In defense of beer

UC Professor says beer can be part of low-carb diet

Oct 31, 2005 - Beer's bad reputation as an unhealthy, highly fattening beverage is undeserved, according to a professor of food science and technology at the University of California, Davis.


"You have to look at every food in its merits," said Professor Charles Bamforth.

Beer, in moderation, can be part of a "low-carb" diet and potentially a good source of soluble fiber and prebiotic substances that promote digestion, reports Charles Bamforth, chair of the Department of Food Science and Technology.

"Certainly obesity and the serious health problems it creates should be of great concern to everyone in the United States and other developed nations," said Bamforth. "But to erroneously claim that beer is high in carbs does a disservice to health-conscious individuals."

Bamforth directs the brewing program at UC Davis, where he holds the Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professorship of Malting and Brewing Science. The findings of his review of brewing and nutrition research related to carbohydrate content will appear in the November Journal of the Institute of Brewing.

"The message for consumers," Bamforth said, "is that the only sustainable and sensible way to lose weight and avoid weight gain is to focus on the calorie content of all foods and beverages, including beer," Bamforth said. "And they should remember that, contrary to popular thought, beer is not comprised merely of empty calories. Rather, it can contain significant levels of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals and fiber."

Low-carbohydrate diets, including the Atkins and South Beach diets, have become popular in recent years as a trendy way to lose or manage weight. Such "low-carb" diets stress avoiding carbohydrate-rich foods, including cereals and cereal-derived products. Because beer is made from malted cereal grains, it was quickly labeled as a high-carb beverage and thus incompatible with a low-carb diet.

In his research review, Bamforth notes that Arthur Agatson, who developed the South Beach Diet, originally labeled beer as "the most fattening of all alcoholic beverages" due to its use of the sugar maltose. Agatson later retracted that claim and lifted his ban on beer when it was brought to his attention that maltose is removed by the fermentation process.

Bamforth notes that the link between alcohol consumption and body weight is still puzzling to nutritionists.

"The scientific literature features conflicting data as to whether there truly is a simple correlation between beer intake and body-mass index," Bamforth said. "The beer belly probably has more to do with the French fries and sausages eaten alongside, than the beer."