If you downed one too many while watching the Super Bowl, here's at least one reason to hold your head high: Drinking beer can be good for your health.
But seriously, a new analysis of 100 commercial beers shows the hoppy beverage is a significant source of dietary silicon, a key ingredient for bone health.
Though past research has suggested beer is chockfull of silicon, little was known about how silicon levels varied with the type of beer and malting process used. So a pair of researchers took one for the team and ran chemical analyses on beer's raw ingredients. They also picked up 100 commercial beers from the grocery store and measured the silicon content.
The silicon content of the beers ranged from 6.4 mg/L to 56.5 mg/L, with an average of 30 mg/L. Two beers are the equivalent of just under a liter, so a person could get 30 mg of the nutrient from two beers. And while there is no official recommendation for daily silicon uptake, the researchers say, in the United States, individuals consume between 20 and 50 mg of silicon each day.
However, other studies show that consuming more than one or two alcoholic beverages a day may be, overall, bad for health.
The take-home message for the casual drinker: "Choose the beer you enjoy. Drink it in moderation," lead researcher Charles Bamforth of the University of California, Davis, told LiveScience. "It is contributing silicon (and more) to your good health."
Bamforth and his colleague Troy Casey, both of the university's Department of Food Science and Technology, detail their findings in the February issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.
The silicon levels of beer types, on average:
- India Pale Ale (IPA): 41.2 mg/L
- Ales: 32.8 mg/L
- Pale Ale: 36.5 mg/L
- Sorghum: 27.3 mg/L
- Lagers: 23.7 mg/L
- Wheat: 18.9 mg/L
- Light lagers: 17.2 mg/L
- Non Alcoholic: 16.3 mg/L
Their research showed the malting process didn't affect barley's silicon content, which is mostly in the grain's husk. However, pale-colored malts had more silicon than the darker products, such as the chocolate, roasted barley and black malt, which all have substantial roasting. The scientists aren't sure why these darker malts have less silicon than other malts.
Hops were the stars of the beer ingredients, showing as much as four times more silicon than was found in malt. The downside: Hops make up a much smaller portion of beer compared with grain. Some beers, such as IPAs are hoppier, while wheat beers tend to have fewer hops than other brews, the researchers say.
"Beers containing high levels of malted barley and hops are richest in silicon," Bamforth said. "Wheat contains less silicon than barley because it is the husk of the barley that is rich in this element. While most of the silicon remains in the husk during brewing, significant quantities of silicon nonetheless are extracted into wort and much of this survives into beer."
(Wort is the sweet liquid that comes from mashing the grains and eventually becomes beer.)
While the researchers are not recommending gulping beer to meet your silicon intake needs, their study does add to others on the potential health benefits of this cold beverage.
The type of silicon in beer, called orthosilicic acid, has a 50 percent bioavailability, meaning that much is available for use in the body. Some foods, like bananas are rich in silicon but only 5 percent is bioavailable. This soluble form of silica found in beer could be important for the growth and development of bone and connective tissue, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Past research has suggested that moderate beer consumption may help fight osteoporosis, a disease characterized by low bone mass and deterioration of bone tissue.
Another past study involving nearly 1,700 women reported last year in the journal Nutrition showed participants who were light to moderate beer drinkers had much better bone density than non-drinkers. The researchers suggested the beer's plant hormones, not the alcohol, could be responsible for the bone boost.
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Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.