UC Food Safety
University of California
UC Food Safety

The skinny on beer

Drink beer to lose weight? That’s what some recent newspaper headlines trumpeted. Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration. Actually, what our favorite authority on beer — UC Davis professor Charles Bamforth (right) — said was that swapping a glass of wine for a beer every day for a week would cut out more calories than are burned off during a 30-minute jog.

Why? Because most of the calories in alcoholic beverages are in the alcohol and wine typically has a higher alcohol content than beer. “The higher the alcohol content in any drink, the more calories it contains,” says Bamforth, the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences.

He contends beer has gotten a bad rap about belly bloating for too long. “For years beer has been blighted by a reputation for being more fattening than other alcoholic drinks when in reality the exact opposite is true," he says. "It really irritates me when I hear the words ‘empty calories’ attached to beer. That's utter nonsense.”

In fact, beer is loaded with stuff that’s good for you. According to Bamforth, there are significant levels of some of the B vitamins in beer — folic acid, for instance — as well as minerals and fiber. “Let me tell you that beer is pretty much the richest source of silica in the diet,” he says. “Detailed studies in the United Kingdom have linked that to bone health. Beer also contains antioxidants such as ferulate.”

And then there's the alcohol itself. The majority of folks worldwide who study the link between moderate alcohol consumption and reduced risk of coronary heart disease are now convinced that the active ingredient is alcohol and not some other component of alcoholic beverages, he adds. So beer is just as effective as wine in this context.

"Now don't get me wrong. I enjoy wine,” Bamforth confides. “But I know that if I want to be genuinely intrigued by an alcoholic drink, then there is much more going on in the world of beer. There’s such a vast array of styles. Something for the depths of winter — perhaps an Imperial stout — to the balmy days of summer — a sparkling lighter lager. All enjoyed in moderation, of course.”

You would expect a professor of brewing sciences to promote ales and lagers as the drink of choice, especially on a hot summer day:  “Ya'll better believe me, because beer truly is best.”

Got a question, comment, or request for more information from the beer professor? E-mail him at cwbamforth@ucdavis.edu.

Posted on Monday, August 16, 2010 at 10:45 AM


What does the professor think about non-alcoholic beer?

Posted by Jeannette E. Warnert on August 16, 2010 at 7:08 AM

They make me appreciate "real" beers all the more! Seriously, though: the answer is "it depends on the context of the question". Do they have any nutritional value? Yes - although of course they lack the alcohol that counters atherosclerosis. However I fervently believe that the decision process regarding a beer purchase should be on the basis "does it taste good?" and not on any health grounds. And, to me, non-alcoholic beers do not taste good. So if I wish to avoid alcohol - when driving for instance - then I will choose a drink that is supposed to be non-alcoholic, such as a juice, or cola, or coffee (caffeinated, naturally!).

Posted by Charlie Bamforth on August 16, 2010 at 9:02 AM

Professor Bamforth defends non-alcoholic beer's place in the world but also tells us what he really thinks about it in his excellent book, _Beer is Proof God Loves Us_. He likens experiencing nearbeer to having an inflatable lover. Very Funny!

Posted by Craigk on October 18, 2011 at 4:46 PM

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