The surprising benefits of alcohol-free beer – Jim Duffy

Beer doesn't have to be alcoholic to make you feel good, says Jim Duffy (Picture: Cate Gillon)
Beer doesn't have to be alcoholic to make you feel good, says Jim Duffy (Picture: Cate Gillon)
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The benefits of ‘booze’ with no actual booze in it have won Jim Duffy over after a hard morning’s work in the garden.

So, if you are a woman whose partner is developing or has developed a wee beer belly then this is for you. Or if you are a bloke who is beginning to see that paunch appear or get even bigger, then the next 900 words will help. No diet tips, no get a six-pack in four weeks, mind you. One simple change in drinking habits and how rehydration can help manage that tummy. Here goes.

Two weeks ago, I needed help with my garden. So, a neighbour offered to come help. It was a hot day with the sun burning down from the sky. We started to weed and weed and weed. You get the kind of gardening it was. No simple pruning of a few roses. No, manual and back bending throughout. After about an hour, my neighbour – let’s call him Bob, to protect his anonymity – declared he needed a break. He had brought a small bag and had asked me to put it in the fridge upon his arrival. I’ll have a beer, he stated.

Beer? At 11am? I was questioning this in my head, when I retrieved his liquid lunch from the fridge. Opening up the bag, I was surprised to see three cans of non-alcoholic beer. I gave “Bob” a can and he downed it in jig time. I had a can of diet cola. As we continued the garden clean up, I asked him about the non alcoholic beer gig. It seems Bob liked a beer, but his doctor was now of the opinion that too many were killing him. So, he had switched to non-alcoholic. And the best bit – they actually had decent health benefits.

READ MORE: Fewer than a fifth of Scots aware of ‘safe’ alcohol limits

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The first one is obvious from its name. No alcohol. As we know alcohol has different effects on people. Some are happy, some are angry, some are depressed. But, the main effect is impairment. Guzzling a couple of cans of beer by lunchtime starts the body on a slippery slope. So, non-alcoholic beer cuts out the “electric soup” effect of the beer. That makes sense.

But, what other benefits could drinking this potion bring to my body and yours?

In short, calories, calories, calories. This is possibly the primary effect of drinking full strength, alcoholic beer. It is packed with belly-busting, muffin-top-moulding calories that pile on quickly and take an age to shift. Yes, one of the major benefits of alcohol-free beer versus standard ale and lager is that it contains fewer calories than its alcoholic equivalent, which makes it less fattening. This is because pure alcohol contains 56 calories per unit (seven calories per gram). A pint of 4% ABV beer contains 129 calories from the alcohol alone. However, while alcohol-free beer is lower in calories than alcoholic beer, it’s not completely calorie-free. A typical 330ml can of alcohol-free beer will give you about 45-60 calories. A big difference to your waistband potential.

Then, there are other benefits of drinking non-alcoholic beer that I had no idea about. The primary purpose of drinking anything is to stay alive and keep hydrated. And guess what, the non-alcoholic stuff is pretty good for that.

Good news as Bob had three or four hours of work in the sun to do. Many non-alcoholic beers are also isotonic. An isotonic drink is one that contains similar sugar levels to the human body – that’s 4-8g per 100ml. This similar ‘osmotic pressure’ to the bodily fluids means the hydration happens more quickly and the energy is turned into fuel for the body – and some non-alcoholic beers contain just the right balance.

Next up, are benefits that I had no idea could come from drinking ‘booze’ with, well, no actual booze in it. It seems that non-alcoholic beer can reduce the risk of heart disease. Studies have shown that this fluid can improve the circulation of blood around the body. This in turn puts less pressure on your heart reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease like heart attacks. Good news. And there’s more. One study found that phenols in beer, organic compounds, help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, where the arteries become clogged with plaque. And while I’m not suggesting that drinking non-alcoholic beer cures this, every little bit helps right?

So far so good, but many cynics will question what is the point of drinking this when a diet soda may do the same? Well you can now tell them that diet soda will not pump up your dopamine levels. Regular beer contains alcohol which does increase dopamine levels. However, a study has shown that non-alcoholic beers can also boost your dopamine levels as you associate it with the real true brew. So, a feeling of reward, but without the negative side effects of full strength beer. I could now see the logic in what Bob’s doctor was trying to achieve.

Since my day spent in the garden with Bob, I have cut out diet sodas and now have a non-alcoholic beer instead. And the range and tastes are awesome. I feel I am getting all the benefits from it and, of course, now feel a little smug. That will probably be the dopamine.

There you have it in black and white folks. Why not introduce some non-alcoholic beers into the fridge and see how they go down. One thing is for sure. Replacing the strong stuff for these will help reduce that waistline and you won’t wake up with a hangover.