Health Calls: Local News
St. Patrick’s Day Alcohol Consumption
By Kim Tirapelle, MS, RD
Story Updated: Mar 17, 2010
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Many Americans will be celebrating the day with parades, wearing the color green or perhaps a shamrock pin, and consuming lots of beer, much of it even dyed green! Americans began celebrating St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, MA on March 18, 1737. So, how did drinking alcohol in conjunction with this holiday come about? It turns out, the custom stems from an old Irish legend. “As the story goes, St. Patrick was served a measure of whiskey that was considerably less than full. St. Patrick took this as an opportunity to teach a lesson of generosity to the innkeeper. He told the innkeeper that in his cellar resided a monstrous devil who fed on the dishonesty of the innkeeper. In order to banish the devil, the man must change his ways. When St. Patrick returned to the hostelry some time later, he found the owner generously filling the patrons' glasses to overflowing. He returned to the cellar with the innkeeper and found the devil emaciated from the landlord's generosity, and promptly banished the demon, proclaiming thereafter, everyone should have a drop of the "hard stuff" on his feast day.”1
As long as we are going to be consuming alcoholic beverages, we should at least know what we are getting! What is in beer? What are the health benefits, if any, of drinking beer or other alcoholic beverages? How many calories are in the different varieties of beer, wine, or hard alcohol?
Beer has four main building blocks: water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. What differentiates the beers is the type and amount of malt being use, the type, amount, and method used when adding the hops, and the strain of yeast used to ferment the beer. Beer is categorized into one of three categories: lagers, ales, and the rest fall into specialty beers.2
Beer does have some nutritional value. It contains substantial amounts of certain vitamins – niacin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, and folate. Additionally, it has smaller amounts of thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B12, and several minerals including magnesium, selenium, potassium, and phosphorus. Beer does contain the protein gluten, which may affect those with Celiac disease. There may be some cardiovascular benefits with drinking beer. One study in the Czech Republic attributed beer’s beneficial effect on heart health to its’ folate content. Plasma folate levels are inversely related to total plasma homocysteine levels. Increased plasma homocysteine levels are associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease.3 Other studies have shown that moderate alcohol intake, whether from wine, beer or hard alcohol have been linked to cardiovascular protection, improvement in lung function, reduced risk of dementia, and reduction in cancer rates.4 According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association, moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men, or one drink daily for people aged 60 and older. One serving equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces (80 proof) of distilled liquor.
What is important to remember is there are very serious, adverse effects of drinking too much alcohol. These include increased risk of hypertension, the development of liver diseases such as fatty liver, hepatic encephalopathy, and cirrhosis and the risk of fetal alcohol syndrome, pancreatitis and total mortality also increase. Additionally, the effects of alcohol in the body are complex. Alcohol’s benefits and risks will be different for each person, depending on his/her unique personal and family history, genetic makeup, and health condition. Nonalcoholic grape juice and a diet high in fruits and vegetables offer the same benefits and disease protection as drinking alcohol.
Here is a list summarizing the nutritional information of different beers:
Guinness Extra Stout-153
Heineken Lager Beer-150
George Killian’s Irish Red-163
Michelob Golden Draft-152
Miller Genuine Draft-143
Miller Genuine Draft Light-64
Sam Adams Boston Lager-160
Sam Adams Light-124
Sam Adams Pale Ale-145
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale-175
Sierra Nevada Stout-210
So, if you decide to tilt a few back today, remember to drink in moderation, use a designated driver, and don’t forget to wear green, or you may get pinched!
1. St. Patrick’s Day History. Available at: http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/stpatdayhistory.htm.
2. Beer styles 101. Available at: http://beer.about.com/od/beerstyles/a/BeerStyles101.htm?p=1.
3. Mayer, O, Simon, J, Rosolava, H. A population study of the influence of beer consumption on folate and homocysteine concentrations. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2001; 55 (7): 605-609.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol: Frequently Asked Questions. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm.
5. Calories and Carbs in Beer. Available at: www.shapefit.com/beer.html.
6.How many calories in beer? Available at: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_calories_are_inbeer.
7. Linus Pauling Institute. Micronutrient Information Center. Available at: http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/foods/alcohol/