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Beer & Other Formerly Forbidden Foods

Blog0712_BeerWe have such a messed up culture of health.

Beer, the Miracle Medicine

Think about it. What if someone discovered a substance that "significantly inhibited arteriosclerosis"? You might expect that it would be advised as a treatment. Common sense would tell you that this miracle drug should be front and center in the fight against heart disease, which is the number one killer in the United States.

Even better, what if this very same substance had "antioxidant quality clearly superior to that of vitamin antioxidants and to that of the phenol ingredients, suggesting synergism among the antioxidants in the mixture"?

I would think that those incredible health benefits would make this powerful, heart healthy drug the first choice for all doctors. In fact, it would be almost unethical NOT to recommend it. What a no brainer, right?

But I seriously doubt that you'll ever hear anyone recommend you have this healthy substance, because it comes in brown bottles, pints, and from microbreweries. It comes from taps, pulls, and draughts all over the world. This miracle medicine is called beer.

Beer & Heart Disease

Dr. Vinson and colleagues at the Department of Chemistry at the University of Scranton analyzed 15 lagers, 6 porters and ales, 11 light and nonalcoholic beers, to see what effect these had on markers for heart disease. They found that "lager significantly decreased cholesterol and triglycerides, and both beers acted as in vivo antioxidants by decreasing the oxidizability of lower density lipoproteins".

All that syllable salad? It just means that beer is wicked good for your heart.

Moreover, beer - that pedestrian source of the "beer gut" - also happens to be a fantastic source for the phenols, again, which protect your heart. The scientists listed the order of heart healthy phenol concentration in this way: 1) ales, 2) lagers, 3) low calorie beer, and 4) nonalcoholic beer. In other words, the stronger the better, although even that low calorie, watered down, substantially flavor free beer can also be heart healthy as well.

But this seems bizarre to us. Beer is supposed to be bad for you, right? We are coached by our culture to believe that we should abstain from alcohol and, especially, from beer. So now beer is good for you? Who in their right mind would recommend beer-drinking as a health remedy?

Beer, the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Do you see the problem? The bald, objective scientific evidence is in your face because it contradicts the cultural norms. But if science says it's great for you and our culture of health (which, by the way, that has caused this country to lead the world in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc) says it's taboo, what are you supposed to do?

First of all, it turns out that beer has been considered "bad" for you simply because, if it's over-consumed (think, frat party funnels and binge drinking jags), it will certainly become bad for you. And this is absolutely true. If you drink too much beer, there are bad consequences for you.  And the same is true for wine, right? Drink 1-2 glasses of red wine per day, and it is great for your heart. But 1-2 bottles of red wine per day will kill your liver.

These are just two of a long list of forbidden foods, which we've been told to avoid, even though they have fantastic health effects when you eat them in control - and terrible health effects when you eat them out of control. Consider pizza, chocolate, cheese, eggs, ... the list goes on and on.

Yes, you can over-consume chocolate and make it bad for you. But that has nothing to do with the chocolate itself, does it? Yes, you can over-consume beer, wine, pizza, cheese and all the rest. But that is more about you and how you eat than a statement of whether those foods are good or bad for you. Heck, if you drink too much water, you will get hyponatremia, and could die from that.

Drug versus Food

So, now let's take this little logical leap one step further. If you gulp down too much of your doctor-prescribed, statin heart medication, it can hurt your liver; if you overdo aspirin, it can cause stomach ulcers; if you eat too much fiber ... dude, you're going to be sorry.

 

But the funny (read, perverse) thing is that no one advises you not to take medications because they could have negative consequences if they are overused - quite the opposite, despite the fact that every medication comes with dosage warnings. In other words, just like food, if you take too much of it, it will become bad for you.

Despite the fact that every single one of them can be bad for you if over-consumed, we treat them as superior to foods, even when those foods (like chocolate, like beer, like dairy), has with equal or even better health benefits.

When is the last time you went to your doctor with low levels of good cholesterol (HDL) and had that person say, you need to eat foods high in cocoa, red fruits, and have a glass of wine with your meal? Every single one of those things, by the way, will raise your HDL levels. But you will never hear your doctor say that because the bias is toward pharmacology that comes in a pill rather than food that comes from a farm.

Don't get me wrong. Drugs are great for people who have no other option. But when you have to choose between a pill and a food, our medical culture of health suddenly loses their nerve. They wring their hands and cringe at the thought that someone might overdo it, could drink too much beer, or eat too much pizza. And so, they lower the bar for everyone, and tell people to avoid it altogether. In other words, our medical culture of health either avoids the subject, or explicitly advises us not to even go there.

There are many reasons why the medical community opts for drugs over food, even when the objective medical literature favors the latter over the former. And, honestly, we cannot change that massive, complex system that is based on profit margins and treating health as a commodity.

What we can do, and how we can begin to re-route this aberrant culture of health, is to treat drugs as the last resort, not the first resort. "Get real," and eat clean. Have your beer, but have it and your chocolate and your potatoes and your pizza ... in control. Because, when you do that, you give your body the best chance it has for optimal lifelong health.

Dr. Will Clower is an award winning author, media personality, CEO of Mediterranean Wellness, and the founder and director of the Mediterranean PATH.

Photo credit: By Tusca Mendaharin

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