Traditionally, beer has been viewed as a nourishing household product like bread, based on grain. One style, doppelbock, was even dubbed “liquid bread” by the monks who relied on it for sustenance during Lenten fasts. In earlier times, beer was the healthful mealtime beverage for young and old alike and a source of valuable nutrients.
Beer’s ingredients are so pure that beer has been regarded as inherently kosher–conforming to the highest standards of food purity.
In the 1930s, copy writer Dorothy Sayers (best known for the Lord Peter Wimsey crime novels) coined the advertizing line “Guinness is Good for You!” and the famous Irish stout was dispensed to invalids and nursing mothers.
Somewhere, we lost sight of beer’s essential wholesomeness. Now, research has documented beer’s medical benefits, but beer’s contributions to good nutrition are just as impressive, and just as important to overall health.
If an “average” 12 ounce bottle of beer sported a Nutrition Facts label, this is what it would tell you:
- Beer contains 150 calories.
- Beer has no fat
- Beer has no cholesterol
- Beer is caffeine free
- Beer contains no nitrate
- Beer is low in sugar
- Beer contains 1 gram of protein and 13 grams of carbohydrates
- Beer contains significant amounts of magnesium, selenium, potassium, phosphorus, and biotin
- Beer is chock full of the B vitamins (as anyone who has taken brewer’s yeast as a B supplement already knows), with impressive amounts of B3 (niacin), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxin), and B9 (folate), with smaller amounts of B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B12 inotisol and choline.
- Beer is 92 percent water
There will be variation from one beer style to another, of course. “Light beers” contain fewer calories and carbohydrates. High alcohol beers–barleywines or imperial stouts– may contain more calories and carbohydrates. Different beer styles–dark styles, wheat beers–will have different levels of trace elements from pale ales or pilsners. But, across the board, beer in moderation is a nutritious beverage, and a great companion for food.
Beer as a Healthful Ingredient in Cooking
Cooks have discovered the array of tastes beer can bring to the kitchen. Not only can different styles of beer add depth to a flavor, but beer can also be used in place of some higher calorie ingredients, enhancing both health and enjoyment.
- Substitute a stout or a porter for some of the oils or sugars in a marinade. You’ll have all the rich flavors of the original, and nuances from the beer. And beer is an excellent tenderizer.
- In baked goods, beer adds moistness, but with fewer calories.
- Try a slightly sweet bock beer as a glaze during broiling or grilling, instead of an oil or syrup based glaze. The residual sugars in the beer add sweetness.
- Beer can be substituted for wine in stews, soups, and sauces (but avoid the highly-hopped beer styles, which add too much bitterness as the sauce is reduced). In fact, the classic Belgian beef stew Carbonnade à la Flamande gets its distinctive character from beer.
- Drizzle a fruit lambic over fresh fruit instead of syrup for a dessert that is light, but still a satisfying conclusion to a meal.