Thursday, 12 June 2014

The food value of beer

I'm drawing more water from the well of that article about the food value of beer. But this time it's the text rather than the atbles that I'm using as a source.

One of the things that most annoys me about temperance campaigners - and there's lots to get annoyed about - was their claim that turning barley into beer "destroyed" food. Total and utter bollocks, even ignoring the nutritional aspect of beer, the spent grain still has food value for livestock. But, lioke many fanatical organisation, logic and reason were foreign to the teetotallers.

My belly is testimony to the food content of beer. You should see how little I eat. (I realise that's implying how much I drink.)

Another annoyance is their ridiculous "drinks bill", which was based on the preise that anuy money spent on beer was "wasted", effectively thrown away. Conveniently ignoring those who found employment brewing and selling beer and earned their living from this money.

I'll stop now. They really were a bunch of total twats. Who sadly seem to be making a comeback.

First, a definition of food:

"A food has been defined as "Anything which, when taken into the body, is capable of repairing its waste, or of furnishing it with material from which to produce heat or nervous and muscular work." From this definition, which is perhaps as good a one as can be given, it will be seen that the two main functions of food are (1) to provide for the growth and constant repair of the body tissues, and (2) to produce energy.

So far as the second of these two important functions is concerned it should be pointed out that carbohydrates and proteins are equally producers of heat and energy. One, but by no means the only important test of the value of any material as a food stuff, is the amount of heat (energy) which a certain weight or a certain volume of it is capable of yielding to the body when consumed."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 38, Issue 1, January-February 1932, page 85.
Simple, eh? Provide energy or fix up the body.

A lot of the calories in beer, of course, come in the entertaining form of alcohol. Here's somethuing about the food value of it:

"In addition to the carbohydrates and the relatively small proportion of nitrogenous matter contained in beer, there is, of course, the alcohol which has to be considered in estimating the food value of the beer. It has been shown experimentally, and is, I believe, generally admitted, that alcohol in moderate doses — up to the amount contained, for example, in one quart of beer — is completely burned in the body. This combustion, like that of carbohydrates and protein, necessarily liberates energy, and can be made to support the active functions of the body.

Alcohol when taken reduces the consumption of fat and carbohydrate in the body, and is itself oxidized yielding heat and energy. Of this there would appear to be no doubt, and it is obvious that alcohol is entitled to be regarded as a food in the scientific sense of the word. On this point, Hutchison, a medical man, and a recognised authority on dietetics, says: "As regards the general influence of alcohol on metabolism we may safely conclude (1) that it is burned up in the body, sparing fat and carbohydrate in the process, and that (2) the weight of evidence is in favour of the view that it has an important power on diminishing nitrogenous waste." Alcohol being therefore a food in the sense that it is a producer of heat and energy, its calorie value has to be taken into account in arriving at the food value of beer. From careful experiments it is known that the complete oxidation of one gramme of alcohol in the body produces heat equal to seven calories, and this is the figure taken in calculating the food value of the beer samples dealt with in this statement of evidence. From this figure it can be shown that one ounce of alcohol is equivalent, so far as heat production is concerned, to one ounce of butter.
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 38, Issue 1, January-February 1932, page 86.
I'm sure the assertion that "alcohol is entitled to be regarded as a food in the scientific sense of the word" was meant to be used as ammunition aginst the temperance lobby.

One ounce of alcohol equal to one ounce of butter in terms of calories? There's something I didn't know.

Alcohol is far better food than bread, in that it can be converted into energy more quickly and efficiently than, say, a loaf of bread.

"It will be understood in connection with the results I have given that the food value of the alcohol in beer is based on its heat or energy producing properties alone. As a food constituent alcohol stands on a some what different basis from that of carbohydrate, protein or fat inasmuch as when taken in moderate quantities it is rapidly and completely oxidized in the body, and so becomes quickly available for the production of energy but not for tissue building. It acts, however, as a sparer of carbohydrate and fat, and possibly of protein, and in this way serves indirectly as a true food, that is, a substance which contributes to build up the tissues of the body."
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 38, Issue 1, January-February 1932, page 88.

Beer made up an important part of the diet or working-class men. See what a modest two pints a day yielded:

"Taking the average number of calories needed by a man doing moderate work at 3,000-3,500 a day it will be seen that 2 pints of beer with an average calorie value of, say, 250 per pint and therefore yielding 500 calories, contribute from one-sixth to one-seventh of the total energy needed daily.

So far as it is possible to measure the utility of a food by its calorie value it may be said that a quart of good average beer contains nearly as much energy value as half a pound of bread, two-thirds of a pound of beef and over one pound of potatoes. Quoting again from Hutchison "The large quantity of carbohydrate matter in malt liquors renders them the most truly nourishing of alcoholic drinks.""
Journal of the Institute of Brewing, Volume 38, Issue 1, January-February 1932, page 88.

Two pints of beer was the equivalent of about half a meal to a working man. Or half a pounfd of bread or a pound of spuds.  I'll take the beer, please.

Thinking about that more, a 6-pint session would get you half of your required daily calories. Have a proper 12-pint binge and you wouldn't need to eat at all.

Remember this is based on British beer of the early 1930's, which avergaed about 4.3% ABV.


Graham Wheeler said...

There is some dispute as to whether or not alcohol can be directly metabolised by the body, many people assert that it can not be, the evidence being that the body tries hard to expel it as quickly as it can, which is why breathalysers and urine tests work when authorities attempt to assert that someone is intoxicated. Thus alcohol calories are regarded by some as false calories, inasmuch as they do not count as a dietary measure. Anything that can be burned contains calories, but I doubt if a diet of sawdust will supply energy to anything other than a woodworm, thus sawdust contains false calories as far as humans are concerned.

I have never got to the bottom of whether or not alcohol can be metabolised by the human body, various references are contradictory. My beer belly and my Mr Moonface countenance would suggest that it is metabolised, but others put that down to the residual sugars increasing weight and the fact that alcohol relaxes the stomach muscles.

Do dry wine drinkers get a wine belly?

Ron Pattinson said...


It's something I've pondered myself, how many potential calories really get metabolised. I suspect how much and how quickly you drink also plays a role.

My recent 20 kilo weight loss while drinking as much beer as I want has left me wondering.

We really need a scientist to explain it.

Anonymous said...

The liver produces alcohol dehydrogenase, which digests alcohol. It does it slowly, which means that there is often still alcohol present in the body during drinking, which is why the police can measure alcohol in your system. Of course if the alcohol had been digested, they couldn't measure it, but also it would have no longer have intoxicating effect. Therefore the fact that the police can measure your blood alcohol level is not relevant to whether or not alcohol can be digested. You do not excrete alcohol in significant amounts via your breath, sweat, or urine. Principally it is eliminated via action of the liver, which is why it takes so long to sober up.

The amount of calories in beer contributed by residual sugars is relatively low compared to the calories contained in the alcohol. If the nutritional value of beer was entirely in the sugar and not the alcohol, it would have little nutritional value.

Of course, in individuals weight gain or loss is a complex issue determined by genetics, diet, and exercise. Saying "I drank x amount and gained/lost y pounds," is not very conclusive one way or the other in terms of whether the body can metabolize alcohol effectively.

Anonymous said...

For sake of comparison I did a quick calculation of the real extract and ABV of a hypothetical brew.

500 mL of a beer with an OG of 1.06 and FG of 1.014 contains roughly 90 kcal from sugar. Meanwhile 500 mL of the same beer (~6.5% ABV) contains about 180 kcal from ethanol. Obviously for more highly attenuated beers this gap will only widen.

If the body did not metabolize that alcohol, the calorie content of most beers would be reduced by a factor of two-thirds or more.

Graham Wheeler said...

"My recent 20 kilo weight loss while drinking as much beer as I want has left me wondering."

That might be an agreeable consequence of traipsing round the world doing book tours.

I rarely get asked to do any sort of overseas tour, but on the odd occasion that I have, there has never been an airline ticket enclosed with the invite, so I have not responded.

Ron Pattinson said...


I mostly set these things up myself. Sometimes I get some sponsorship, but not always.

I gained 2 kilos on my last tour.

Frank Boekhorst said...

Interesting. Why did people drink beer after work, building the pyramids? They probably got more energy out of the barley.

Maybe cooking is the answer. See Wrangham, how cooking made us human.