On Veterans Day, The Husband and I went on a fun tour at Boston's Harpoon Brewery--a recommended excursion if you've never been. Harpoon's $5 tour lets you see the brewing process where the most famous Massachusetts IPA is made, and ends with a triple tasting, before heading back to the beer hall for fresh baked pretzels and more beer.
Although overall beer consumption has been declining in the U.S., with the rapid rise in local craft brews, beer has expanded its market into a more sophisticated yuppie sector than previous decades. One of the challenges to the brewers' sales is that there is a pervasive misconception that beer, especially when compared to wine or hard liquor, is less healthy and will add quick pounds to your body--that even small quantities will give you a "beer belly"!
You might be surprised to know that, ounce for ounce, beer has FEWER Calories than wine--about half, actually. A typical serving of wine, however, is 5oz, whereas beer is 12oz; a glass of wine has about 120 Calories and a glass of beer averages 150. The reason why beer has fewer Calories per ounce is because it contains a lower % alcohol by volume--around 4.5% compared to 12%. While beer contains additional Calories in carbohydrates because it's a grain product, and wine has just a few grams of sugar from grapes, most of the Calories in both come from alcohol.
There is, however, a considerable Caloric variance across beers. Stouts and porters will have more grams of carbohydrates (around 15) than pale ales and lite beers (around 5). Click here for a neat table comparing many different brews. These differences across beers, however, generally only amounts to ~50 Calories, which is the equivalent to about 5 whopping potato chips. Which brings me to perhaps a more important nutrition consideration regarding beer...
When was the last time you went out for beer with friends and ONLY consumed beer? I'm sure you're aware that alcohol can give you the munchies. When you drink any alcohol, regardless whether beer or wine, you feel less full and you can become more pleasure-seeking and less inhibited, which can lead to overeating. Additionally, alcohol, especially beer, enhances the taste of salt and fat, making you crave more. Often times, we eat more fat, salt, and Calories with beer than wine because of what foods tend to be paired with them. Though beers are becoming a more sophisticated beverage in our social circles, you probably pair it in your mind with burgers and fries, nachos and football games, and pepperoni pizza--high Calorie, fat, and sodium foods. So, you see, it isn't that beer is a serious threat to causing unwanted weight gain on its own. The "beer belly" is likely more the "beer and junk food belly".
However, if you're someone who can tilt back can after can during a football game, your beer belly might be just that. I know the "dad bod" is the new cool look (eh, or so they say) these days, but beer bellies are not healthy bellies. Alcohol, no matter what kind of drink it comes from, doesn't just add Calories that are metabolized the same way carbs, fats, and proteins are. Alcohol, as a toxin, is metabolized with high priority in the liver, and when it is consumed in abundance, fat deposits accumulate in the liver, causing fatty liver disease. (Over time, the inefficient and inflamed liver can become cirrhotic, which even leads to death.) With fatty liver there is also a localization of fat stores in the abdomen--which is more predictive of heart disease and cancers than BMI.
So, what then? Is beer out? No! Beer can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy nutrition lifestyle. Here are 3 Tips to Enjoy Beer without the Beer Belly:
1. Drink beer for pleasure, not hydration. You might think you're craving a beer, on a hot day, or after a hard workout, but I promise you: your body is craving water, not alcohol. Beer's alcohol is a diuretic and is dehydrating, not truly quenching. So drink water for hydration, and only choose beer for its taste and enjoyable benefits of alcohol--for pleasure.
2. If choosing to drink a beer, choose the beer you like the very most. Yes, I did note that some beers have fewer Calories and fewer grams of alcohol than others; beers differ considerably nutritionally. But these differences are small in the grand scheme of enjoying a relatively "empty Calorie" beverage. Because different kinds of beers taste rather different, you might want to experiment with different flavor profiles; branch out, to find your favorite brew. If you crave a beer, make it the best beer you can find. Better to drink less beer and really enjoy it!
3. Be mindful of what you eat during and after you drink beer. You're never going to be at your best intuitive eating when you consume alcohol. It simply comes with the drug's territory. So be mindful of your health goals and align your consciously align your consumption decisions when you're drinking beer.
Drinking beer in moderation and following these 3 tips, you can be sure to enjoy beer sans the beer belly.