery disease. Results from some studies have also found that women who drank moderate amounts of beer had lower blood pressure than women who drank spirits or wine.
Beer and Bone Health
Perhaps the most promising health benefit associated with beer consumption is its positive effect on your bones. Some types of beer contain a generous amount of a nutrient called silicon, which helps strengthen your bones and can increase bone-mineral density and therefore reduce your risk of developing osteoporosis.
None of this is new information--scientists have known for decades that beer is rich in silicon--however the silicon content in beer can vary widely. Some have as little as six milligrams of silicon per one liter of beer while others top off at 56 milligrams of silicon per liter of beer. The ideal daily intake of silicon hasn't been established yet, but scientists think we should probably be getting about 46 milligrams per day (we're currently averaging between 20 to 50 milligrams per day). Ales generally have more silicon than lagers do, and beers that have a lot of malt are higher in silicon too. Beers made from a lot of barley that are light in color will give you the most bone-protecting bang for your buck.
The Bottom Line
Although brewskies may not be completely empty calories as popular belief would hold, this doesn't mean that you should start drinking beer to improve your health if you don't already imbibe. Additionally, the fact that beer contains a nutrient that benefits your bones doesn't mean that you now have an excuse to down an entire 12-pack and claim you're doing it "for your health." Alcohol should always be consumed in moderation--for men that's two drinks and for women, that's one drink (12 ounces of beer is considered "one drink"). While moderate alcohol intake protects your bones, drinking too much alcohol can actually cause bone loss.
Lastly, if you don't drink alcohol, you can get silicon from fruits, vegetables and whole-grains, which we know are chock-full of other beneficial, disease-fighting nutrients. And don't forget about the other bone-boosting nutrients: calcium and vitamin D.
Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.