Probably no other beverage has suffered so much bad reputation because of a confusion of names as beer. Its supposed association with 'beer belly' has led many people to believe that it causes abdominal obesity and is bad for health in general.
What they forget is that it is not beer that causes abdominal obesity, but excessive consumption of alcohol and the disgrace has stuck to beer as it is often taken in larger quantities than wines with higher alcohol content. The fact is that, if enjoyed in moderation, beer is actually a good choice for a healthy and nutritious drink.
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Sometimes nothing will do but a glass of cold beer, for example, when you're at a pool game or in a pub with your friends. That apart, can sipping suds be really a part of healthy lifestyle?
"A more frequent occurrence of beer belly was noticed in people who drank beer, and so it was easy to conclude that beer was fattening and unhealthy", says Mirella Amato, a beer sommelier and a specialist in selecting and serving ales, "But it's just not true."
Can't believe? But consider these facts: beer has no fat, no cholesterol, and little carbohydrates. In a 341 ml bottle of regular beer containing 5% alcohol, the amount of carbohydrates is 5g, while in a pear with skin on, it is 26g!
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Now it doesn't mean that you should set aside your fruit and veggies and survive on a diet of suds. However, it does mean that beer taken in moderation can really be much healthier than beverages like soda or sugar rich fruit cocktails. "It's wise to pick beer over other beverages if you are counting your calories," says Amato.
Beer is derived from barley or wheat, and hops. So it naturally contains several of the nutrients found in these grains. Prominent of these are riboflavin, niacin, other B vitamins, zinc and other minerals. A bottle of beer will usually give you 92mg of potassium, 48mg of phosphorus, and 14mg of calcium - all minerals that a healthy diet should contain.
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Besides, beer is an excellent source of soluble fibres, which it owes to barley. As per the information provided by The Brewers of Europe, a group representing European breweries, sipping two glasses of beer daily can provide you with 10% of your recommended fibre intake.
When antioxidants are a rage among all fitness buffs, it's heartening to note that beer scores here too. A recent study that appeared in the Journal of Nutrition and Biochemistry, found antioxidant levels in the blood significantly elevated after consumption of beer.
Many studies have already noted that a moderate intake of alcohol may reduce the risk of several diseases like Alzheimer's and diabetes, besides reducing weight gain. However, some recent researches have found beer to be particularly instrumental in lowering the risk of these diseases.
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According to a study that appeared in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, moderate consumption of beer can keep osteoporosis at the bay. This is because beer contains dietary silicon, an important constituent for growth and development of bones.
Beer can also go a long way in reducing the risk of cancer. Beer contains xanthohumol, a compound derived from hops, which some recent studies have found to be associated with a lowered risk of cancer. Xanthohumol has also been found useful in reducing hot flashes of menopause and fighting off osteoporosis.
If you are counting your calories, it may be advantageous to choose a light beer, e.g. one containing 4% alcohol instead of 5. There is no dearth of light beers with excellent taste on the market, and if you like the flavour, they can be great choices for you. However, it's not necessary to trade your favourite brand for a so called light beer in order to keep tabs on your weight. There is no great difference between a regular brew and any of those light beers.
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The amount of calories in any beer depends largely on its alcohol content. "Beer owes three quarters of its calories to alcohol and only one quarter to grains," says Amato. So, a light beer that contains less alcohol will naturally have fewer calories. However, the difference is not very significant. A 342g bottle of regular beer containing 5% alcohol will give you about 140 calories, while a light beer containing 4% alcohol will give you about 100 calories. Then there are also beers like dark and rich in taste Guinness which contains 4.3% alcohol, and gives 126 calories. "It's really a light beer, but has a strong flavour."
There are some light beer brands on the market that claim to contain fewer than 100 calories with the same 4% alcohol content. According to Amato, in these beers, it is likely that something is being substituted for grains. In order to maintain flavour and reduce calories, they are getting rid of the carbs rather than alcohol, she notes. Beer owes most of its vitamins and minerals to grains. Her concern is that trimming down on grains in order to save calories is actually depriving beer of its nutritional value.