Julia Herz, Brewers Association Craft Beer Program Director, recently published an article in the September/October 2014 issue of The New Brewer arming brewers with knowledge on how to speak to the health benefits of beer.
Attention Brewery Members: The TTB does not allow the statement of health claims on labels or in marketing materials, whereas non-alcoholic beverages can make claims. That leaves alcohol beverages limited to what the media covers and the knowledge of the brewing community at large.
Beer and Health Is an Important Topic
A recent study from Mintel research made me wonder why beer does not get noted for its positive health attributes more often, and why wine is the de facto healthy fermented alcoholic beverage in the mainstream consciousness.
More beer is sold in the U.S. than wine and spirits.
The health benefits of beer is an important topic—especially with an evolving beer category—and a relevant one since more beer is sold in the U.S. than wine and spirits. To start with, beer is fat-free, as are wine and spirits. A serving of beer, depending on the style, is lower in alcohol than wine and spirits. Does that make beer more healthy than wine? Digging a little deeper into the debate, it seems to be about calories, too.
According to the Mintel research, “…20% of Americans say they are cutting back on domestic beer consumption because it has too many calories and 15% believe it to be unhealthy.”1
A poll conducted for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) had a similar finding: “…people in the UK are five times more likely to believe that wine is healthier to drink than beer. A survey of 1,000 people showed that 67% thought wine drinking is most healthy, compared to only 13% for beer.”2
However, in that same press release, CAMRA also shared:
Professor Charles Bamforth of the University of California, Davis and author of Beer: Health and Nutrition said, ‘The myth that wine is in some way healthier than other alcoholic drinks dates back many years to research carried out in France, a predominantly wine-drinking country. This suggested that moderate wine drinkers were healthier than non-drinkers. The crucial point is that it was a comparison with non-drinkers. When similar studies were carried out in the Czech Republic, a nation of beer drinkers, just the same protective effect was seen with beer. This study showed the lowest risk of heart attacks in men who drank almost daily or daily, consuming between 7 to 16 pints of beer a week.’
The Wine Game
Why do individuals think any one specific fermented beverage category is any more or less “healthy” than another? One possible answer is marketing and media attention. And speaking of media attention, I was very interested to view this timely infographic just published on alcohol and health from a LabDoor, a testing and research organization dedicated to educating people about what they consume. It shows a comparison of beer and wine and some of the information may be surprising to some.
The term “French paradox,” first used in 1986 by the International Organisation of Vine and Wine, was brought into the mainstream by CBS’s 60 Minutes in a 1991 report, which zeroed in on the idea that French people have a relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease despite a diet relatively rich in saturated fats. Resveratrol, a polyphenol found in the skin of red grapes, was sourced to be the healthful cause of the paradox. Wine sales skyrocketed. However, many studies have since disputed the health benefits of resveratrol (Google “resveratrol health debunked” to learn more).
A report published in May 2014 in the online edition of JAMA Internal Medicine shared, “Resveratrol—a substance found in red wine, grapes and chocolate—may not add years to your life, and it doesn’t appear to reduce the risk for heart disease or cancer either, according to new research.”3
Even the Mayo Clinic got in on setting the record straight by publishing this statement in April 2014: “There’s still no clear evidence that red wine is better than other forms of alcohol when it comes to possible heart-healthy benefits.”4
Regardless, years of cultural reference since the 60 Minutes piece have put wine in a spotlight that is hard to shift, but the documented health benefits of beer speak for themselves. As reported previously on CraftBeer.com5, “An ever-growing body of research confirms that responsibly enjoying beer as part of a healthy diet can promote your well-being. In fact, the USDA Dietary Guidelines specifically mention the health benefits of moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages” not limited to wine or spirits or beer.
|The Real Health Benefits of Beer|
|Decreased risk of weight gain among women who drink moderately, compared to those who don’t drink.|
|Decreased risk of hypertension.|
|Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease among healthy men, men who have had heart bypass surgery, women, and individuals with type II diabetes.|
|Decreased risk of diabetes.|
|Decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, particularly in female non-smokers.|
|Decreased risk of poor cognitive function for men and women.|
|Decreased risk of osteoporosis by increasing bone mineral density. Beer is a rich source of silicon, which plays a role in increasing bone mineral density.|
|Decreased risk of heart failure, especially with moderate consumption.|
|Increased absorption of dietary fiber.|
|Decreased risk of arthritic conditions.|
|Decreased risk and severity of rheumatoid arthritis.|
|Consumption of alcohol can help lower your cholesterol by raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL) levels.|
|Hops contain xanthohumol, found to have significant anti-cancer activity in liver cancer cells and also in colon mucosa.|
|The above health benefits have been associated with the moderate consumption of beer (one to two servings per day)5|
Everything in Moderation
It’s important to repeat that over the years, nearly all of the health benefits attributed to beer, or any alcoholic beverage, have been associated with moderate consumption. Beer is a beverage of moderation, as well as the perfect accompaniment to dinner and social occasions. As with any of life’s pleasures, too much of a good thing can have negative results.
The Brewers Association reminds beer enthusiasts everywhere to Savor the Flavor Responsibly® and encourages the responsible enjoyment of beer as an alcohol-containing beverage.
2. Press release: “Britons wrongly believe that wine is healthier than beer,” http://camra.org.uk