Is Dark Beer as Healthy as Dark Chocolate?

 

Held responsible for the ‘beer belly’ seen beside many Benidorm pools, beer isn’t necessarily the weight gain juggernaut you might imagine. All beers contain a reasonable amount of B vitamins, with a 330ml bottle averaging: 0.018mg of B1, 0.089 of B2, 1.828 of Niacin, 0.164 of B6, and 0.07 mcg of B12. It also contains the co-factors choline and folic acid. This is not a huge amount by any means, but it compares favourably to a standard serving of many vegetables.

Beyond that, beer does contain flavonoid compounds that include xanthohumol, a phytonutrient that has been shown to halt the development of prostate cancer. However, one bottle falls well short of the optimal amount shown to deliver this therapeutic effect, with around 17 servings required to fully benefit. That being said, the complement of flavonoids do show some anti-clotting effect at around 660ml of consumption, further bolstering the cardioprotective effect consistently observed in those that consume moderate amounts of alcohol of any type. Low-level beer consumption has previously been shown to positively effect blood lipids and improve the antioxidant activity in the bloodstream.

Just like chocolate and wine, the dark stuff is the preferred for health benefits. Dark beer has around 3 times the flavonoid compound found in common beers, which is no surprise considering the dark colour that these plant chemicals impart in foods (this follows the pattern of berries whereby the darker the fruit, the higher flavonoid compound).

However, before you empty your drinks fridge in one go, it is worthwhile considering the downside to beer. The drink is made from the fermentation of hops, and it is this plant that provides a notable dose of phyto-estrogens. Around 85% of 8-phenyl-naringenin, a plant version of estrogen, is removed through the fermentation process, but this still leaves a small amount in the final product. Consume enough, and this will leave sufficient phyto-estrogens in your blood stream to impact on hormonal balance.

While this could be very welcome for post-menopausal women, this can lower testosterone in healthy men (who can help their hormonal potency by drinking red wine, which reduces the conversion of this male hormone into estrogen through inhibition of the aromatase enzyme). Anything that boosts estrogen will generally increase fat storage. So, while a couple of cold beers a week will not suddenly see men growing man-boobs, significant beer intake will destroy attempts to chisel those abs. And enough alcohol, of any type, will hammer the liver. Which just so happens to be our primary fat-burning organ. Something to consider.

So, summary time…
Is beer good or bad for health? Depends on the level of consumption. But it’s not as bad as you’ve been told.
Is it better or worse than wine? Depends on who you are and what your aims are.
Is it good for the waistline? No.
One-line summary for beer drinkers: One drink of dark beer is good for your health, but not ideal for your waistline. Consider yourself informed, and go easy!

References:

Begolli BP, Folts JD, Trella BC, Waterhouse AL (1996). Gastric administration of dark but not light colored beer inhibits in vivo platelet activity and thrombosis in stenosed canine coronary arteries. FASEB. 10(3):A43–249

Cook NC, Samman S (1996). Flavonoids—chemistry, metabolism, cardioprotective effects, and dietary sources. Nutr. Biochem7:66–76

Promberger et al (2001). Determination of estrogenic activity in beer by biological and chemical means. J Agric Food Chem. Feb;49(2):633-40.

Rimm EB, Klatsky A, Grobbee D, Stampfer MJ (1996). Review of moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of coronary heart disease: is the effect due to beer, wine, or spirits. BMJ. 312(7033):731–736

Rubin R, Rand ML (1994). Alcohol and platelet function. Alcohol Clin. Exp. Res 18(1):105–110

Tekel et al (1999). Determination of the hop-derived phytoestrogen, 8-prenylnaringenin, in beer by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. J Agric Food Chem. Dec;47(12):5059-63.