Moderate drinking of ale and lager can cut the risk of diabetes and high blood pressure...
That much we know. The evidence of a J-shaped mortality curve for alcohol consumption (ie. it's better to drink a little than not at all) is reasonably well-established. I've yet to see a public health campaign take this to its logical conclusion by actively telling teetotallers to start drinking, but then I guess we proles are too thick to be able to handle any more complex message than 'drinking is bad, m'kay'.
...and even help people lose weight, doctors say.
Dr Estruch and Dr Rosa Lamuela tested 1,249 men and women over 57 years old. They found that those who regularly drank moderate amounts of beer were less likely to suffer from diabetes and high blood pressure and had a lower body fat content.
This particular study ('Beer, Mediterranean diet and cardiovascular disease') seems not be be available online, and perhaps the surprising association between beer drinking and weight-loss is robust, but this quote from its author makes me wonder:
Dr Ramon Estruch, the lead researcher, said: “Moderate beer consumption is associated with nutritional and health benefits. It does not necessarily mean weight gain since it has no fat and calorie content is low.”
Low compared to what? There are over 200 calories in a pint of lager, which is around 10% of the recommended daily intake. While a pint or two could certainly be incorporated into a 'healthy' diet, it's difficult to argue that weight-loss would not be easier without those extra calories.
A few years ago the British Beer and Pub Association made a scientifically suspect effort to portray beer as being less fattening than other drinks. They did so by comparing the calories in 100 ml servings of beer (41 calories), wine (77 calories), spirits (250 calories) and apple juice (47 calories). See the problem there? The BBC spotted it at the time:
Sceptics will argue that although beer has fewer calories than wine, it comes in pints while wine is served in smaller measures.
Indeed we will, because that's the relevant, real-life comparison. Dr Estruch's study apparently concludes that beer has "a relatively low alcohol content compared to other drinks", which is just another way of repeating the same fallacy. We don't drink pints of spirits and even if we did we'd have bigger things to worry about than getting fat.
The good doctor, from Barcelona University, also has a rather cartoonish perception of British drinkers:
“Beer drinkers here do not resemble Britons, who drink large quantities, almost without moving from one spot, while eating chips and sausages.”
Crisps and peanuts, surely? And, again, it is the quantity of beer that's being drunk that's the issue. Big drinkers may also be big eaters, but that does not absolve all those calories in the beer.
Far be it from me disparage the work of a man who is such a keen advocate of the cheeky pint, but I can't help feel that his fondness for the hop, as well as the usual glorification of the Mediterranean lifestyle, has blinded him to the fundamental importance of calories in weight gain. I wish him well, and I hope he's right, but it does seem a little unlikely.