Fruit versus lager: exploding the myth of the beer belly
Low-carb beers are a beer of the moment. They are the “IT girl” of the beer world with their sales growing at a remarkable 900 per cent per year and every man and his dog who owns a brewery clamouring to get one on the market.
Despite this, you won’t find too many brewers bragging about the beers in any sense other than the technical achievement in producing them. Beer marketers and brewery bean counters will sing their praises endlessly, but the actual brewers seem to stay silent on them – a little like Hunter S. Thompson might have done if he had had a sideline writing Mills and Boon novels.
When they do mention them it is usually in the pragmatic terms of giving the market what they want. The key to the beer’s success – apart from their light flavour profile – is in their name: low carb.
Beer companies who can’t make any claims about the health or nutritional benefits of their product can whack “low carb” on a bottle and in doing so wrap their beer in a cloak woven from all that the phrase connotes.
It’s a phrase when applied to beer that conjures up images in the drinker’s mind of the front cover of Men’s Health magazine rather the “Norm” character in the Life. Be In It campaigns of the 70s and 80s.
But where does the truth lie? Is beer the root of abdominal evil and are carbohydrate modified beers the key to eternal lithe?
The answer is no on both counts.
Trent Watson is a nutritionist with a remarkably laid-back attitude to life. A former aspiring Rugby League player before reality and years caught up with him, he lists beer and red meat as two of his favourite foods. He’s the sort of bloke that blokes would want to get dietary advice from and through his business, Clued on Food, he does exactly that.
Trent says that he gets lots of guys that come in and tell a similar story.
“They come in and tell me they’ve cut beer and red meat and all the ‘bad’ things out of their diet, but they’re still putting on weight,” Trent says. “When I ask them what they are eating they often proudly say they’re eating 10 pieces of fruit a day and lots of other good things.”
And there, according to Trent, is the problem. Most fruit is high in natural sugars and so is quite high in kilojoules and it is kilojoules that are the culprit in weight gain. While fruit should be consumed in a healthy diet, too much of it can cause weight gain too. It is the same with too much beer. Unfortunately, too much of any beer is going to have the same effect.
As Trent explains it, the food and drink we consume are the fuel for our bodies. Kilojoules are units of energy in that fuel. The amount of fuel that each person needs varies, but in general for the average male 178 centimetres high and weighing 70 kilograms would need 9-10,000 kilojoules to maintain their body weight. Consume less and you will generally lose weight, consume more and that excess energy is stored by the body as fat.
So far as the ‘beer belly’ goes, there is no mystical ingredient of beer that causes weight gain, least of all carbohydrates because all beer is pretty low in carbohydrates. They aren’t so kind in kilojoules because they contain alcohol, a powerful source of kilojoules.
An average full strength beer contains about 550 kilojoules, a reduced alcohol beer about 400 kilojoules, an average full-strength carbohydrate-modified beer 460 kilojoules. So an average carbohydrate-modified beer adds more to your daily intake of kilojoules even though lower in carbohydrates. If you knock off a six-pack of your favourite carbohydrate-modified beer, you’re still consuming a quarter of your daily energy intake…before you even take a bite out of that pizza or stop off for a kebab on the way home.
So, does that mean that we need to cut beer out of our diets? According to beer-loving Trent, the answer is no.
“Enjoying a couple of beers for its finest properties – it’s taste – can improve health,” Trent says. “The best advice to keep enjoying a beer and staying as happy and healthy as possible is to choose beers that suit your taste and savour every mouthful – in the right amount.”
Table: Comparison of carbohydrate level to kilojoules for common beverages
Drink Alcohol Carbs Fat Energy (kj)
Beer (VB) 4.8ml 3.0g 0 165
Beer (Pure Blonde) 4.6ml .9g 0 126
Milk (full-cream) n/a 4.7g 3.6g 269
Orange juice (fresh) n/a 8.5 >1g 160
Wine (white) 9.5 5.9 0 282
Wine (red) 9.3 3.7 0 282
One for the weekend…
330ml 3.5% ABV
Reduced alcohol beers are actually better for your waistline than full-strength carbohydrate modified beers.
They also often have the happy characteristic of being “lower carb” due to the way they are brewed – so much so that XXXX Gold has always been lower in carbs but it is only recently that Lion Nathan has seen any merit in promoting the fact.
This is where Peroni decided to enter the market with their new offering Leggera, which means ‘light’.
Peroni seems to have wanted to create a mid-strength beer first and a low-carb beer second and Leggera is only around a third lower in carbs than the regular version.
Depite that, or more accurately, because of that, Leggera has a more rounded flavour than many of the beers that designed to shout a low number in their carbs panel. Being reduced alcohol gives it roughly the same kilojoules though as the truly low-carb beers.
Light-flavoured but well-balanced with the distinctive Peroni minerally bitterness – and a flash European label to boot for those that care about these things – Peroni is an enjoyable, quality beer, and a great midstrength alternative.
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