Stern: Beer is good for you

Stressed? Have a cold one. Unhealthy? Have another.

Putting your feet up with a beer can be so much more beneficial than just providing relaxation in the form of a study break or stress reducer. Unfortunately, beer on campus has a bad rep. Beer lovers battle the biased reputation of their favorite beverage due to the misconception that Yalies only drink it in binging gluttony. But those of us who enjoy a good brew know that, in moderation, drinking beer can be a mature and healthy choice.

The wine industry has been incredibly successful in promoting its alcoholic beverage by catering to Americans’ adoration of antioxidants in food. But many people do not realize that beer contains these healthy molecules too. In fact, beer has just as many of the hailed “polyphenol” antioxidants found in red wine. Even better, these protective metabolic products exist in quantities four to five times greater in beer than they do in white wine.

Wine drinkers may contend that the fundamental ingredients of their product — grapes — contain healthy sugar, fiber and chromium. But they neglect to mention that the fermentation process used in the creation of wine removes many of the raw health benefits from grapes (apart from some sugar). Beer, on the other hand, is made from grain, for which the nutritional value is much better preserved during production. Vitamins from grains such as barley, wheat, rice and corn survive both fermentation and filtering processes in beer preparation.

Although both beer and wine use yeast in the fermentation process, only beer offers health benefits from these micro-organisms. The filtration process used in all wines and only some beers removes the beneficial complex B vitamins contained in yeast. Only beer can be easily served “unfiltered” in bottle and tap form, allowing it to retain the praised B vitamins, which can reduce risk of heart and vascular disease by preventing the buildup of homocysteine, an amino acid linked to heart disease when it occurs in high levels. Interestingly, those who drink beer regularly exhibit no increases in homocysteine levels over time, but those who drink wine or liquor show an increase of up to 10 percent in the molecule’s levels.

Alcohol in beer has been found to increase the amount of good cholesterol, or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, in the bloodstream. Yalies have good reason to pay attention to this fact: College students are increasingly at risk for developing cholesterol problems. The Georgia Institute of Technology reported in 2004 that, of more than 1,000 undergraduate students studied, over 11 percent had elevated low-density lipoprotein cholesterol — the unhealthy cholesterol. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control warned that older teens are more likely to have lower “good” cholesterol levels than 12- and 13-year-olds.

Beer has also been proven to have a number of benefits for the human bloodstream; it may decrease blood clot formation, promote blood vessel dilation, and reduce probability of strokes, heart disease and vascular disease. Research also indicates that heart attacks are less likely for those who consume moderate amounts of beer.

All these benefits don’t make sense to many people. Some call it the French paradox: the anomaly of a population exhibiting low rates of coronary heart disease, despite a diet high in saturated fat that predisposes most people to the illness. The average Frenchman consumes an average 11.4 liters of alcohol per year, while the average American consumes only 8.6 liters per year. (Although there is no fat in beer, when you consume alcohol, your body converts some of it into fat; the excess alcohol that isn’t converted to energy becomes calories stored as fat.)

Some people might object to regular beer drinking by contending that confounding variables, not the beverage, are the reason beer drinkers reap health rewards. They might argue that moderate beer drinkers, like many people in France, exhibit other diet habits that are the real reasons behind their improved health. For example, the French diet also tends away from American eating behaviors such as consuming large meals, lower-quality foods, added sugar and frequent snacks.

Us beer drinkers know that the answer lies, yet again, in moderation. Yes, while these behaviors can help the Frenchman’s heart, they do not necessarily exclude the potential benefits of beer consumed in small quantities. Countries that follow dietary patterns similar to France, such as Germany, Hungary and Croatia, do not exhibit such longevity, yet all three countries consume greater amounts of alcohol per capita. So, finish up your term papers and have a cold one this weekend! It’s good for you.

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