Just how healthy is this St. Patrick’s Day favorite? (photo: Mahender G/ Flickr)
In 1928, Guinness launched one of its all-time most successful (and memorable) marketing campaigns with just five words: Guinness is Good for You. The slogan was a crafty play on the idea that a pint of Guinness makes drinkers feel better (no surprise there). As such, it stuck around for four decades.
Eventually the campaign drew the ire of the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland, which prohibited advertisements from implying “that alcohol can improve physical performance or personal qualities or capabilities.” And while the brand’s manufacturer, Diageo, has gone on records countless times to state some variation of the fact that “we never make any medical claims for our drinks,” the tagline may have proven prophetic. Today, many doctors, nutritionists, and beer experts who study the health benefits (and frequent misconceptions) of booze in one’s diet have no problem with the fact that 13 million pints of Guinness are raised around the world on St. Patrick’s Day.
"Beer, in general, is not bad for you," says Mirella Amato, author of Beerology: Everything you Need to Know to Enjoy Beer… Even More. “It has a wide spectrum of vitamins and minerals, a full complement of B vitamins, and probiotic qualities … It’s fascinating to me because there have been so many studies on beer and health, and yet people still have this false notion that beer is really bad for you. And, in particular, the false notion that it’s bad when compared to something like wine. When, in fact, it has a fuller spectrum of vitamins and minerals.”
"The way I break it down, which makes sense if you stop and think about it, is that wine is pretty much just made from one ingredient—maybe two—whereas beer is made with a minimum of four ingredients," Amato continues. "So each ingredient will give its own set of vitamins and nutrients. And with all alcoholic beverages, it has been proven that drinking in moderation is very healthy. The key word being ‘moderation.’ And if you think about that then it would make sense to gravitate towards beer, because beer has a lower alcohol content [than other drinks]."
Guinness’ heavy, hearty texture and dark color lead many people to view it as a main course instead of an appetizer (hence its reputation as a “meal in a glass”). But the truth is that if you look at the numbers regarding its content of alcohol, calories, carbohydrates, and beyond, a perfectly poured pint of the stuff seems almost nutritious. Here’s why:
It Has Less Alcohol…
With an ABV of just 4.0, the amount of alcohol in a 12-ounce serving of Guinness Draught is actually less than such tastes-like-water brews as Coors Light (4.2), Bud Light (4.2), and Corona Light (4.5).
See more: The Ultimate Guide to Day Drinking
And Fewer Calories
For tipplers watching their caloric intake, Guinness Draught is one of the lowest-calorie non-light beers around at just 125 calories (which is 44% less calories than what’s in a Deschutes Obsidian Stout). Even when compared to popular light beers like Amstel Light (95 calories), Heineken Light (99 calories), Coors Light (102 calories), and Bud Light (110 calories), the difference—as long as you’re drinking in moderation—is negligible. “Three quarters of the calories in beer come directly from the alcohol,” explains Amato. “So if a beer is low in alcohol, you can be pretty sure that beer is lower in calories.”
Loads of Flavonoids
In 2004, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison compared the health benefits of Guinness versus Heineken. The study, headed up by Dr. John Folts—a professor of medicine and director of the school’s Coronary Thrombosis Research and Prevention Laboratory—concluded that the darker the beer, the more flavonoids it contains and the better it is for your heart and reducing the risk of blood clots that lead to heart attacks. In other words: a glass of Guinness could replace the need for a low-dose of aspirin. Sorry, more beer does not have the same effect as more aspirin.
You Won’t Drink Too Much
Despite all of the above, Guinness has long been considered a truly filling beer—which can be a boon to that whole “drinking in moderation” thing. “It’s fascinating, because a lot of people find Guinness to be very heavy when, if you stop and look at it on paper, it really isn’t,” says Amato. “It’s .2 percent away from being a light beer. But I think those intense roasted notes that you get from the darker grains, which they’re saying might also contribute to the flavonoids and the antioxidant qualities, are a really bold flavor to a lot of people. That level of bitterness can be overwhelming, so it seems heavy, but it’s not a heavy beer. If you want to try a heavy stout, then find an imperial stout. Imperial stouts are thick and chewy and heavy. And have many calories.”
Low Carbs Compared to Some Lagers
Carbohydrates are the one category where traditional light beers emerge victorious; Amstel Light and Corona Light have just five carbs per serving. A glass of Guinness has twice that amount, which is still far less than a comparable serving of a seemingly lighter Sam Adams Lager (which has 18 carbs), and even a PBR (which has 12). But Amato warns that “Our contemporary notion of anything that is low-fat or low-carb is good for you is nonsense. I think you need to take a step back and figure out what they’re replacing those with. If you’re cramming your body with chemicals, that’s not a good thing. In the case of beer, most of the time you’re not.”
By Jennifer M. Wood
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