This is strange and perplexing, especially given all the attacks on alcohol in both this country and, as I’ve recently been highlighting, in the UK as well. Beer columnist Eric Braun, who writes for the San Antonio Express-News, in his most recent column began with this incendiary headline: Beer Is Not Health Food. Except that is actually is. Braun seems peeved by that classic of slights, the imagined one. He’s bothered by the fact that during a nearby Houston conference on cancer, the program included — what to regular readers here is old news — the study that xanthohumol (a substance found in hops) is effective in combating cancer. His problem with that comes “when headlines and television announcers start touting that “’beer might actually be good for you.’”
He brings this up because there isn’t enough xanthohumol in the average glass of beer to make any difference and he’s afraid people will use this as excuse to drink more. As someone who read this study when it was first published (and countless more like it) the majority of scientists both in this specific study and those who do this type of work are very, very careful — I’d even say too careful — to NOT suggest that people should use their results to justify increased drinking. I’ve never read one of these studies or their abstracts that come even close to saying people should take their results to mean they should increase their imbibing. Not once. His fears seem misplaced to me. It’s not the scientists at fault, but shoddy journalists who go for style over substance, the “headlines and television announcers [who] start touting that ‘beer might actually be good for you.’” But instead he blames the beer, saying it’s not health food.
Buried toward the end of his piece, Braun finally admits that “[t]he good news is that beer, in moderation, is perfectly healthful for most adults and has been shown to have at least some positive health effects.” I figured he must have known that, but the damage is already done. People will see that headline, conclude what they already believe and what neo-prohibitionists have been telling them — that beer is bad for them — and never even reach the thirteenth paragraph. But it’s the conclusion where he goes off the rails.
The larger point, however, is that if you are drinking to get healthy, you’re doing it all wrong.
Beer should be how you reward yourself for a good day’s work, celebrate a victory for the home team or toast the good life.
That’s just wrong. I think it’s bad advice and nearly irresponsible, in my opinion. The fact is that beer is indeed health food, and can be good for you. The reason Braun has noticed that “several times a year a new medical study is released stating that drinking beer or wine is actually healthful,” is precisely because it is, and evidence keeps mounting to confirm what people have known since the dawn of time. Beer wasn’t called “liquid bread” throughout most of history because it was a cute name, but because it shared the same ingredients and nutritional value and furthermore was safer to drink than water. But beer is, especially good beer, a living food. Real food. That’s been true historically and today beer is far better for you than an equivalent amount of soda, which is loaded with sugar and other chemicals.
But I adamantly disagree that beer should only be a reward, a celebration or used to toast something special, as Braun concludes. That suggests it’s set apart from a healthy lifestyle. He seems to be equating it with dessert, something to have only once in a while. But the fact is that regularly drinking moderately is healthier than either abstaining altogether or drinking heavily. To me that means moderate consumption of alcohol is part of a healthy lifestyle. How could it be otherwise? Drink responsibly and you’ll live longer. How is that not a health food?
From Professor David J. Hanson’s wonderful Alcohol Problems and Solutions:
Moderate drinkers tend to have better health and live longer than those who are either abstainers or heavy drinkers. In addition to having fewer heart attacks and strokes, moderate consumers of alcoholic beverages (beer, wine or distilled spirits or liquor) are generally less likely to suffer hypertension or high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease and the common cold.
Sensible drinking also appears to be beneficial in reducing or preventing diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, bone fractures and osteoporosis, kidney stones, digestive ailments, stress and depression, poor cognition and memory, Parkinson’s disease, hepatitis A, pancreatic cancer, macular degeneration (a major cause of blindness), angina pectoris, duodenal ulcer, erectile dysfunction, hearing loss, gallstones, liver disease and poor physical condition in elderly.
I hate to call out a fellow colleague, another beer columnist, but I just can’t figure what Braun’s angle is in this article. What point is he trying to make? Can it really be as simple as he honestly doesn’t believe beer is healthy? He can’t really be worried that someone might read those health claims, even if inflated, and actually decide to start drinking heavily, can he? Looking over some of his other recent columns, it seems like normal run-of-the-mill stuff, talking about favorite craft beers from last year or what beer to drink during the football playoffs.
But there it is, hanging in the air, “beer isn’t health food,” and me silently screaming at my computer screen. “Yes it is! What is the matter with you? Why would you say that?” I just don’t get it. Aren’t there enough attacks on alcohol already?