Beers to your health

SHAUN STANLEY/Durango Herald

Cascade Canyon Cask IPA, a creamy beer with light, floral hops and delicate spice notes, is offered year-round at Carver Brewing Co. on Main Avenue in Durango.

By Karen Brucoli Anesi
Special to the Herald

Listen up, old ladies.

Beer has been shown to improve mental function in women as well as increase bone density.

Does it get any better than this? A fat-free, feel-good beverage that can make you taller and smarter?

Before you run to the nearest microbrewery to load up on a few kegs, listen to what food writer B.C. McFadyen had to say in a distillation of a 2005 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine:

“Drinking moderately lowers the risk of mental decline by 20 percent ... Older women who have a drink a day average about 18 months younger than their actual age in mental skills test when compared to non-drinkers.”

And for men, the research is equally encouraging.

Durango nutritionist Jess Kelley, MNT, who practices nutrition counseling “with a naturopathic slant,” said there are cardiovascular benefits.

“There is some evidence that for men, consuming one to two beers per day can help decrease the chances of blood clots by increasing HDL cholesterol (the “good” kind) while lowering the “bad” LDL levels. Beer can also be a decent source of B vitamins.”

Durango’s Peak Wellness and Nutrition’s registered dietitian Mikel Love limited her praise of beer to its value as a favorite sports recovery drink.

“As soon as you are finished working out, go ahead, have a beer,” Love said. “That’s if you are not a recovering alcoholic.”

Beer provides a quick way to get electrolytes back into the body and gives muscles what they need for rebuilding. That’s especially beneficial for runners and cyclists, “probably more so than weight lifters.”

Love said consumers need to follow safe drinking level guidelines. That’s one beer a day for women, two for men.

Ten-ounce glasses of beer, that is, not the big bottles.

“You can’t run to Carver’s and go buy a growler, unless you’re sharing it with four friends,” Love said.

Jess Kelley also praises beer for its flavonoid content, crediting the flavonoids for making beer a heart-healthy beverage choice. Plus, silicon, present in beer, helps increase bone marrow density to fight osteoporosis.

“Keep in mind that beers containing high levels of malted barley and hops are richest in silicon, while wheat contains less silicon than barley, because it is the husk of the barley that is rich in silicon,” Kelley said.

Like Love, Kelley said the key to getting the benefits from beer has to do with practicing moderation.

Is craft beer really just a form of liquid bread, arguably a nutrient-dense food compared to mass-produced beers?

“I think beer and bread are two of the closest food relatives that exist, especially when you examine older brewing techniques,” said Damon Scott, Durango Brewing Co.’s lead brewer.

Ska Brewery’s David Thibodeau agreed, calling craft beers the whole-grain breads in the bakery.

“I look at it almost like white bread versus whole-grain bread. Mass-produced lagers are often made with cheap, starchy adjuncts like rice and corn and even flavorings, and are honestly bland and devoid of almost any nutritional value … Craft beers for the most part are made with only malted barley, hops, yeast and water. They offer rich, full and diverse flavors and provide protein, potassium, niacin, folic acid, and B vitamins,” Thibodeau said.

Scott said the craft brewing process retains the nutrients.

“Craft beers are typically filtered less or not at all. Filtering can strip beer of the healthy yeast metabolites, proteins and other components derived from the malt and hops. Also, they tend to be stronger and therefore more concentrated in healthy compounds.”

As for maximizing the beneficial flavonoids, consider dark beers.

“Ounce for ounce, darker beer has more barley and hops than lighter pilsners or mass produced lagers,” Thibodeau said.

Flavonoids, present in berries and richly colored vegetables, have anti-inflammatory properties that promote overall cardiovascular health and healthy cell reproduction.

“The increased temperatures used in the kilning and processing of darker malts creates the beneficial flavonoids,” Scott explained.

Scott, a diploma brewmaster who trained at the Institute of Brewing and Distilling in London, appreciates the European brewing culture, where each community has a beer specific to its region, often paired with foods that complement the distinct character of the beer.

Scott says Durango’s award-winning, craft beers are designed with a clear idea of what taste the microbrewery wants to achieve in the end with a balance of hops, yeast and malt.

Durango Brewery took a first place gold medal in the Lager/Pilsner category for Helles Lager at last weekend’s 2012 All Colorado Beer Festival attended by 2000 beer lovers in Colorado Springs. About 25 breweries competed in the sixth annual competition.

Ska took two first-place golds in two categories: Hop Character Beer (Modus Hoperandi) and Fruit, Spice, Herb and Vegetable Character Beer (Molé Stout). Modus Hoperandi, competing against gold medalists in the five remaining classes or categories, walked away with Best of Show.

Durango’s locavore slant and awareness of farmer’s market-quality fresh produce has benefited local microbreweries. While Durango Brewery crafts beers that appeal to the tastes of their tap room crowd, they also offer “something unique to the season,” that ideally complements food on the table.

Carver Brewing Co.’s brewmaster Jeff Albarella agrees that the influence of European beers dramatically changed the landscape for American beer brewing.

“Craft brewing is a blend of science and art,”Albarella said. Carver supplements a menu of more than a dozen beers offered year-round with seasonal offerings.

“We have 12 chances to please a person’s palate,”Albarella said of Carver’s seasonal beers that allow for creativity in their blends of hops and malt.

Albarella compares the citrus aroma of American hops to those grown in England, which are more “herbal.” Continual tasting and balancing of flavors is part of building a recipe for a beer, he said.

“The palate changes with the season. A fall or winter beer can be sweeter and more full-bodied, something you can sink your teeth into,” Alabarella said.

It’s within the raw ingredients: the grain, yeast and hops where the “good-for-you” components originate, but the craft-brewing process itself preserves those components.

“Beer provides an extract of the most important source of nutrients to many cultures: grain. The alcohol acts as a preservative, allowing people to enjoy the benefits of grain cultivation more regularly. Yeast then adds many vitamins and essential nutrients to the product itself, especially when the yeast cells have not been removed from the beer,” Scott said.

But nutritionists caution that beer is not all good news.

“Alcohol is detrimental to women who are at risk for breast cancer,” Love said.

Jessica Mitchell, registered dietitian at Mercy Medical Center, said she sees no nutritional benefits or qualities to beer.

“It’s a toxin that works your liver,” she said.

When asked about the possible health benefits of beer, Mitchell said, “You can find all these things in regular foods without the negative effects of alcohol.”

Kelley and Love emphasize the importance of understanding the impact of nutritional choices and say that consumers need to weigh the benefits against the risk. For those who do choose to imbibe, beer is a wise choice among alcoholic beverages, said Kelley.

“Rather than reaching for a margarita (which can contain 600 calories and 40 or more grams of sugar), unwind with a beer and you can keep the calorie content under 200 and the sugar under 6 grams,” Kelley said.

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