Beyond Alcohol, on to the Benefits of Drinking Beer -By Kole Omotosho
Let me commence this contribution to this historical conference on Beer and the Healthy Lifestyle by expressing my gratitude to organisers of this symposium, for the invitation to chair and speak at this occasion. I am particularly gratified that that at last the Nigerian beer drinkard (as the Nigerian writer would have put it) is being served by a Nigerian conference. Beer has been an important component of a healthy life style in human history for over four thousand years. It continues to be.
My particular interest in beer and other beverages such as palm wine and grape wine began long ago, as a boy sent by my grandfather to harvest the juice of the palm tree which had been cut down and laid horizontal for easy collection. Later travels and further immersion in lifestyles led to particular passion for the ultimate relationship between alcohol and beer.
Each area of human manipulation and invention contains an abiding puzzle. With car making it is always to invent a car that would, like the horse that inspired the automobile, move itself without a rider. The invention of automatic transmission brought that day forward. Today self-driving cars are being tested and we might have soon self-driving cars competing with life horses on the race course!
In the field of aeroplanes, it would be the one that would fly without a pilot. Today, drones fly past birds to do what they need to do. What then is the abiding puzzle in the case of beer brewing? Before I go into this I want to quote some of the major ways that Beer and Beer Brewing has enriched the languages and cultures of the world.
“It was the accepted practice in ancient Babylonia 4000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride’s father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer, and because their calendar was lunar based, the period was called the‘honey moon’ – or what we know today as the honey moon.”
“Before thermometers were invented, brewers would dip a thump or finger into the mix to find the right temperature for adding yeast. Too cold, and the yeast would not grow. Too hot, and the yeast would die. This thumb in the beer is where we get the phrase ‘rule of thumb’.”
“In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts. So, in Old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settled down. It’s where we get the phrase mind your p’s and q’s!”
“Beer, we are told, was the reason the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. It’s clear from the Mayflower’s log that the crew did not want to waste beer looking for a better site. The log goes on to state that the passengers were hasted ashore and made to drink water so that the seamen might have the more beer.”
“After consuming a bucket or even two of a vibrant brew they called ‘aul’ or ‘ale’, the Vikings would head fearlessly into battle often without armour or even shirts. In fact, the term ‘berserk’means ‘bare shirt’ in Norse, and eventually took on the meaning of their wild battles.”
“In 1740 Admiral Vernon of the British fleet decided to water-down the navy’s rum. Needless to say, the sailors were not too pleased and called Admiral Vernon Old Grog, after the stiff wool grogram coats he wore. The term ‘grog’ soon began to mean watered down drink itself. When you were drunk on this grog, you were ‘groggy’, a word still in use today.”
I remember that one particular brand of beer Becks had been so domesticated that when my Uncle called for his Abeke I knew where to go and bring her!
Now to go back to that abiding puzzle mentioned in the case of the automobile and aeroplane industries, which is still to be solved resolved in the industry of brewing of beer. What is the correct alcoholic content to make beer the best beer can be? Whoever can discover that formula would have done in beer brewing what the automobile and aeroplane industries have done for the pleasure car and the aircraft? Brewers have reduced the alcohol content drastically to create Beer Lite. At other times brewers have increased the alcohol content to hasten intake and effective inebriation! And there has been non-alcoholic beer as well.
In the rest of this presentation I wish to look at the health benefits of each one of these versions of beer: the non-alcoholic, the lite and the high alcoholic content. But let me sound a note of warning. All cultures preach one particular central virtue over and above every other virtue. In the Yoruba culture it is possible to state categorically that moderation, iwotunwosi, the washing of the left hand and of the right hand, is the singular pillar of existence as contained in the Ifa Divination poems “highly valued by the Yoruba as the guardian of Yoruba culture, the wisdom of the ages and the teachings of the ancestors and the divinities.”
In terms of drink, “to drink moderately is to drink within the limits set by your health, the society in which you live and your obligations towards your family and friends: this means 1 – 3 drinks a day for most men. Women are more sensitive to alcohols, so they are advised to drink less than men: 1 – 2 drinks a day.” This amounts to a quarter litre glass having between 4 and 5 per cent alcohol 10g by volume. This approximates to beer lite.
Alcohol and the natural raw materials from which beer is brewed are good to drink and are also good for the health. They are not health risks when taken moderately. Foods and drinks consumed by human beings contain both bad fat and good fat. When alcohol is consumed there is an increase of good fat. This is the fat that the body can easily convert to energy. Bad fat has a habit of sitting at the neck or at the guts or anywhere else that would give it space. Alcohol does not contain this bad type of fat.
There is also medical evidence that alcohol consumption has a blood thinning effect and this leads to the reduction of the tendency of blood to form clots. As we know now blood clots prevent the flow of blood to the heart and the brain thus causing massive heart attacks. It is also true that moderate alcohol consumption reduces the inflammation of the inner linings of the nerves as well as a lower level of insulin resistance. Any alcohol, whether sourced from beer or wine or any other beverage, protects the heart. How much and how often must be governed by the ruled of moderation spelt out earlier. The consumption of beer with a meal is considered a better way rather than drinking on an empty stomach.
Specifically, there are some illnesses and diseases which can be prevented, minimized or completely prevented by the consumption of alcohol. Some of these are Diabetes Mellitus, weakening of the bones (osteoporosis) as a result of the increase in blood of oestrogen associated with alcohol consumption in women. Others are Dementias which is the decline of cognitive ability with the advance of age. Parkinson’s disease, Gallstones and Kidney stones are other illnesses.
These illnesses and diseases are helped by the presence of flaveroid and silicon, minerals present in beer. Moderate consumption of alcohol creates a feeling of well-being, reducing stress and tension.
Moderate consumption of beer for general health effects:
Beer drinking can make a positive contribution to a healthy diet because of its wholesome raw materials used in brewing beer. These natural raw materials are cereals, hops, yeast and water. There are soluble fibres derivable from the cell walls of barley which are good for human health. All these natural materials contain antioxidants, vitamins especially of the B variation, silicon and fibre. Beer is generally on the average is 93% water. As a result beer is a thirst quencher of the first order with low alcohol. Research on alcohol-free beer has shown that these benefits are also present as well. This would mean that it is not only beer that has alcohol content that gives these benefits. So, beyond alcohol, the potential beneficial effects of the natural ingredients of beer are likely to apply to non-alcoholic beer.
Going further on barley’s soluble fibre, two glasses of beer contains in average 10% of the recommended daily intake of soluble fibre. Some beers can provide up to 30% of this food item. Fibre slows down digestion and absorption of food and reduces cholesterol levels. Cholesterol as we all know or should know helps the risks of heart disease.
People who drink beer have protection from bacterium helicobacter pylori, a bacterium known to cause the majority of stomach ulcers and may be a risk of stomach cancer.
Depending on style and process of brewing antioxidants present in beer from malt (barley) and hops as ingredients can be high or low. It is generally believed that antioxidants may play a role in the protection against cancer through their action against free radicals. Antioxidants also inhibit blood clotting.
Vitamins and Minerals:
Present in beer and various forms of vitamin B: macin, riboflavin (vitamin B2) pyroduxine (vitamin B6) folate (vitamin B9) and cabolamin (vitamin B12).
Some of the minerals present in beer are high potassium, low sodium, low calsium and rich magnesium which protects against gall stones and kidney stones formation. Silicon intake is associated with healthy bones.
Small quantities of the flower from hops are used to preserve beer as well as to flavour it. Beer is the only dietary source of hops and flavonoids found in hops helps to fight cancer.
Beer does not contain fat or cholesterol and it is low in free sugar. Any calories which beer contain, comes from the alcohol content. And as mentioned earlier research into non-alcoholic beer shows that the benefits derivable from beer with alcohol are also found in beer without alcohol.
I would like to bring these comments to a close by quoting a poem that should be familiar to all of us. It is the sum total of what I have been saying in the last so many minutes:
“I am not scared of goblins or ghouls and things that go bump in the night
Werewolves and bats and witches and such do not give me much of a fright.
But there is this one thing that scares me to death and only this one thing I fear
And that’s to open my fridge at night and find that I’m all out of beer!”
Prof. Bankole Omotosho is a Professor of Drama at the Department of Drama, University of Stellenbosch, Cape Town, South Africa