As we listened to Yvan DeBaets of Brasserie de la Senne speak of his childhood, some chuckled quietly to themselves. When he was a child in elementary school, Belgian children were given very low alcohol beer for lunch, he said … never anything as bad as soft drinks, like they do in America. Many thought it funny that he thought beer would be a healthy drink for a child.
“The beer was slightly bitter,” he continued, “and bitter is better than sweet.” Maybe there was something to this. He was, after all, the picture of good health – lean and strong, with a healthy glow to his skin. He talked of studies that measured higher intelligence levels in children who preferred bitter beverages to sweet ones. I wasn’t sure whether to believe him, but his story was so powerful that it was hard to forget.
I decided to delve a little deeper into the subject of beer versus soft drinks. How many times do parents stop for a quick meal at a fast food restaurant? Even doctors tell stories of how their child’s first word was “fries.” Although these fast food markets sell milk and juice, it is not uncommon for a child to sip carbonated beverages, sweetened with artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, or sucrose
What do the studies show? I had to do some research.
Effects on Teeth
Have you ever heard the term “liquid chainsaws”? This is a term used freely by dentists to describe soft drinks, also typically known as pop, soda, fizzy drink, tonic, and the like. Bacteria work in the mouth to ferment the simple sugars of sucrose and fructose that are typically found in these soft drinks. As fermentation occurs, it also produces acid that can attack tooth enamel. In addition, many soft drinks are highly acidic, causing further erosion of tooth enamel in a process called demineralization. This can occur at pH levels of 5.5. (The lower the number, the higher the acid level) Colas have acid levels that settle-in as low as 2.5. This means that colas are even more acidic and more damaging to the tooth enamel.
Beer can also be somewhat acidic. The average beer has acid levels from 5.4 to 5.8, but these are typically less acidic than soft drinks. Beers made with darker malts have higher acidity, however, as do the typical sour beers with pH levels which hover from 3.2-3.5. But craft beers also have good acids called tannins. In a study conducted by the California School of Dentistry in Los Angeles, tannins prevent bacteria from adhering to tooth enamel, making it as protective as fluoride.
Another added benefit of craft beer is that it is typically made with barley and hops. Barley-based beers have high levels of silicon and calcium, two magical ingredients. These strengthen bones, teeth, hair, and nails, and aid in preventing mineral loss from teeth exposed to acids. Hops produce natural antibiotic and bacteriostatic properties, deterring the growth of microorganisms inside your mouth.
In the body, calcium and phosphorus create calcium-phosphate which, when in balance, is responsible for the formation of bone mass. Nearly 100 research studies were conducted among those who consume soft drinks to determine the effects on bone density. One significant factor stood out: as consumption of soft drinks increased, consumption of milk decreased. In addition, soft drinks have high levels of phosphorus – levels that are much higher than the body needs. When low levels of calcium combine with high levels of phosphorus, the imbalance causes degeneration in bone density.
Some studies suggest that the high levels of phosphoric acid found in some soft drinks, particularly colas, cause bones to lose calcium or they may prevent the body from absorbing calcium, decreasing bone density, which leads to fractures and osteoporosis.
According to Professor Jonathan Powell, Director of Studies at MRC Human Nutrition Research in Cambridge London, beer is a significant source of dietary silicon, the soluble form of silica. Dietary silicon promotes the formation of bone. It also increases aortic circumference, is beneficial to connective tissues, and reduces hypertension.
In study after study, soft drink consumption is related to an increase in body weight, diabetes, insulin resistance syndrome, along with its associated cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure. The results aren’t any better if the soft drink is made with artificial sweetener. Researchers at Purdue University found that lab subjects that ate products sweetened with saccharine actually gained more weight and body fat, because their consumption of calories increased, and they did not compensate by cutting back on other foods.
At one time, the major sweetener in soft drinks was sugar or corn syrup. A new paradigm occurred in 2010, when high fructose corn syrup became the love child of the food and drink industry in the United States. The cost is so low and the sweetness so intense that it simply dominates the industry. Unfortunately, fructose is a simple sugar and metabolism is extremely rapid, causing the formation of fatty acids and triglycerides in the liver, leading to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Contrary to popular belief, the connection between beer and the beer belly is not a valid claim. Professor Arne Vernon Alstrup of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark says that scientific studies that have made such a claim have little substance to them, and have been flawed, at best. In fact, beer actually lowers the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack. In a study conducted by Dr. Michael Weber at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine in Brooklyn, NY, the consumption of beer was shown to increase HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol, lessening the risk of clogged arteries. Another study by Dr. Henk Hendriks and colleagues at the TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute showed a thirty-five percent increase of vitamin B6 in the blood plasma of beer drinkers, along with an increase in HDL levels among moderate drinkers of beer.
Beer is also associated with an increase in DHEA, a hormone manufactured in the body that restores oxidative balance in diabetics, may assist memory function, and provides protection against arteriosclerosis. Polyphenols found in beer also serve a cardioprotective role.
In fact, evidence is so strong supporting these claims that “Abstainers should be informed that regular and moderate alcohol consumption would put them at a level of cardio-vascular or mortality risk substantially lower than avoiding drinking,” said Licia Lacoviello, PhD at both Naples University, Italy, and Leiden University, The Netherlands.
Is there more? Absolutely. Nearly 80% of soft drinks in the U.S. market contain benzene levels above that recommended as healthy by the Environmental Protection Agency, with most measuring in at four times the standard allowed for tap water. Studies done in the U.K. by the Food Standards Agency found a similar result – one that was greater than what was an acceptable standard by the World Health Organization.
One more note: Did you know that fruit juice contains alcohol? Orange juice typically has 0.03% alcohol in it. After it is opened, alcohol levels increase, even while refrigerated, due to natural fermentation of fruit sugars. Non-alcoholic beer has less than 0.05% alcohol, is less acidic, and has tannins to protect the teeth. Perhaps the Belgians were right.
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Vacu Vin Rapid Ice Beer Chiller, set of two
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