Beer has ancient origins and its consumption was widespread in Mesopotamia. Considered a real food, so much so that the Sumerians called it “liquid bread”, while the Egyptians were the first to use it for therapeutic purposes, beer was even mentioned in some papyri as a medical prescription to treat various ailments and was even offered to children diluted with water and honey. But what happens to your body if you drink too much beer? The most obvious sign of this excess gaseous alcohol is the tendency, especially for men, to put on the so-called “beer belly”. But is it really beer that causes a swollen and expanded belly? Not all beer drinkers suffer from this symptom. What really causes men and some women to develop a more pronounced waistline? We talked about this topic with Dr. Elisabetta Macorsini, dietitian of Humanitas.
When the belly swells, is it mainly the fault of the beer?
Researchers at the University of Copenhagen have tried to answer this question with a review of published scientific articles on the possible relationships between beer consumption and obesity. Scholars used both the body mass index and the waist circumference measurement, which is considered a reliable indicator of abdominal fat accumulation.
35 observational studies conducted on a sample of over 600,000 people and 12 intervention studies involving about 500 people were reviewed. Most observational studies did not show any clear association between moderate beer consumption and the accumulation of abdominal fat in men. However, men who consumed more than 4 liters of beer per week, showed a much wider waistline than the others.
For women, however, it was not possible to draw any conclusions, as they hardly manage to consume excessive amounts of beer.
In conclusion, a high accumulation of abdominal fat is more likely to be caused by an incorrect lifestyle (unbalanced diet, binge drinking, little physical activity) that very often is associated with a reckless use of alcohol, and therefore also beer. At the moment, the available data seem to suggest that beer, if consumed regularly and in moderation, has no effect on the increase in abdominal fat.
Why does fat accumulate in the belly?
When you take more calories than you burn, the excess calories are stored as fat. Where your body stores that fat is determined partly by age, partly by sex and partly by hormones. Women have more subcutaneous fat (the type under the skin) than men, so those extra fat calories tend to be deposited in their arms, thighs and buttocks. Men, on the other hand, have less subcutaneous fat, thus increase more in their bellies.
How much beer should be consumed?
In moderate quantities, beer helps to preserve the right levels of “good” cholesterol over time and thus preserve the health of the arteries. This is what researchers at Pennsylvania State University discovered after a study presented to the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2016. Research has established that moderate beer consumption can slow down the decline of “good” cholesterol (HDL) with health benefits and the ability to prevent cardiovascular problems. For six years, experts followed 80,000 Chinese adults, monitoring their alcohol consumption and their blood levels of “good” cholesterol. At the end of the study, the levels of HDL were decreased in all participants, but in those who had consumed alcohol in a moderate way, the decrease was slower. In particular, it was found that the levels had fallen less in those who had consumed beer. In order not to exaggerate with this drink, you should not exceed one glass per day for women and two for men, but this does not apply for celiac sufferers because it is produced with barley, wheat or rye malt.
It is even better to limit yourself to one per day, to be consumed with meals. The high content of vitamins, amino acids and mineral salts makes beer an excellent drink even for those who do sports: in addition to quenching their thirst and rehydrating after intense physical activity, it is also very nutritious and therefore helps to recover strength.
The beer we drink today, however, is very different from the one we used to drink in the past. This is mainly due to the addition of hops, which gives it freshness and optimizes its preservation. The hops present in beer are a concentrate of antioxidants, especially flavonoids of various types, useful to combat free radicals and prevent cellular aging. The xantumol, a flovonoid present in beer, is good for the heart because it protects it (preventing the accumulation of homocysteine) and improves blood circulation. In addition, it promotes “good” HDL cholesterol at the expense of “bad” LDL cholesterol, protects against cardiovascular disease, making the arteries more flexible and reducing the risk of heart attack by up to 30%.
Also useful in case of hypertension and vascular problems of various kinds, it prevents the formation of clots and makes the blood more fluid. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect, since it decreases the levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and fibrogen in the blood that cause inflammation.
Vegan diet, which beers to choose?
These are the most commonly used ingredients of animal origin in the production of beer:
– Casein: a protein found in cow’s milk (be careful, even if the product says “lactose-free”) and serves as a clarifier.
– Carmine: a natural coloring agent extracted from the dried body of the carmine cochineal insect, which gives the product a reddish color.
– Fish glue: obtained from the dried swim bladder of fish and used to clarify beer.
– Gelatine: is produced from the skin, connective tissue and bones of animals, especially cattle and pigs, and is also used as a clarifier.
– Lactose: often used in the thickest and most creamy beers.
Anglo-Saxons mainly use fish glue, which can be easily replaced with agar-agar, carrageenan or pectin, which does not alter the flavor of the product. The safest beers for vegans are Belgian and German beers. Always read the product labels well, but keep in mind that they do not report what is used in the production processes and if these production processes include the use of substances derived from animals.