When we consider alcoholic beverages, we typically think about drinking them for enjoyment rather than for health.
Alcoholic beverages can be relaxing and can provide a “social lubrication“ of sorts, lowering our inhibitions, stress, and anxiety and making us feel more relaxed and comfortable.
With that said, red wine has some touted health benefits—for example; it is high in antioxidants such as resveratrol, which has been shown to reduce inflammation and provide a cardioprotective effect.
However, we hardly ever hear about the health benefits of beer.
Beer is usually categorized as simply a drink of pleasure, high in carbohydrates, and one of the less healthy alcoholic beverages to choose from. But are there health benefits of beer? Is beer good for you?
In this article, we will discuss some of the surprising health benefits of beer and ways in which beer may actually not be as bad for you as we are often told.
We will cover:
- What Is Beer?
- Is Beer Good for You?
- Is Beer Bad for You?
- 8 Potential Health Benefits of Beer
Let’s jump in!
What Is Beer?
From a conceptual standpoint, we all know that beer is an alcoholic drink, but it is specifically made by brewing and fermenting cereal grains such as wheat, rye, or barley with yeast, hops, and other flavoring agents.
Beer has been brewed and enjoyed around the world in different forms for thousands of years. It typically contains about 4 to 6% alcohol by volume (ABV), but there are some non-alcoholic beers as well as some highly alcoholic beers, making the ABV range quite extensive, in the neighborhood of 0.5% to 40%.
Is Beer Good for You?
We typically consider beer to be bad for you, or at least empty calories, in the sense that it provides no nutritional value and may have nutrients that are not in line with your diet, such as carbohydrates for those following low-carbohydrate diets.
However, although it might be a bit of a stretch to say that beer is good for you, it does contain some vitamins and minerals, along with a small amount of protein.
For example, beer contains some B vitamins and minerals such as phosphorus and magnesium, all of which are due to the fact that beer is made from cereal grains and yeast, which naturally contain these nutrients.
Research into the nutritional analysis of beer vs. wine has found that beer contains more protein and B vitamins than wine.
For example, the standard 12-ounce can of beer provides between 5-9% of B vitamins like niacin, riboflavin, and folate. It also contains choline, a little bit of vitamin B12, and selenium.
Beer also contains small amounts of potassium, calcium, thiamine, iron, and zinc.
The exact nutritional breakdown of beer depends on the type of beer that you are drinking, the cereal grain that was used to produce the beer, whether it is a light beer or standard beer, and the alcoholic content of the beer.
For example, depending on the manufacturer and recipe use, light beer typically contains about 2/3 the number of calories and grams of carbohydrates as standard beer and is slightly less alcoholic (lower ABV).
Ultimately, it’s important to keep in mind that the micronutrient content is quite low compared to natural foods like vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
It would be nearly impossible—nor healthy—to try to reach your nutrient needs through drinking beer, though beer definitely isn’t completely devoid of nutrients.
Is Beer Bad for You?
Drinking a lot of beer can be deleterious to your health. Even light beer contains a decent number of calories per serving and grams of sugar and carbohydrates.
This can quickly add up and may lead to weight gain, particularly if you don’t make other compensatory adjustments to your diet and exercise plans.
Alcohol can also be addictive and is associated with other potential health consequences, such as sleep disturbances, metabolic changes, liver toxicity, certain cancers, poor coordination, delayed reactions, and impaired judgment.
There is also evidence to suggest that alcohol can impede muscle growth and recovery after a workout, so it’s important to be mindful of the timing of your beer consumption, particularly if you are striving to build muscle.
8 Potential Health Benefits of Beer
Although heavy beer drinking is associated with health consequences, there are some potential health benefits of beer when consumed at light to moderate levels.
#1: Drinking Beer May Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
Some evidence suggests that light to moderate beer intake may decrease your risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States.
This is about to be due to the fact that beer, in moderation, has been shown to improve several risk factors for heart disease.
For example, one study found that a moderate beer intake, which equated to one 12-ounce beer per day for women and two for men, increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels and also improves the ability of the body to remove LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Together, these changes can improve the LDL-to-HDL cholesterol levels of the body, a strong risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Although we tend to think of wine as being a superior alcoholic drink to beer in terms of health benefits, one large review found that moderate beer intake provided the same heart disease-reducing benefits as drinking wine.
“Moderate“ beer intake was suggested to be one 12-ounce beer per day for women and two for men.
It is important to keep in mind that the potential cardioprotective health benefits of drinking beer only come when consuming a light to moderate alcoholic beverage. Heavy drinking, on the other hand, is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of how much beer you are consuming.
#2: Drinking Beer May Reduce the Risk of Diabetes
Because beer contains more carbohydrates and sugar than wine or plain spirits, it’s probably surprising to hear that drinking beer may potentially improve blood sugar control.
However, several studies have indeed found that light to moderate intake of alcoholic beverages, including beer, may help improve blood sugar regulation, an issue for people who have insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, prediabetes, or type 2 diabetes.
Even if you do not yet have any of these conditions, if you are better able to regulate your blood sugar levels, you may reduce your risk of developing these metabolic problems in the future. Frequent or prolonged high blood sugar can eventually contribute to developing insulin resistance and eventual diabetes.
One very large study that included more than 70,000 adults found that moderate alcohol intake, which equated to 14 alcoholic beverages for men per week or nine for women, decreased the risk of developing diabetes by 43% for men and 58% for women.
Additionally, evidence suggests that light to moderate intake of beer can reduce insulin resistance and the overall risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
As with the potential cardiovascular benefits of beer, it’s important to keep in mind that there is a sweet spot for the blood sugar benefits of drinking beer; heavy drinking and binge drinking, which is defined as having numerous drinks in one sitting, is associated with the inverse—a higher risk of developing insulin resistance or diabetes.
Additionally, much of the research that has been conducted in this area has focused on alcoholic beverages in general and not necessarily beer specifically. Therefore, it may be that some of the potential improvements in blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity are not as pronounced when consuming beer vs. wine or low-sugar cocktails and plain spirits.
#3: Drinking Beer May Decrease the Risk of Dementia
Although heavy alcohol consumption can be deleterious to cognitive health and performance, light to moderate alcohol intake has been shown to potentially protect the brain and provide some amount of decreased risk of dementia and cognitive decline.
However, it’s important to note that most of the long-term studies that have been conducted have investigated the effects of alcohol intake in general and not beer specifically.
Red wine is known to contain certain antioxidants that confer more health benefits in the body, so it may be that some of the brain benefits that have been shown in these studies are primarily being seen in those who are drinking wine.
The studies have not tested out the particular types of alcohol that are consumed and stratified the risk of dementia accordingly.
#4: Drinking Beer May Increase Your Lifespan
Although not specific to beer drinking, moderate alcohol consumption has been found to increase longevity.
#5: Drinking Beer May Improve Creative Problem Solving
Interestingly, although alcohol is known to slow reaction times and impede judgment, one study found that light beer intake actually helped people solve creative puzzles faster.
In fact, being slightly buzzed decreased time to completion and resulted in a 30 percent higher likelihood of finding the unexpected solution, demonstrating better creative problem-solving ability.
If you’re stuck trying to find the solution to a unique problem or need some creative spark for writing, music, or art, drinking a beer beforehand may be a secret ticket to unlocking some new inspiration.
#6: Drinking Beer May Help Keep Your Teeth Clean
An often overlooked benefit of drinking beer is that it can help keep your teeth clean, which may reduce the risk of plaque formation and cavities.
One study found that beer (Guinness was used in the study) can help prevent bacteria from forming in and growing on your teeth.
This biofilm which can otherwise develop contributes to tooth decay and gum disease. Beer is able to impede the formation of this biofilm, keeping your mouth healthy and fresh.
#7: Drinking Beer May Decrease Inflammation
The hops used to make beer have been found to confer anti-inflammatory properties in the body because there seem to be compounds in hops that interfere with the production of inflammatory cytokines.
#8: Drinking Beer May Decrease the Risk of Osteoporosis
Some evidence to suggests that a moderate intake of beer is associated with preserving bone mineral density in postmenopausal women and improving the strength of bones in men, potentially reducing the risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.
This benefit of beer is likely attributable to the fact that beer contains silicon, a mineral rarely found in most foods and beverages that we consume but one which can support healthy bone mineralization.
So, while we can’t necessarily advocate for throwing back a bunch of cold ones, as long as you are of age, perhaps you can enjoy your favorite IPA or lager with a little less guilt.
Do you want to dive deeper into alcohol in general? Check out our 1-8 ranking of What Is The Healthiest Alcoholic Drink?