January is the month of resolutions, when we promise ourselves to do better than the years before. We vow to exercise more, eat better or spend less time on social media. Unfortunately for the beer industry, one of the first things that many people give up in January is beer, in an attempt to combat the so-called “beer belly” they’ve developed over the years.
For years, the caricature of the sitcom dad with the “beer gut” has lead to the misconception that beer causes weight gain in the midsection – and that it is soley responsible for the bellies that are the hallmark of this “dad bod” physique. This myth has led many beer-lovers to swear off of beer while trying to lose weight, thinking that it is the root cause of their changing body composition. However, it turns out that it is not that simple – but also that sticking to healthy resolutions can still include your favorite beverage.
A recent study published by researchers in the Czech Republic found that there was not a correlation between the amount of beer the participants regularly consumed and their waistline and that there are likely more complicated factors at work. It boils down to this: The beer gut may be less about beer itself than its quantity or accompaniments. If the primary venue in which you consume beer is a sports bar, you might be washing down that pint or two with fries, wings or pizza – all that have many times the calories, fat and carbs than the beer in the glass. If you’re drinking a lot of beers in one sitting, its also just math; each pint has some calories to it, and the more pints you drink, the more calories you consume. There’s nothing specific to beer itself that causes weight gain, and the type of alcohol that you consume doesn’t determine where that extra weight may reside on your body. That’s mostly due to your genes.
Cutting back on the overall calories is a common way to attempt to lose weight, but this requires you to track how many calories you’re taking in. Unlike other foods, beer is not required to have a list of nutritional information, such as calories, on the label. It is somewhat costly for breweries to have such an analysis done for each beer, so many have to refrain from having that testing performed regularly. That being said, there are a few clues that might help you to figure out if a beer fits in your diet or not.
My uncle used to say that dark beer was like a meal and that it was heartier and heavier than regular beer, but that’s also a misconception. The color of the beer is not linked to its caloric content. The color in beer comes from the roasting of the malt (the grains) used in the beer, rather like toasting a piece of bread. Darker toast doesn’t have more calories or carbs just because it was left in the toaster longer, and dark beer isn’t full of more calories just because it uses darker roasted malts.
The real culprit is the alcohol content and any residual sugars (or added ingredients) in the beer. First, let’s talk about the alcohol. The calories found in beer are most closely related to the alcohol by volume. The basic calculation that you can use is to take the ABV, multiply it by 2.5, and then multiply by the number of ounces in the serving. So a 5 percent beer in a 16-ounce can would be approximately 200 calories. The same serving size with an 8 percent beer would be 320 calories.
The second caloric culprit of added ingredients is a more recent concern. In a world of stouts that can contain anything from maple syrup to donuts to chocolate cake added in the brewing process, it is safe to assume that the calories and sugar from the original ingredients won’t disappear (even if the yeast manages to eat a little bit of that sugar on your behalf). So if you’re watching your waistline, it may be wise to take a time out from the pastry-packed pints.
Thankfully, there’s been a boom in popularity of both lower alcohol beers (many that are under 5 percent ABV) as well as clean, simple lagers without a lot of added ingredients. Bunker Brewing Co. Salad Daze is a dry and tasty combination of both – a hoppy lager that rings in at 4.7 percent ABV. If lagers or hops aren’t your thing, Rising Tide Brewing Co.’s Pisces is a tart and delicious Gose that’s only 3.6 percent ABV and loses none of its thirst-quenching qualities. Lastly, don’t be afraid of the dark beers either. Baxter Brewing’s Per Diem Porter is full-bodied and rich but stays at a nice 5.5 percent ABV, and Sebago Brewing’s classic Lake Trout Stout is only 4.8 percent. While these may be lighter on the calories and alcohol, they are certainly not holding back anything on taste.