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By Carolyn O'Neil
For the AJC
A recent lunch at Local Three Kitchen & Bar got me thinking about the popularity of craft beer.
This Atlanta restaurant, which focuses on farm-to-table dining, offers a beverage list with nearly a dozen craft beers on tap and two pages of bottled beers representing an impressive bevy of breweries from locally crafted to internationally known. Printed next to the name and origin of each lager, pilsner and ale is the percentage of alcohol by volume (ABV) contained within, such as a Blanche de Bruxelles from Belgium with a demure 4.5 percent or a Unibroue La Terrible from Quebec with a hefty 10.5 percent. (For comparison, wines range between 12 percent and 14 percent ABV.)
In any potent potable, as the percentage of alcohol content goes up, so does the number of calories. So this got me wondering more about beer’s nutritional profile.
While beer has long been associated with an unhealthy paunch -- the beer belly -- it turns out beer can be a healthful choice.
“Beer contains more water than wine, so it’s more hydrating and fills you up so [it] helps curb your intake," said Andrea N. Giancoli, a registered dietitian. "Dark beers are especially satisfying because they’re richer tasting.”
Giancoli, who professes, "I love my lagers," shares nutritional facts on the health benefits of beer in the Winter 2011 issue of the American Dietetic Association’s member publication, ADA Times. “When it comes down to it, we’re a nation of beer drinkers," she says, "so dietitians should know more about this popular beverage so they can better advise Americans.”
Heart health and beyond
Red wine often gets all the glory as a heart-healthy drink, but it is the ethanol in all alcoholic beverages, including beer and spirits, that is associated with a lower incidence of heart disease, gallstones, risk of type 2 diabetes and improved brain function in older adults. The recently released U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans include a recommendation for moderate alcohol consumption: one drink per day for women, two drinks per day for men. A drink is defined as 1.5 ounces of spirits, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.
With beer as your drink of choice, you’re downing more than ethanol for your health.
“Beer specifically has been associated with additional health outcomes, including lowering the risk of kidney stones in men compared to other alcoholic beverages, possibly due to its high water content and diuretic effect,” Giancoli notes. “Compounds in hops may also slow the release of calcium from bone that is implicated in kidney stones. Additionally, beer drinkers seem to have a more protective effect towards greater bone mineral density due to the high content of the mineral silicone in beer.”
During an interview in Atlanta this week, I told Kevin Concannan, the USDA undersecretary of food, nutrition and consumer services, about beer’s nutritional pluses. Concannan, a beer drinker, replied, “This is the best news I’ve heard in years.”
A toast to beer’s many boasts
It's a source of B vitamins, including vitamin B12. One 12-ounce regular beer provides 3 percent of the recommended daily amount of B12 for adults.  (Source: USDA Nutrient Database)
While the USDA Nutrient Database lists beer’s fiber content as zero, Giancoli says recent research conducted by brewing chemists shows lager contains up to 2 grams of soluble fiber per liter, while dark beers can contain up to 3.5 grams.
Even small amounts are a good source of protein. One 12-ounce regular beer contains 1.64 grams of protein. (Source: USDA Nutrient Database)
“I didn't know about the protein, but [I] was aware of the nutrients and fiber," said Ryan Turner, a co-owner of Local Three who promotes artisan food and craft beer pairings on the restaurant's menu. "I need to justify my own consumption somehow with my doctor, so this is great to know.”

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