Generally speaking, beer and health aren’t necessarily equated with one another in most people’s minds; even though there’s lots of recent scientific and medical research that show beer drinking (responsibly) is good for you. Most beer lovers don’t pause to read the nutrition label before cracking the top on a fresh brew. However, there are some beers out there that are better for you than others. Which brews make the top of the list in terms of “healthiness” and why should you care? Let’s take a closer look at your options.
What Makes a Healthy Beer?
Before we delve into which beers are not bad for you and which ones are actually good for your body, it would be a good idea to go over just what makes one beer “healthier” than another. It basically boils down to two things really – calories and alcohol content. Choosing a beer with lower calories is a no brainer for those watching their waistlines of course, but choosing a lower alcohol brew flies in the face of some emerging craft brew trends, specifically the trend of stronger and stronger “novelty” beers.
Then there is the question of special ingredients included in the brew. A wide range of different ingredients can be added to the basic four that make up the average brew, many of which can offer some distinct health advantages. Let’s cover a few of those before we move on:
Wheat: Wheat beers have been shown to provide significant benefits, particularly for runners and other endurance athletes. The benefit here is that wheat seems to offer relief from inflammation in muscle tissues and joints, and can also help to combat problems with the respiratory system. Of course, for those with gluten intolerance problems, wheat beers are off the table.
Fruit: Fruit has been used to flavor beer since time immemorial. Today, a wide range of fruit types can be found in beer, from oranges to strawberries, lemons to raspberries and even more exotic options. However, craft beer brewed with fresh fruit (or high-quality fruit extract) can offer some health benefits, particularly when that fruit is high in vitamin C. For instance, raspberries are an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps to boost the immune system.
Another important fruit here is pomegranate. Called a “superfood,” pomegranate offers some very impressive health benefits, from boosting your immune system to helping with blood pressure problems and more.
Green Tea: Fusing beer with other types of beverages has become more popular recently in the craft brew world. Some brewers are going the route of combining their brews with tea (particularly green tea). This offers a world of health benefits due to the high antioxidant content in green tea. Antioxidants can help fight a wide range of issues, from cancer to the aging process.
Ginger: Ginger has been used as a cure-all for thousands of years. The Chinese, Romans, Greeks and numerous other ancient cultures extolled the virtues of this root. You’ll find ginger included in quite a few new beers on the market. While the FDA might be silent on the health benefits of ginger, it’s hard to argue with a tradition that dates back thousands of years.
Hemp: No, you won’t find beer laced with THC on the market (at least not openly, at any rate). Hemp seeds are used to add flavor to different brews. You’ll also find that they offer some important heart health benefits, too. Studies have shown that hemp seeds can also help to lower high blood pressure in those suffering from hypertension.
Spruce: Spruce is a species of evergreen tree and most people don’t really equate spruce needles with food or drink. However, spruce needles can impart some interesting flavors, but they also offer help for those with joint pain, poor blood circulation in the body and can even help lower stress (or that might just be the alcohol).
Oysters: Eating oysters while drinking a cold beer is nothing new. However, you’ll now find the oysters added directly to the brew. While that might sound like a rather odd combination, it does have its benefits. Most importantly, at least as far as health is concerned, oysters are high in protein and a variety of essential minerals.
Now, that’s a pretty long list of healthy additives, even though some of them might sound a little farfetched. The truth of the matter is that you’ll find craft beers available from breweries around the world that include these healthy ingredients and many others too.
The Healthiest Beers on Offer
So, what are the healthiest beers that you’ll find on offer? Interestingly, Sam Adams Light comes in pretty high on the list (at the top of the list, according to some). The beer doesn’t have any special ingredients, but it is very low in calories, has a modest alcohol content and doesn’t stint on flavor, body or mouth feel.
Surprisingly, Guinness is also among the healthiest beers out there. Again, there is no special ingredient that helps push it ahead of other beers. However, it is very low in calories, and the alcohol content is well below the 5.0 ABV average cited by authorities (the CDC, for example) as the typical alcohol content for beer.
If you’d like to break out of the box and go for some healthier beers that you won’t find sitting on the shelves of most grocery stores (appealing to the hunter in you), then you might consider some of these brews:
He’Brew Rejewvenator ’10 (Schmaltz Brewing Co.)
Gumballhead (Three Floyds)
Good Juju (Left Hand)
Black Hemp Black Ale (O’Fallon)
Major Tom’s Pomegranate Wheat (Fort Collins Brewery)
Of course, there are numerous other options out there and chances are good that you’ll find a craft brewery or two in your local area serving up healthful, refreshing brews with unique ingredients. Keep an eye out for fresh fruit and all-natural ingredients, but also bear in mind the calorie count and ABV rating for any beer you choose if you’re concerned about the health benefits (or adverse effects).