Hop Tonic

Guinness ad from the 1920s

Guinness ad from the 1920s

My best friend in college happened to be Irish and once when I had a cold he offered me his cure-all: a pint of Guinness and a raw onion.  Did it work? Why yes.  My guess is it was the raw onion that really made you want to be better so badly that you decided you were.

But the health properties of Guinness were renowned, if perhaps fabricated. “Guinness is good for you”– so good that it was given to people recovering from surgery, blood donors, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

But new research suggests beer might have some health benefits.  Beer is lower in calories than milk, juice or, contrary to popular belief, wine.  Beer contains a chemical which has recently been found to protect mineral bone density.  Beer can provide you with B vitamins, can lower your risk of hypertension and heart disease.  The hops in beer have sedative, anti-anxiety properties.

But is beer good for you?  This is the question I’ve been mulling over for a few months now.  I have recently finished a course in Holistic Therapy, and my fellow students were a varied bunch, but very few were beer drinkers.  One classmate said to me, on finding out that I wrote a beer blog, “What will your clients think?” I believe she was fairly scandalized. Why would someone in a healing profession publicly confess to drinking beer?

While the benefits of beer can be found in other foods, and no one would propose beer as a health tonic, is it really that bad for you? It kills brain cells; it taxes the liver.  Is it beer that makes the belly or the 6-pint sessions that do it?  Most caloric comparisons of beer and other beverages are not ounce-for-ounce.  Consistently beer calories are measured by pints, while other beverages are listed in smaller measures. What if we rethink the pint?  I’m not asking for stemmed glass.  I’m just wondering when more pubs will start to server more flavorful, compelling beers in smaller measures.  This is how I like to drink beer, and when one considers the way beer is presented in places like Belgium, it’s not so unusual.

I have always balked at subscribing to a lifestyle, which is just another way of signing yourself up to be a marketing demographic. The phrase healthy lifestyle makes me recoil, bringing to mind as it does supermarket shelves full of bland, packaged foods and patronizing advice from experts seeking to capitalize on our mortal fears.

But many who do subscribe to a healthy lifestyle are trying to eat organic and they’re probably even counting their food miles, which means, whether they know it or not, they are warming up to the slow food movement.  And most ale drinkers are–perhaps unwittingly– part of the slow food movement: they know their beer miles because they know the brewery that’s made what they are drinking.  They probably know how it was made, how long it took and the resources that went into making it as well as the history behind it.  Some probably even brew their own.  And, in knowing all this, we ale drinkers savor what we’re drinking and that’s healthy.  But how do we explain this to people who only equate beer with cheap lager, binge drinking and the infamous “gut”?

It would be wonderful to see beer festivals pitched to the slow food movement.  Recently there was a BBC 4 show on a slow-food cheese festival in Italy. Cheese is probably as bad for you as beer, maybe worse! But the cheeses at this festival were being savored in small amounts, which is the same approach many beer drinkers take to tasting at a festival.

The healthy lifestyle industry has at its heart certain puritanical ideas.  In its most cynical aspects, it’s hoping to appeal to the self-hating kill-joy in all of us.  Has the misnamed “Be Good to Yourself” Diet Frozen dinner ever filled anyone with glee?  Has a Lite beer ever really brought joy to anyone?  Guinness used its 1920’s slogan because after drinking the beer, people said they felt better.  Good beer can make us happy.  Happy people live longer.

7 Responses

  1. Welcome back, Purlygrrrl. I agree that many people have a mental blind spot when it comes to beer. I’m surprised how many people who carefully choose healthy options when eating, assiduously recycle their rubbish and only use the car when they have to, will indiscriminately drink any old rubbish with a foreign name that comes out of a chilled font. Or worse, go for alcopops. The notion of “my body is a temple” seems to vanish as they walk through the pub door.

    However, the fact that real ale sales are modestly rising while most other styles are falling would suggest that a more thoughtful approach to selecting beers is spreading among drinkers. Let’s hope so, anyway.

    • Thanks, RedNev– I think it’s great that supermarkets are now featuring beers by region as well. Many people don’t (including me) don’t have a good off license near them. Also, I think companies that do veg boxes are starting to sell ale in bottles too, which is great.

      I personally would like to see the whole “white wine is a diet drink” idea done away with!

  2. Welcome back!

    I’ve definitely noticed delis stocking more beer – the trouble is that they often feel the need to stock organic beer, or particularly small microbrewed stuff, without any care for the taste. I.e. the label is what matters, when actually lots of mainstream ale would fit neatly into the slow food principle.

    • I agree completely. I’ve had such bad luck with organic beer that now I often avoid it altogether. I think Whole Foods in South Ken has a fantastic beer section but I think that’s more a gourmet array rather than something that’s pitched to green-thinking or slow food. There is nothing green or slow about that crazy food palace!

  3. I believe that beer is good for when taken as part of one’s diet and not added on top of daily intake. I tend to forgo the cream cake and have a beer instead (most of the time….) and find that this works well enough.

    I have lots of info on the benefits of moderate intake (and as a medical scientist I know what harm abuse does too…), but haven’t got round to blogging about it. You have touched on a very important subject that all beer lovers should consider. Maybe in the future I’ll hit the books and try to give the good and the bad side of drinking beer.

    • Hi Thom– that would be great to have a post like that to refer to. I hope you do it! I tend to try to balance too– knowing the beer is my ‘treat’ basically. I don’t drink every night, and when I do drink it’s not mindless– I try to choose something I will be present for in every sip.

  4. Beer is one of the healthiest drinks on the planet! Sports teams across the globe use beer as a sports drink!

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