By Cold, Hard Football Facts sud stud Lew Bryson
The foundation of the Cold, Hard Football Facts is built upon the bedrock of contrarian analysis. We refute conventional wisdom simply because this "wisdom" is so often wrong and – even better – is so often easy to prove wrong if you simply look at the facts.
The same pursuit of the shocking truth applies to our other main area of expertise: tasty malt beverages.
Our buddy beer gets a bum rap from, well, just about everybody. The myths about beer are so pervasive that they're deeply ingrained in our culture. Virtually every single person on the planet, for example, believes that beer is loaded with carbohydrates. It's not. And when a fat guy jiggles up the stadium stairs, everyone points to his "beer belly" – even if beer had nothing to do with his obese, disgusting form.
The truth is that beer – in moderation – is pretty damn healthy. In fact, that's me right there in the photo, practicing, and not just preaching, proper dietary technique.
Here are 10 reasons why you should include our buddy beer as part of your healthy diet, too.
1. Beer drinkers live longer
Moderate drinking is good for you, and beer is good for moderate drinking. Everyone knows that if you drink too much, it's not good for you. Let's not pull punches: If you're a drunk, you run into things, you drive into things, you get esophageal cancer, you get cirrhosis and eventually you wind up looking like Ernest Borgnine and sounding like ... well, like Mel Gibson. But more and more medical research indicates that if you don't drink at all, that's not good for you either. You probably wind up looking like Don Knotts. According to numerous independent studies, moderate drinkers live longer and better than drunks or teetotalers. Beer is perfect for moderate drinking because of its lower alcohol content and larger volume compared with wine or spirits. And as that old radical Thomas Jefferson said, "Beer, if drank with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit, and promotes health." And he didn't need a $10-million scientific study to tell him that.
2. Beer is all-natural
Some know-it-alls will tell you that beer is loaded with additives and preservatives. The truth is that beer is as all-natural as orange juice or milk (maybe even more so – some of those milk & OJ labels will surprise you). Beer doesn't need preservatives because it has alcohol and hops, both of which are natural preservatives. Beer is only "processed" in the sense that bread is: It is cooked and fermented, then filtered and packaged. Your local microbrewery advertises their beer as "hops, malt, yeast, and water – and that's all." That's great, but guess what: The same can be said for Heineken. Add some rice and you've got Budweiser. The various beer additives some people will trot out – including some microbrewers, who really should know better – are not necessarily present in all beers; they are additives that are allowed by law. The difference? You're allowed by law to date the Naughty Nurse from the Three Wishes Lingerie catalog. But that doesn't mean she'll be giving you an oral exam Friday night.
3. Beer is low in calories, low in carbohydrates and has no fat or cholesterol
For a completely natural beverage, beer offers serious low-calorie options. Twelve ounces of Guinness has the same number of calories as 12 ounces of skim milk: about 125. That's less than orange juice (150 calories), which is about the same as your standard, "full-calorie" beer. If beer were your only source of nutrition, you'd have to drink one every waking hour just to reach your recommended daily allowance of calories (2,000 to 2,500). And nobody's recommending you drink that many.
Some light beers go even lower: 95 or 96 calories for Amstel Light, Bud Light, Michelob Ultra, Miller Lite, Yuengling Light Lager or Iron City "IC" Light. Wine has about 110 calories in a so-called "standard" 5-ounce serving. But you'll get more than that per glass in almost any restaurant. It's also surprising to most people that, ounce for ounce, wine has twice the calories of beer.
The only natural drinks with fewer calories than beer are plain tea, black coffee and water.
Surely, beer is loaded with those fattening carbohydrates, right? Wrong again. The average beer has about 12 grams of carbs per 12-ounce serving. The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance is 300 grams of carbohydrates in a standard 2,000-calorie diet. In other words, you would need to drink an entire 24-pack case of beer – and then reach into a second case – simply to reach the government's recommended daily allotment of carbohydrates. You're better off munching an apple or drinking some soda pop if you want to carbo-load. Each has about 35 to 40 grams of carbs – three times the number found in a beer.
And even though it makes me say "duh" when I just think it, beer has no fat or cholesterol.
4. Beer improves your cholesterol
Beer not only has no cholesterol, it can actually improve the cholesterol in your body. In fact, drinking beer regularly and moderately will tilt your HDL/LDL cholesterol ratios the right way. You've got two kinds of cholesterol in your system: HDL, the "good" cholesterol that armor-plates your veins and keeps things flowing, and LDL, the "bad" cholesterol that builds up in your veins like sludge in your bathtub drain. Beer power-flushes the system and keeps the HDL levels up. According to some studies, as little as one beer a day can boost your HDL by up to 4 percent. Smooth, baby.
5. Beer helps you chill – and chillin' is healthy
If you get out from under the heavy, black-and-white thought processes of American medicine, you'll find that other western medical practitioners recognize that the social aspects of moderate drinking are solidly beneficial to your health. Much like the relatively low-risk pleasures of an occasional pipe of tobacco by a pub fireplace, drinking a beer in a social setting has health benefits that are every bit as solid as the oft-noted benefits of laughing, owning a dog, taking a vacation or ... getting married. It's perfectly healthy, in other words, to get out every now and then and relax with your buddies over a couple of beers. (Now you just have to convince your wife ... good luck with that.)
For the record: Advanced European medical practices are evident in this photo, which shows members of the Cold, Hard Football Facts crew demonstrating healthy, relaxing beer-consumption techniques with their buddies in a Zurich barroom, armed with a few Swiss Army rifles. There is no evidence yet that beer AND guns are part of a healthy diet, but when the research is complete, we'll let you know. In the meantime, here's an easy-to-follow little formula those plucky, gun-loving Swiss use as a guide:
* Loaded man + unloaded gun = O.K.
* Loaded gun + unloaded man = O.K.
* Loaded man + loaded gun = Not O.K.
6. Beer has plenty o' B vitamins
Beer, especially unfiltered or lightly filtered beer, turns out to be quite nutritious, despite the years of suppression of those facts by various anti-alcohol groups. Beer has high levels of B vitamins, particularly folic acid, which is believed to help prevent heart attacks. After all, they sell brewer's yeast tablets in drug stores as vitamin B supplements; I take them myself. B vitamins also improve your metabolism (which is one reason moderate drinkers weigh less than teetotalers ... more on that later).  Beer also has soluble fiber, good for keeping you regular (doc talk for crapping every day), which in turn reduces the likelihood that your system will absorb unhealthy junk like fat. Beer also boasts significant levels of magnesium and potassium, in case you were planning on metal-plating your gut.
7. Beer is safer than water
If you're someplace where you are advised not to drink the water, the local beer is always a safer bet. It's even safer than the local bottled water. Beer is boiled in the brewing process and is kept clean afterwards right through the bottle being capped and sealed, because if it isn't, it goes bad in obvious ways that make it impossible to sell. Even if it does go bad, though, there are no life-threatening bacteria bacteria (pathogens) that can live in beer. So drink up – even bad beer is safer than water.
8. Beer prevents heart attacks
If you want to get a bit more cutting-edge than vitamins, beer has other goodies for you. You've heard of the French Paradox, how the French eat their beautiful high-fat diet and drink their beautiful high-booze diet and smoke their nasty goat-hair cigarettes, but have rates of heart disease that are about one-third that of Americans? It's been credited to red wine and the antioxidants it contains. Hey, guess what else has lots of antioxidants, as many as red wine? Dark beer! And all beer has some.
But it may not be worth your while to start stacking up the antioxidants, as long as you're drinking moderately. According to the American Heart Association, "there is no clear evidence that wine is more beneficial than other forms of alcoholic drink." One study profiled in the British Medical Journal in 1999 said that the moderate consumption of three drinks a day could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 24.7 percent.
9. Beer fights cancer
I'm sick of hearing about how great soy is for you. I'm sure you are, too. Because, let's face it, soy is nasty. Well, here's some great news for all of us soy-haters. The most amazing beer and health connection is something called xanthohumol, a flavonoid found only in hops. Xanthohumol is a potent antioxidant that inhibits cancer-causing enzymes, "much more potent than the major component in soy," according Dr. Cristobal Miranda of the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology at Oregon State University.
This xanthohumol stuff is so good for you that the Germans have actually brewed a beer with extra levels of it. They call it "Xan" and are marketing it as a health product, something that would get them shot at dawn by the anti-alcohol Nazis here in the States. Until the feds and doctors get their heads out of their butts about this, you can get your xanthohumol from überhoppy beers like Stone IPA.
10. Beer does not give you a beer belly
A study done by researchers at the University College of London and the Institut Klinické a Experimentální Medicíny in Prague in 2003 showed no connection between the amount of beer people drank and the size of their overhang.
"There is a common notion that beer drinkers are, on average, more 'obese' than either non-drinkers or drinkers of wine or spirits," the researchers said. But they found that "the association between beer and obesity, if it exists, is probably weak."
My personal experience supports this: I drink beer and my gut is shrinking – fast. I'm simply eating less. Gee, you lose weight if you ingest fewer calories. Who knew?
Most studies have found that people who drink beer regularly (and moderately) not only don't develop beer bellies – they weigh less than non-drinkers. Beer can boost your metabolism, keep your body from absorbing fat and otherwise make you a healthier, less disgusting slob. Just drink it in moderation, as part of an otherwise healthy diet.
So that's it. Drink beer. You'll live longer and be happier. You won't get fat. In fact, you may weigh less. You'll boost your metabolism, improve your health and reduce your risk of clogged arteries, heart attack and cancer. What more could you want?
Hey, how about a beer?
Recommended reading
The Science of Healthy Drinking (2003) by Gene Ford. A comprehensive look at the beneficial aspects of beer, wine and spirits consumption. Published by The Wine Appreciation Guild, South San Francisco, CA; The Web site of a European brewers' trade organization that contains a comprehensive look at beer and health
Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers (1998) by Stephen Harrod Buhner. A look at historic beer styles, unique herbal beers and their role in traditional medicine, with homebrew recipes. Published by Siris Books (an imprint of Brewers Publications), Boulder, CO.