Busting the beer belly myth

MICHAEL FORBES
Last updated 15:30 22/11/2013

OPINION: Perhaps the great philosopher Homer Simpson said it best when he dubbed alcohol the cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.

One problem that tends to get lumped on beer more than any other form of alcohol is this idea it makes you fat. Beer is thought of by a lot of people as just empty calories, so much so that the term ‘‘beer belly’’ has been permanently fused into our lexicon.

I’ve been pondering this a lot this past week now that the warm, summer night are peer-pressuring me into drinking more alcohol.

I don’t want a beer belly, and it worries me to think that becoming a craft beer connoisseur also means becoming this guy to the right.

Fortunately the internet is brimming with people who will tell me what I want to hear – that drinking beer won’t actually make you fact.

Our own Brewer’s Association, perhaps unsurprisingly, has been making a bit of noise recently about busting the myth of the beer belly.

They’re particularly noisy at present because science is starting to take their side. British nutritionist Dr Kathryn O’Sullivan produced a report Beer & calories; a scientific review earlier this year appears to debunk a lot of the assumptions around beer and body mass.

It must be said her research was produced for the British Beer and Pub Association, but it still makes for an interesting read.

Without getting too bogged down in the science, Dr O’Sullivan argued it’s not the beer that makes people fat, but rather, the food we eat while drinking, or in some people’s cases, their excessive intake.

The calories in beer comes from its alcohol, and in most cases, beer tends to have much less alcohol than wine. Dr O’Sullivan’s study showed a 5 per cent British lager contained 43 calories, per 100ml, compared to a 12 per cent white wine, which contains 84 calories.

In some cases, a half-pint of beer actually registered a lower calories count than everyday food items such as a banana, chips or a cappuccino.

Because beer is largely water and and plant-based materials (hops and malt) it contains a certain level of nutrients, although I’m always a bit skeptical of how much beer you would need to drink in order to get a useful dose.

But for those keeping score at home, most pint glasses will contain B-vitamins, fibre and antioxidants.

According to the Brits, the antioxidants in beer may reduce the risk of developing heart disease, while specific antioxidants called flavinoids, found in hops, have been linked with the development of good cholesterol in the blood and the prevention of variety of diseases, including some cancers.

Beer also contains silicon, which apparently gives the body’s anti-aging functions a good kick in the pants.

Of course, I’m not suggesting you should sit back and drink nothing but beer in order to get healthy. No one in their right mind – not even Dr Forbes – would prescribe that medicine.

But if you’re keeping your daily beer intake to less than two or three a day then it should keep that beer belly at bay.

Maybe that Homer guy is smarter than he looks.

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