beer column

my notes from yesterday's beer column on cbc radio one's on the coast
where i chatted about beer bellies and nutritional value of beer with stephen quinn

Local craft brewers love to put a list of ingredients on the bottle as evdence that they're making quality products - - but what you won't find on the bottle is a calorie count.

This topic came up during an off the air conversation Stephen Quinn and I had a little while ago.  Through his extensive research this fall tasting some of the new craft brews out there he noticed that his pants appeared to be growing tighter, which caused him to wonder how many calories are in those delicious craft beers anyway.

The internet is full of medical articles about both the health benefits and health detriments of beer. A couple of articles that were getting a lot of attention, and I mentioned in a previous beer column, were a University of Wisconson study that found that Guinness really IS good for you - it "may work as well as a low dose aspirin to prevent heart clots that raise the risk of heart attacks" and strokes. Along similar lines, a Harvard study of 70,000 women ages 25 to 40 found that moderate beer drinkers were less likely to develop high blood pressure - a major risk factor for heart attack - than women who sipped wine or spirits. And for the men out there, a study in Finland singled out beer among other alcoholic drinks, finding that each bottle of beer men drank daily lowered their risk of developing kidney stones by 40 percent.

However, I urge you to keep in mind that all of the health benefits claimed in all the articles I found were for moderate beer drinking - 1 or 2 beers a day.

Okay, so beer may actually be good for you, in moderation, but is it actually nutritious?

I don't have the Canadian numbers, but the USDA has calculated the nutritional value of beer by the ounce, the gram and by the can (356 grams/12 ounces) - I'll give you the breakdown by the can measurement as that I think is the easiest to picture: calories 154, 0 fat, 0 cholesterol, 14 milligrams of salt, which doesn't even register on the daily value percentage, 96 milligrams of potassium (2% daily value), total carbs 13 grams (4% daily value), protein of 1.6 grams or 3% daily value; 1% of your daily calcium requirement, 10 % of your vitamin b-6, 1% of b-12 and 5% of your magnesium. So that doesn't sound bad at all.

By way of comparison, your average can of cola has 138 calories (a few less), similar sodium, almost no potassium, a whopping 35 grams of carbohydrates (which is 11% of your daily value), 33 grams of sugar (versus a misleading zero for beer - beer sugars are measured in alcohol as opposed to sugar), virtually no protein, and just 2% of your daily iron... plus it has 29 milligrams of caffeine.

Please keep in mind that those are just averages. Actual nutritional value of beers varies by ingredients and alcohol content. For example Sierra Nevada's Summerfest beer, at 5% has 158 calories and 13 grams of carbohydrates. Their IPA at 6.9% has 231 calories and 20 grams of carbs, and their Bigfoot at 9.6% has a big 330 calories and 32 grams of carbohydrates (more than double the calories and carbohydrates for less than double the alcohol).

So what then, is with beer bellies?  Are they caused by beer?  Or can we (please, pretty please) point the finger at some other cause?

Besides the high calorie count when you have more than a beer or two, which is what usually happens at a beer festival, I think it really comes down to life-style that leads to the "beer belly". Alcohol lowers blood sugar, which makes you feel hungry. So while you are drinking an alcoholic beverage or two, you will often become hungry and want to eat something. If you are out a bar, or at home watching the game, you don't tend to reach for a salad and nice lean piece of fish. Odds are you eat something deep fried. Those calories and fats are as much or more to blame for putting on weight than the beer itself is. Also, while you're sitting around drinking, you're not burning calories.

A study by Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital followed 19,000 women over the course of 13 years and charted their weight gains. The moderate drinkers gained less weight than the tea-totallers and the heavier drinkers.  Blame the food dammit, blame the food, not the beer!

I'm not a nutritionist or a fitness instructor, but the way to maintain weight is the very simple formula of getting more exercise and watching what you eat. If you average out the calories in a beer to 200, according to online calculators it would take the average person 15 minutes of running to burn those calories, or 45 minutes of walking. So you can "earn" your beers by hitting the stairs instead of taking the elevator or escalator. Walk to the pub, and perhaps home afterwards too. You could work out as many times a week as you go out for drinks.

Then, rather than eating something deep fried and fatty when you get hungry while drinking, you could opt instead for a higher protein/lower carbohydrate food option instead. That way you would feel full on fewer calories and save your carbohydrate calories for the beer you're drinking!

I also like to incorporate the "rinse cycle" when I'm out enjoying a pint or two - for every beer I drink, I have a glass of water. Not only does this help re-hydrate you, it also acts to slow your beer drinking down - and if you have one fewer beer while you're out, you're saving yourself both calories and money.

Beer pick:

Picking up a Driftwood Brewing Lustrum Anniversary Sour would be calories and money well spent! Pick up a couple - one to drink now and one to cellar for future enjoyment.

Lustrum is the 4th release in Driftwood’s Bird of Prey series and named after the Roman word for a five year period, it commemorates Driftwood’s 5th Anniversary of crafting beer in Victoria.

Aged for over a year in French Oak and fermented with locally sourced wild yeast and a copious load of black currants, Lustrum is a complex beer.

And be on the lookout for other cellarable beers being released – tis the season for barleywines and imperial stouts – two great beers for cellaring.


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