As he often does, my beer buddy Jay Brooks beat me to the punch with a post on his blog (brookstonbeerbulletin.com) about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new MyPlate nutritional chart.
Great minds think (and drink) alike, it seems. Along with Brooks and many others, I wondered why the USDA didn’t use the update as an opportunity to offer a recommendation for moderate alcohol consumption, as the Harvard School of Public Health’s Healthy Eating Pyramid does.
Or is USDA’s latest idea of health and nutrition education only aimed at children?
MyPlate (choosemyplate.gov) replaces the government’s old food pyramid with an icon shaped like a dinner plate. It’s divided into portion recommendations from four food groups — protein, grains, fruits and vegetables.
One more group, dairy, is in a smaller circle offset from the plate, in the place you’d expect to find a cup or a glass.
Certainly, that’s where you could put a serving of low-fat milk, if you were making a kids meal. But many adults might prefer beer or wine instead.
In the United States, about 50 percent of adults are regular drinkers and 14 percent are infrequent drinkers, according to the USDA’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Studies have shown that a daily drink (or two) in the form of beer, wine or spirits has major health benefits, especially for older adults. We’re talking about things like lower risks of cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Most surprising, a study published last year in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research showed that heavy drinkers actually live longer than those who abstain from alcohol.
While red wine is often treated as a kind of wonder drug, it turns out that ethanol, the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages of all kinds, is what does the trick.
And though it’s still ridiculed as the source of the beer belly, brewing science is getting lots more love lately — even from registered dietitians such Andrea N. Giancoli, who trumpeted the good news about beer in a recent issue of the American Dietetic Association’s ADA Times.
“Red wine enjoys a reputation for sophistication and health benefits,” Giancoli wrote, “but as interest in artisan brewing gains momentum and emerging research reveals unique nutrition properties, beer is finding redemption not only as a classy libation with deep roots in many cultures, but as a beverage with benefits.”
Besides being fat-free and a source of vitamins and minerals, Giancoli points to many positive beer-specific health outcomes, including lowering the risk of kidney stones in men and aiding in greater bone mineral density because of the high content of silicone in beer.
Of course, the USDA advises “the consumption of alcohol can have beneficial or harmful effects, depending on the amount consumed” as well as the drinker’s age and other characteristics.
We know that too much sodium, bad fat, added sugar and refined grains can lead to chronic health problems and obesity. Too much alcohol can, too.
“Whether you’re exploring the cultural roots of an ancient beverage, expanding your culinary prowess, supporting a local brewer or just enjoying a cold one,” Giancoli noted, “remember that moderate consumption means one 12-ounce beer per day for women and two for men.”