To Beer or Not to Beer?

In the New Year: To Beer or Not to Beer?

The 2014 holiday season is now just a memory, and all we have to remind us of it are the inbound credit card statements and the extra pounds packed on during the festivities.

As we work to pay off the bills, we dedicate our Januaries year after year to losing those unwanted pounds through every diet scheme and exercise regimen imaginable.

In the face of this dreaded ritual, the craft beer enthusiast is haunted with a particular dilemma: Does an admirer of the brewing arts have to give up beer in order to lose weight?

It’s a complicated question, since it isn’t at all clear that simply drinking beer on a daily basis will give everyone a body profile befitting Norm on the TV show “Cheers.”

While that character sat on his bar stool every night, downing beer after beer and wondering why his wife lost interest in him, the real world is rife with examples of beer drinkers who regularly quaff oceanic volumes of brewskis and still maintain a healthy body weight.

One such specimen was Paul Newman. Few people remember that the late actor was notorious for drinking a case or more of beer every day.

As proof, it is possible to pull up decades-old interviews where he is always drinking beer and offering one to anybody within arm’s reach. Several biographies have also addressed his predilection for cracking open his first beer of the day by 8 a.m.

And yet, with the exception of one memorable scene in the movie “Cool Hand Luke” that left him with a distended belly, Newman remained unnaturally thin until the very end of his 83-year-old life.

Of course, he was also a legendary devotee of eating salad.

This better known detail of his life leads the craft beer lover to the role of the food we eat while drinking beer.

Perhaps it’s the spicy chicken wings, meat-lovers pizzas and bacon double cheeseburgers we often consume while drinking beer that makes us fat.

After all, wine drinkers are considered a notoriously healthy lot, even though a serving of Sauvignon Blanc has roughly the same amount of calories (143 calories per 5-ounce serving) as a 12-ounce serving of a beer whose name will not be typed (145 calories per 12-ounce serving). This is a fact, at least according to the dipsomaniacs running the “authoritative” website www.getdrunknotfat.com.

Along with the aforementioned salad, being invited to a wine party conjures up images of vegetable trays, low-fat cheese boards and vats of hummus to take the edge off the alcohol-induced hunger pangs as the evening progresses.

This may explain the difference, especially when you discover that a person actually expends more calories chewing and digesting a stalk of celery than they derive from it. This is especially true if you run in place while eating it.

So what is an aficionado of all things craft beer to do when faced with the scale every January? To any reasonable observer, there are four strategic choices.

Temperance

In other words, abstain from alcohol altogether.

Besides being morally wrong on a number of levels – not to mention, an insult to all things holy and wonderful – this strategy presents a false choice.

Give up the beer calories to obtain a healthy body weight, and you will be giving up the miracle of polyphenols – those cancer fighting and cholesterol lowering antioxidants, which are abundant in both beer and wine.

The slogan “Drink Beer, Fight Cancer (and Heart Disease)” has real potential, especially if you can fit it on a bumper sticker.

And remember that the Women’s Temperance Movement, which gave us Prohibition last century, also gave us Al Capone. Is further evidence needed?

Exercise

Yes, it’s true. There’s no such thing as a fat triathlete.

If you put in the effort, you will get the desired effect of losing weight. Calories in, calories out – you’re familiar with the concept.

Sure, it’s always a good idea (in principle) to exercise more. But for those in the throes of middle age, bad knees and arthritic hips are as much of an impediment to exercise as the wincing thought of building up too much lactic acid in the muscles.

The only natural remedy for all that pain is, of course, beer. Duh!

So park a little farther from the office, take the stairs instead of the elevator, or even step away from your desk at lunch and go for a walk. A brisk one-hour walk can burn up to 500 calories, which makes enough room to guzzle a couple of guilt-free pints at the end of the day.

Substitution

Here is where it gets interesting, since the possibilities are endless.

The average 30-year-old male needs around 2,400 calories per day for an optimum diet (2,000 calories per day for a 30-year-old woman).

Once you factor in your meal plan (so you know how many spare calories you have to work with), you can choose to eat a single serving of blueberry-flavored Greek yogurt (130 calories) or drink one bottle of Stella Artois (152 calories).

OK, Stella is a little higher in calories, but you get the point.

A more salient comparison for the average beer drinker is that if you lay off that bowl of pretzels on the bar (2 ounces, 215 calories), you can treat yourself to an entire pint of Guinness (210 calories) and walk away with five calories to spare.

Beer – 1. Pretzels – 0.

Moderation

Whether you’re a Rastafarian, a Buddhist monk, or somewhere in between, this strategy seems to be the preferred route for most imbibing societies. It certainly has the most historical and cross-cultural approval.

“Moderation in all things,” a wise man once said.

Another wise man named Justin MacDonald, owner of Beach Brewing Co. in Virginia Beach, recently shared his thoughts on the topic.

“Like most things in moderation, beer can absolutely be part of a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “Think of beer like bread – a whole loaf with dinner every night is bound to expand your waistline. One slice every night probably won’t.”

That guy is one smart brew master. Like, Greek-philosopher smart.

His comment lingered one afternoon while I finished up my second glass of delicious Ghost Ship Citra Pale Ale (12 ounces, 155 calories) at the Beach Brewing Co. tap room.

After contemplating Justin’s words, it came to mind that a grown man burns roughly 180 calories per hour while sleeping. This means it is completely possible to “sleep off” an afternoon’s worth of beer consumption by taking a two-hour nap.

So when it comes to beer or not to beer, there is no question. Drink two, and snooze for two hours. And make Paul Newman proud.

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BY STEVE ATTENWEILER
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