Beer as Part of the Diet

Eat Stop Eat

Best Weight Loss Programs That Work

Get Instant Access

Beer has been drunk for more than 6000 years, from the time that it was rst made by happenstance in the middle age of ancient times (Bamforth 2003). Ever since, it has become a staple part of the diet in many cultures. Furthermore, it has not only comprised a valuable addition to the table, but has served various medicinal roles, including mouthwash, enema, vaginal douche and applicant to wounds (Darby et al. 1977).

Beer (and other forms of alcohol) differs in its signi cance, acceptability and importance from culture to culture. At one extreme the prophet Mohammed forbade his followers to drink alcohol, thereby establishing a point of difference from Christianity. The Koran speaks of alcohol as being an 'abomination and the work of Satan' (5: 90). Conversely, the Kofyar of northern Nigeria believe that 'man's way to god is with beer in hand' (Netting 1964). In the Aztec nation, religious worshippers were obliged to get drunk for fear of displeasing the gods (Thompson 1940). In India, the various deities demand different approaches to the use of alcohol. Indeed, in some areas of India, alcohol is replaced by infusions of hashish (Carstairs 1957). What better illustration might one use to stress the need for tolerance of others' customs and beliefs and of what is or is not acceptable?

Mandelbaum, in discussing the Tiriki of Kenya, observes:

Beer is a constant medium of social interchange for men; beer drinking is a preoccupying activity that few men reject. Drinking beer together induces physical and social mellowness in men. Very little aggressive behaviour is ever shown as a result of drinking, and that little is promptly squelched. Pathological addiction rarely, if ever, occurs.

Mandelbaum (1979)

This thought-provoking view surely reminds us that we should view the consumption of beer (and other alcoholic beverages) from a holistic standpoint.

The historical importance within society of beer (and other alcoholic beverages, such as wine in climates where grapes could be grown) is illustrated by the argument that nomadic tribes gravitated to crop farming and organised communities in order to ensure a constant supply of beverages (Kendell 1987).

In many cultures, especially those of Northern Europe, beer was through generations the staple drink for the whole family, young and old. At least in part this was on account of beer being safer to drink than water in days when there were no water puri cation systems. The ale, after all, had been through a boiling stage, whereas the local supply of water had not. The ale tasted better too. Cesar de Saussure, a Swiss writing in 1720 (see de Saussure 1902), found in London that:

Though water is to be had in abundance in London, and of fairly good quality, absolutely none is drunk. In this country beer is what everybody drinks when thirsty.

The early settlers in Virginia fell sick for want of ale, on account of the local infected water that they were obliged to drink. One of the rst settlers, Richard Ffrethorne, bemoaned the lack of any creature comforts, bitter that back in England folk were healthy on their strong ale whereas here there was only water to drink (Kingsbury 1906-1935).

It was only with the development of cleaner water and the advent of tea and coffee drinking in the seventeenth century that beer in countries such as Great Britain progressively shifted away from being the staple beverage at mealtimes for all members of the family unit, and became more of a luxury item.

Yet there remain cultures, notably the Czech Republic and Germany, where the consumption of beer to accompany a meal remains a key feature of the diet, which is re ected in the per capita consumption gures (Table 1.1).

Beer: a vice or a staple part of the diet?

Were we able to transport ourselves back to the Middle Ages and enquire in England, Flanders, Bavaria or Bohemia about the key features of the popular diet, ale or beer would unquestioningly and unhesitatingly be listed alongside meat, bread, milk and vegetables. The questioner would be regarded as being mightily peculiar if he or she were to question ale's legitimate place on the table. It was neither a comfort food nor an extravagance. It was an integral part of the food intake in all walks of society. In eighth-century England a monk might consume eight pints of ale a day.

Beer in Britain has long been considered to be a key part of the diet, as much so as wine in France. Henry Brougham MP (Brougham 1830) said that 'To the poor the beer is next to a necessity of life.'

Over 50 years ago the nutritive value of beer was emphasised. An admittedly weakish beer [3% alcohol by volume (ABV) in the austere early post-war years] was claimed to provide 200 calories and a fth of a working man's requirement for calcium, phosphorus,

Table 1.1 Worldwide consumption of beer, 2000.


Consumption (litres per head)

























Czech Republic




















Korea (Republic of)




New Zealand




















Slovak Republic




South Africa
















*Includes Luxembourg, because of inaccuracies introduced by cross-border trading. Source: Tighe (2002).

nicotinic acid and ribo avin (Bunker 1947). The satisfaction of having at least part of one's dietary intake in a pleasurable form was not sneered at then.

Perhaps the rst person to conduct a serious study of the impact of abstinence, moderation and excessive drinking on health was statistician Raymond Pearl. On the basis of interviews with over 2000 workers in Baltimore, he concluded almost 80 years ago that on average moderate drinkers lived longer than abstainers and much longer than those who were heavy drinkers (Pearl 1926).

Yet now, at the dawn of the twenty- rst century, beer-drinking is regarded in many societies as a vice. It is surely astonishing that in the United States it is possible to buy cigarettes at the age of 18, but it is not legal to purchase alcohol until the age of 21. It would be a struggle to identify any merit associated with smoking, with the possible exception of its role as an anxiety relaxant. By contrast there is accumulating evidence that alcohol, including beer, in moderation can have a bene cial impact on health and wellbeing.

In passing, let us consider the legal age at which, in the US, it is possible to partake of other activities that surely might be considered a genuine risk to health and wellbe-ing, not only for the partaker but also for those around them. A child may legally drive a car, with relatively few restrictions, at the age of 16. More alarmingly, 35 states in the US have no licensing or registration requirements for guns ( higlights.htm). Seven states lack a legal minimum age for buying a ri e or shotgun from an unlicensed dealer, while six states have no legal minimum age for a child to possess a handgun. In ve states there is a minimum age - 16 in New York, Georgia, Vermont and Alaska, and just 14 in Montana. But the minimum legal age for drinking alcohol in all 50 states is 21!

Opinions about the relative merits and de-merits of smoking, driving, guns and alcohol will of course differ between individuals. Certainly if we consider the respective virtues of smoking, weapon use and alcohol (in restraint), then it seems to this author that there may be a warped set of priorities in one country at least. Nonetheless beer is the second most popular drink in the United States, with annual average per capita consumption at 357 8-ounce servings, after sodas and other soft drinks (861) (Beverage Digest 1998). Worldwide production of beer in 1999 ran at 0.13 billion litres.

It seems that we have lost sight of the real bene ts of a foodstuff such as beer (and it is a foodstuff, as we will explore in Chapter 5) for the body and for overall wellbe-ing. P.G. Wodehouse, in The Inimitable Jeeves, wrote: 'It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.'

In Pearson's Weekly (a rival to Tit-Bits and founded in 1890 by Sir Arthur Pearson, who went on to create the Daily Express), Bass Ale received the following testimonial:

An old friend of mine, Colonel Worsley CB, when in India, had a very dangerous attack of dysentery and was given up by the doctors. When dying as it was thought, he begged the man in a faint whisper to give him some Bass and as it was thought his case was hopeless he was humoured. He then drank pint after pint and began to get better as soon as his yearning was satis ed much to the astonishment of the doctors and brother of cers.

Despite the fact that once upon a time I was research manager with Bass, I can't believe that there was anything magical about Bass Ale to make it superior in the context quoted as compared to any other beer. I remain open-minded about the veracity of the report, and about the likelihood of a causal link between Worsley's wellbeing and the consumption of beer.

The claims for Bass have been various. Doctors in its town of origin, Burton-on-Trent, are said to have recommended it as a laxative. Writing in The Times, Dr Mapother recommended Bass as a cure for gout. It is claimed that Bass cured Edward VII, when Prince of Wales, of typhoid. Perhaps this stimulated the music-hall song that ran

I've tasted hock and claret too, Madeira and Moselle

But not one of those boshy wines revives this languid swell

Of all complaints from A to Z the fact is very clear

There's no disease but what's been cured by Bass's Bitter Beer.

Remarkable testimony! But Bass isn't the only brand to have been championed in this way. 1928 saw Guinness launch the slogan Guinness is Good for You, and followed it with such as My Goodness, My Guinness and Guinness for Strength (Fig. 1.1). The sweet stout, Mackeson, was marketed in the 1950s on a slogan of:

It looks good, it tastes good, And, by golly, it does you good.

Nursing mothers were expected to enjoy a daily bottle of stout.

Those were the days when some governments were not hesitant to see the virtues that beer had as a social cement and catalyst of contentment. As Queen Victoria had said rather earlier: 'Give my people plenty of beer, good beer and cheap beer, and you will have no revolution among them.'

The British government in the middle of the last century was totally happy to see the trade association The Brewers Society champion their members' products with generic messages including For Bodily Health - Beer is Best and To Set A Man up for Winter - Beer is Best and For an A1 People - Beer is Best (Fig. 1.2).

Predictably, the temperance lobby countered with Beer is Best Left Alone.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Weight Loss Enigma

Weight Loss Enigma

Finally Revealed The Revolutionary & Miraculous Weight Loss Secrets! Discover How to Command Those Unwanted Pounds To Take A Hike, So That You Can Get Into Shape & Lose Weight Easily Just Like You Dream Of In Just A Matter Of Weeks! You're About to Discover The Insider's Fat Burning Diet Tips to Easily Shed Off Those Extra Pounds And Obtain a Lovable Shape In No Time Flat!

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment