The Super Bowl is a truly American tradition that brings families and friends together for a day of good fun and good food.
And good beer.
Many of the low-carb diets claim that beer has a high-glycemic index and will make you fat. But that’s not necessarily true.
I’ll show you why this claim is bogus and how it misses a more important point – the glycemic load.
And I’ll show you the best beers for your Super Bowl party. You can still enjoy the fuller flavor of “real” beers without having to suffer the watered-down, low-calorie beers that taste like ginger-ale, or worse.
You’ll also discover:
- What can cause a “beer belly”
- How to tell the difference between carbs that matter and those that don’t
- How you can pick up a beer with confidence instead of guilt
Good News for Beer Lovers… It’s Good for Your Heart
A study from Israel adds evidence that a beer a day may help keep heart attacks away. Men with heart disease drinking one beer a day for a month decreased cholesterol levels, increased antioxidants, and reduced levels of fibrinogen, a clot-producing protein in your blood.1
Lower fibrinogen levels are associated with lower rates of heart attacks and strokes. Several population studies have linked moderate beer consumption to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack.
But as you’ve been hearing in recent years, excess carbs will give you excess belly fat. With a beer weighing in with an average of 11 grams of carbs per bottle, it’s leaving carb-counting beer drinkers a little parched.
Yet, there is more to the story of carbs and beer. To understand this point, let’s take a quick look at how beer is made.
Let the Yeast Take Care of the Carbs
Beer makers start with malted barley. When they brew barley malt, the liquid contains a lot of the sugar, maltose, and other starches from the grains. Does this equal high carbs? Yes. But wait…
During the next step – the fermentation process – they add yeast. Yeast cells eat carbohydrate. They convert it into alcohol and natural carbonation: the beverage you know as beer. The longer this fermentation process goes on, the higher the alcohol content and the less unfermented carbohydrates remain.
But what about the supposed high-glycemic index of carbs in beer?
In the Real World, Glycemic Load Matters
The glycemic index measures how fast and high a specific food or beverage increases your blood sugar. A lower glycemic index indicates a food will stimulate less blood sugar and is a “good” carb. A higher one means it’s a “bad” carb. This system is useful but fallible because it doesn’t account for your carbohydrate serving size. A better measure is your glycemic load.2
Glycemic load measures the effect of the total amount of a food on your blood sugar. To find the glycemic load of any food or beverage, simply multiply the glycemic index by the number of carbs per serving and then divide by 100.3 What’s a healthy number? Shoot for 10 or less.4
This distinction happens to be critically important when it comes to beer…
|It’s best to eat foods that have a lower glycemic index (GI) – less than 50. An even more useful measurement is the glycemic load (GL). This tells you the effect on your blood sugar depending on how much you actually eat. Try to eat foods that have a GL of less than 10.
Beer Is Bad? The Diet Books Get It Wrong
Now back to the low-carb diet books telling you that beer has a high-glycemic index that will make you fat. You’ll wonder how they came to this conclusion after you look at the tests to determine glycemic index.
We measure the glycemic index by having a test subject consume 100 grams of a carbohydrate test food or beverage all at once. It has to be consumed within 15 minutes.
We then measure blood sugar every half hour over the next two hours. Then we compare these blood sugars with the blood sugars produced in response to 100 grams of sugar water.
To test beer’s glycemic index, a test subject would consume 100 grams of carbohydrate. With an average of 11 grams per beer, you would have to drink nine beers all at once. To test a light beer, you have to drink more.
If someone tells you that a low-carb beer with 2.6 grams of carbs will make you fat because it has a high-glycemic index, ask them, “Who drank 24 beers within 15 minutes?” Even if you use only 50 grams of carbs, beer can’t be tested without causing test subjects excessive drunkenness!6
So what should you make of the diet books’ glycemic warnings about beer? Ignore that section of the low-carb books and forget about beer’s glycemic index. If you limit yourself to a couple of beers, there’s simply not enough carbs to conduct a meaningful test – or to have a meaningful impact on your blood sugar. But you can do even better.
Drink a Six-Pack, But Keep Those Six-Pack Abs
Now for the best news about carbs and beer. Since yeast feed on the carbs in beer, to lower the carbs all a brewer has to do is let the fermentation proceed for longer.
Recently brewers have found ways to manipulate this feeding frenzy to allow the yeast to remove naturally nearly all of the carbs. This also has the advantage of avoiding the watering down of low-cal light beers.
Anheuser-Busch produced the first low-carb beer. For about a year, Michelob Ultra was the only low-carb on the block. Busch reports it had the fastest growth of any new brew they have ever introduced. In less than a year, it shot to number 7 in sales for premium beers, eclipsing the acceptance of light beers a couple of decades back.
Now other brewers are looking for their share of this fast-growing market. In recent years, beers like Labatt and Coors have joined Michelob Ultra. These beers boast less than three grams of carbs per bottle. They have less than half of the carbs but twice the flavor of some light brands.
Here are the lowest carb beers you can buy:7
|Budweiser Select 55
|DAB Low Carb
|Rock Green Light
|Miller Genuine Draft Light 64 (MGD 64)
|Iron City Light
Here’s how the popular brews stack up when it comes to carbs:
|Miller Genuine Draft
Note that you get fewer carbs in four Michelob Ultras (10.4 g) than in one Michelob Light (11.7 g). You could drink five Rock Green Lights (my pick) and have fewer carbs at 12.0 than if you drank one regular Rolling Rock, which has 13.0. What’s more, each of these new low-carb brews seems to outperform the last, in terms of flavor and fullness.
They all have full-bodied taste but have the lowest carbs, as these are the specially formulated low-carb brews. You can find some European imports that will top off at 30 grams of carbs.
You’ll want to partake in these in moderation, if at all. Also, the “beer alternatives” such as wine coolers and hard ciders are in no way healthier and much worse when it comes to carbs. They start at around 26 grams and go up from there. If you’re cutting carbs, give those a wide berth.
Try a taste test of the lowest on the list and see which you prefer. If you like a beer now and then, you may be able to kick back and enjoy a cold one this Super Bowl with a little less guilt.
1. Gorinstein S, et al. “Changes in plasma circulating fibrinogen after moderate beer consumption,” J Agric Food Chem, 2003 Jan 29;51(3):822-7.
2. “Glycemic index, glycemic load, and risk of type 2 diabetes,” Walter Willett, JoAnn Manson, and Simin Liu, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002; 76 (suppl): 274S-80S.
3. “Glycemic index: overview of implications in health and disease,” David JA Jenkins, et al., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2002; 76 (suppl): 266S-73S.
4. “Glycemic index and heart disease,” Anthony R. Leeds, American J. of Clinical Nutrition, 2002; 76 (suppl): 286S-9S.
5. Foster-Powell K, Holt SH, Brand-Miller JC, “International table of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2002.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2002; 76:5-56.
6. U. of Sydney Glycemic Index Research, http://www.calvin.biochem.usyd.edu.au/GIDB/mainV4a.htm
7. “Lowest Carb Beers.” Beer Tutor. www.beertutor.com. Retrieved Jan 23, 2012.