What Is the Healthiest Beer?

Experts explain what to look out for when seeking out the healthiest beer...just in time for St. Patrick's Day!

Beer has been around for centuries, but the industry has had quite a makeover during the past decade with many new breweries popping up around the country creating new and unique brews. With all of these options available for beer lovers, we sought experts to share their thoughts on what is the healthiest beer.

Ale-style beers have been reported to display a higher antioxidant activity than lager style beers due to the higher fermentation temperature in the brewing process. But, one 2021 study said that “despite these enrichment processes, controversy remains as to the bioavailability of the phenolic compounds in beer.” Translation: Any appreciable effect from the antioxidant content of ales is still out for debate.

Registered dietitian Theresa Gentile, MS, RDN, CDN, and national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, shared that “any beneficial health effects of beer come from the ethanol and polyphenolic compounds produced in the fermentation process.”

“Its polyphenolic compounds have been attributed to higher bone density in several studies,” Gentile adds. “Beer’s polyphenols and ethanol seem to account for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant functions which may offer the protective effects seen against cardiovascular disease. There’s promising research on moderate drinking of fermented drinks on the gut microbiota.”

So what makes a beer healthy? Registered dietitians share their thoughts with The Healthy @Reader’s Digest to serve up possible benefits (and cautions) about different types of beer.

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What is the healthiest beer?

Gentile says that beer is mainly composed of water, but it is also rich in nutrients—such as carbohydrates, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, and polyphenols.

Some types of beer may be better than others, and moderation still applies, says registered dietitian Angel Planells MS, RDN, who is also a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Planells says the healthiest beer options include:

Light beers

These beers present fewer calories and less alcohol by volume compared to regular beers. “This may be helpful if you are trying to limit your intake,” Planells says.

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Sour beers

These beers tend to be made with bacteria that produce lactic acid, so these may have a bit of tartness to them. “These beers tend to be lower in calories and alcohol and may also contain some probiotics,” Planells explains.

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Organic beers

“Organic beers make the list … because of the products used and that no chemicals have been used to make them,”  Planells says. “When you compare some brands with traditional versus organic, the organic version comes in with lower alcohol and calories per serving.”

Gluten-free beer

For someone who can no longer tolerate beer, but still enjoys the taste, gluten-free beer has come a long way in the past few years. Gluten-free beer “would be beneficial for the person with celiac disease, and also presents with a different flavor profile–it could be sweeter or less carbonated compared to traditional beers,” Planells says. “A caution about gluten-removed beers, as gluten is removed in the process, but some may remain which may be a concern for an individual with celiac disease.”

Non-Alcoholic beer

Again, if you like the taste of beer, non-alcoholic could be another option for you. “These are the beverages such as lagers or ales that aim to mimic the taste of beer while minimizing the effects of consuming standard beer,” Planells says. “All are generally 100 calories or below.”

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What is the healthiest beer for your liver?

Can a beer actually be healthy for your liver since we know that excessive consumption of alcohol can be harmful for your liver?

“While there’s no beer that’s healthy for your liver, quantity will be a large determinant of liver health,” Gentile says.

“Ale beers have a higher antioxidant activity than lager beers due to the fermentation temperature in the brewing process, so those may have a slight advantage,” she added. However, the risk of liver cirrhosis (severe scarring of the liver) increases with total alcohol intake, even with moderate drinking. Beer does contain B vitamins and some antioxidants (from the barley and hops used in the production of beer) and phenolic compounds, Gentile said.

A study published in Oxford Academic found that beers that have a higher concentration of hops are better for your liver with less fat accumulation in the liver, says Melissa Prest, DCN, RDN and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “This study was conducted on mice, so we would need to repeat the study in humans to see if the results are similar,” she added.

With that being said, moderation will continue to be key when consuming alcohol drinks…including beer.

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Which beer is best for weight loss?

If you are looking to continue to drink beer, but not gain weight there might be some options.

“Non-alcoholic beer, light beers and organic beers would be your best bet,” Prest says. She added that these three options are lower in calories so you can include these as a beverage option for your meal plan. Recommendations remain the same with no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

“If you’re watching your waistline, it would be wise to look for a light or low-calorie beer, as well,” Gentile says. “Darker beers tend to have more calories, so if you’re watching your overall caloric intake, you may want to choose a lighter-colored beer. Light or low-calorie beer allows you to enjoy your favorite beverage without sacrificing much of the taste.”

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The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting alcohol intake to two drinks or fewer for men, and one drink or fewer for women per day. And some groups may want to be mindful of consuming alcoholic beverages: If you are pregnant, or might be pregnant, under the age of 21, have certain medical conditions or are taking certain medications that may have an interaction with alcohol, or anyone who is trying to recover from alcohol use disorder. If an individual drinks too much beer, there are some potential negative consequences such as weight gain, damage to your liver, and an increased risk of certain cancers, Planells says.

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Katie Bressack
Katie Bressack (www.katiebressack.com) is a holistic nutritionist with a specialty in hormonal health; such as painful periods, PCOS, heavy/irregular periods, amenorrhea and thyroid imbalances, post birth control, pre/postnatal and preparing for pregnancy. Katie also helps women transition through perimenopause and menopause. Katie has also supported businesses through corporate wellness programs for twelve years. Some of her corporate clients include Mattel and Guthy-Renker. Katie lives in LA with her hubby, identical twin boys and their dog Piper.