#275 Oktoberfest
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If you ever reach total enlightenment while drinking beer,
I bet it makes beer shoot out of your nose.

Jack Handy

Is Beer the Healthiest Alcohol?

By Denis Faye and Steve Edwards

Beer DrinkerWhen we think of Oktoberfest, we think of beer. In America, it's arguably the only thing we know about this celebration. Since October is also when tailgating, er, football season kicks in, it may as well be national beer month. While this conjures up images of loud men with distended bellies, perhaps it's time we gave beer another look. A bevy of recent studies seems to indicate that beer may well be the healthiest alcohol we can drink.

This idea may take some getting used to. We tend to see wine drinkers as beautiful and refined. Scotch drinkers are dashing impresarios. Fabulous hipsters favor the martini. And beer, well, you don't exactly think Tony Horton or Shaun T. Whenever you see a fat guy in American popular culture, a beer is never too far away. Homer Simpson. Norm from Cheers. Willie from Bad Santa. Heck, we even call their slovenly looking stomachs "beer bellies."

Is all this vilification justified? Maybe not. According to England's Royal Society of Chemistry's (RSC) recent study, Beer: Quality, Safety and Nutritional Aspects, beer is loaded with good things: proteins, vitamins, and antioxidants—even fiber. Taken in moderation, beer can offer a host of nutritional benefits.

A very, very brief history of beer in America

BeerBeer has been brewed, in some form, in every culture for about as long as humans have inhabited the planet. But nowhere has it been more important from a cultural perspective than in Europe. When America was colonized, this European influence ensured that we'd become a nation of beer drinkers.

Originally, we were an ale country. When more Germans began arriving, in the mid-19th century, we started drinking more lagers. These lighter-style beers were more easily mass-produced and became the bastion of the early American breweries, run by guys like Pabst, Schlitz, and Miller.

The light—some would say watery—taste now associated with mass-produced American beer didn't come around until World War II, when brewers started substituting the traditional ingredients of beer with more available ingredients. Bland became synonymous with "American beer" until the rise of microbreweries in the late 20th century. Now Americans are privy to more varieties and a larger selection of beers than any place on earth. The epicenter of the beer world now seems to be Portland, Oregon, which is commonly referred to as "Beervana."

If beer is good, why are beer drinkers fat?

Beer BellyBefore we discuss the benefits of beer, it's important to note that beer isn't some magical nectar of the gods. It requires moderation. The reason Homer and Norm have those bellies is that they don't just drink one beer, they drink a lot of beer. A six-pack (a seemingly perfectly round number for many beer drinkers) of pretty much any beverage in a day is going to have some negative side effects, just due to the number of calories consumed. An excess of beer can be especially detrimental for three reasons: carbonation, calories, and alcohol. Carbonation can neutralize stomach acids and this hampers digestion, so people trying to lose weight should avoid beer with meals. Calories, well, we all know what calories do. The average beer has 150 calories. When Homer drinks ten beers, he's consuming over 1,500 calories—before a donut even crosses his lips!

About 70 of those calories come from alcohol, an extremely controversial substance when it comes to its effects on the body. The over-consumption of alcohol is responsible for all sorts of nasty things, including cirrhosis of the liver and addiction. However, the RSC study, along with several other studies, indicates that two or three alcoholic drinks a day greatly reduce mortality rates, especially those involving cardiovascular disease.

Popping a Cold OneThat said, alcohol has also been found to inhibit muscular protein synthesis, which is the whole point of working out to begin with! So popping a cold one after that big basketball game or that Beachbody fitness video probably isn't the best idea. Best to wait a few hours.

One final note on the negative effects of beer. Germany actually has beer purity laws (enacted in 1516) that guarantee that their brews are made of nothing but water, hops, yeast, and barley. We have no such laws in America, so you never know exactly what you're getting. Most of the bigger brewers put rice or corn in their beers to keep prices down. They can also load it with preservatives and chemicals. As a general rule, if you're looking for a healthy beer, the smaller the brewer, the better the beer. In fact, most small brewers proudly boast about their ingredients.

So what's so good about it, anyway?

Blood PressureRecent studies have been revealing many positive associations between beer and health. These include a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease, an improved mental state in women, and increases in life span. Drinking beer can help reduce homocysteine levels, lower triglycerides and LDL-cholesterol, and reduce blood clotting. An important note is that a constant here is moderate consumption, but that should go without saying. So let's take a closer look at just what's in beer that makes it healthy.

One might be inclined to lump excessive carbohydrates in with the list of beer's problems, but this just isn't the case. Although it does have some carbohydrates, the idea that each brewski is a carb bomb is a myth. Generally, there are 5 to 11 carbohydrate grams in one 12-ounce bottle of beer. Milk has 18 grams. Soft drinks have 36 grams.

Thanks to its malted barley, beer also contains protein, at the rate of 0.7 to 2.1 grams per bottle. While most of the larger proteins are lost during the brewing process, beer still contains all the essential amino acids.

BreweryMalted barley also gives beer plenty of vitamins, particularly B vitamins. A bottle of beer can contain 10 to 20 percent of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of niacin, riboflavin, pyridoxine, and folate. But mass-produced beer lovers take note: beer's riboflavin comes from its barley, as well as its yeast. Beers brewed with barley substitutes such as rice (Budweiser, for example) contain fewer vitamins.

Another benefit of drinking beer is the water, which, among other things, prevents dehydration and helps maintain electrolyte balances. A bottle of beer has between 327 and 337 grams of water, as opposed to 12 ounces of wine, which is 302 to 323 grams water, or soft drinks, which have 315 grams of water.

Because good beer uses good, pure water, you'll also find a lot of minerals within, although which ones and how much depends entirely on the water's source. It's safe to say you'll usually find a good amount of potassium and magnesium, and plenty of calcium.

HopsBoth hops and malt add several phenolic compounds into the mix. Many of these compounds are the same as or similar to the antioxidants found in wine, tea, and several fruits and vegetables, all of which have been known to protect against cardiovascular disease. So it would appear that "The French Paradox" applies to ale drinkers as well.

So get out there and enjoy your Oktoberfest with the knowledge that you could be doing yourself some good. Just don't overdo it.

Related Articles
"4 Cures for the Beer Belly Blues"
"Wine or Beer: Which Is Better for You?"
"The 5 Best and 5 Worst Cocktails"

Steve Edwards If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

Check out our Fitness Advisor's responses to your comments in Steve Edwards' Mailbag on the Message Boards. If you'd like to receive Steve Edwards' Mailbag by email, click here to subscribe to Steve's Health and Fitness Newsletter. And if you'd like to know more about Steve's views on fitness, nutrition, and outdoor sports, read his blog, The Straight Dope.

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6 Tips to Slim Down the German Way

By Joe Wilkes

German MealWhen I was asked to write an article about healthy German eating, I knew I had my work cut out for me. "Fry a package of bacon until crisp. Reserve drippings for later use." And this was from a recipe for potato salad! If this was a representative recipe of German food, I would think the average life expectancy would be about 45. But on average, Germans live a year longer than Americans. So they must be doing something right.

I thought back to when I was an exchange student in Germany in high school. As a teenager, I never paid much attention to what I ate, but I do remember that I dropped about 20 pounds when I was there, without even trying. There certainly were some meals that were outside the bacon food group. In fact, when I look back at the German diet and lifestyle, there are a number of lessons we could learn from them.

  1. Rye BreadGo with the grain. Like most Americans, I found my first encounter with German bread a bit alarming. At first glance, it appeared to be some kind of particleboard. Is this what all that IKEA furniture's made of? (Oh, wait, that's Sweden.) With kernels of grain you could actually see with the naked eye, there was no need to read the label to see if it was in fact whole grain—it looked like a vulcanized brick of wheat. But the bread is actually quite tasty, and a few bites in, you remember why the Germans are famed the world over for their pumpernickels and ryes. And unlike the pillowy, chemical-laden white breads of the American bread aisle, a slice of the more substantial German loaf takes longer to chew and fills you up more quickly—two things that help you eat less. Not to mention that it's full of fiber and naturally occurring vitamins, things we inexplicably bleach out of our bread in the U.S.

  2. Open-Faced SandwichHave an open face. Another way the Germans beat the U.S. health-wise is in sandwich preparation. The first thing they do is serve the sandwich open-faced. Half the bread means half the carbs. The other thing they do which saves calories is that they let the bread be the star of the sandwich. A typical Butterbrot-style sandwich consists of a piece of bread, a thin layer of butter, and a slice of Schinken, which is smoked ham, similar to prosciutto. Butter and ham aren't the height of healthy eating, but the key is that the Germans use only enough to provide flavor—something a country that created a sandwich called the Baconator could take a lesson from. Plus the side dish is usually fresh fruit or pickled vegetables instead of potato chips or fries. And speaking of veggies . . .

  3. Pickled CucumberGet pickled. We're not talking about a late night at the Bräuhaus. Rather, we're talking about all the tasty, low-calorie pickled veggies the Germans excel at making. With their brutal winters, vegetable preservation was a high priority in old German times. The classic pickled cucumber has been around since ancient Mesopotamia, but the Germans have taken pickling to new delicious heights. Polish-style cukes, popular in Germany, are usually pickled in brine, with no vinegar. The Germans also produce a variety of styles incorporating vinegar, garlic, dill, and other herbs and spices. In fact, the word "gherkin" comes from Gürke, the German word for cucumber and pickle. There are other delicious pickled vegetables like beets, tomatoes, and, the German classic, sauerkraut. All with hardly any calories or fat. However, some contain excessive amounts of sodium, which is something to keep an eye on. But as Germans become more and more health conscious, low-sodium versions are popping up all the time.

  4. MuesliClean your colon. As my German grandfather was fond of saying, "There's clean and then there's German clean." And this Teutonic zeal for cleanliness extends to the digestive system. Their fiber-rich diet is probably the biggest key to German health. This stands to reason since after packing their colons full of sausage and potatoes at lunch, a little roto-rooting action courtesy of whole grains is probably necessary to keep the mail moving. For breakfast, instead of sugary, rainbow-colored puffs, they typically eat whole-grain cereals like oatmeal or muesli. They also eat a lot of yogurt, which contains the flora necessary to keep all the pipes clean (if you decide you're really in a deep-cleansing mood, give the 2-Day Fast Formula® program a try).

  5. Big LunchDo lunch big. Another healthy habit Germans have is eating their big meal of the day in the middle of the day. The German word for the noontime meal is Mittagsessen, which literally means "eating in the middle of the day." This is usually when the hot entrées and side dishes are consumed, the ones Americans traditionally eat at the end of the day. Their last meal is called Abendbrot, which translates as "evening bread," and usually consists of a piece of bread with cold cuts or something similarly light. Since food is fuel, the earlier you eat it, the more time you have to burn it off. By frontloading their diet, the Germans burn off the lion's share of the calories they consume while performing their everyday activities. And by only having a light dinner, they go to bed on an almost-empty stomach, so the calories eaten are less likely to be stored as fat.

  6. HikingTake a hike. Where the rubber literally meets the road in German health is their penchant for walking and hiking. One of the rude awakenings of my exchange year was the realization that my host parents were not going to drive me anywhere. Where my American high school had a parking lot big enough to accommodate several hundred cars, my German high school had zero parking spaces for students and the longest bike racks I'd ever seen (which were well used by faculty members, as well as students.) Even on the days it rained (which were most of them), I was walking or biking where I needed to go. The family car only came out for road trips or major grocery expeditions. Most adults have a collection of Spazierstöcke, or walking sticks, as recreational walking or mountain hiking is a big part of most Germans' lifestyles. And walking at a brisk pace can burn over 300 calories per hour—that's a bratwurst! Of course if you really hit the Oktoberfestivities hard, you might do some Turbo Jam® Maximum Results routines—they burn off up to 1,000 calories an hour. That's two beers and two bratwursts you can have!

Related Articles
"5 Ways to Get More Fat-Fighting Fiber"
"The 2 Most Important Hours for Weight Loss"
"5 Ways to Make Over Your Veggies"

Joe Wilkes If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Test Your German Culinary IQ!

By Joe Wilkes

Match the German food term with its English definition:

  1. LebkuchenLebkuchen. A cookie flavored with honey and spices. These little gingerbread-like cookies are traditionally eaten around Christmas time, and have been in Germany since the 13th century. In the old days, superstitious Teutons believed the cookies might ward off evil spirits, or at least help defeat the winter blahs. Check out gourmet stores in the coming months. Lebkuchen should start arriving on shelves!

  2. Quark. Fresh, unripened cheese. Quark is a fresh, unripened cheese, similar to ricotta or cottage cheese, but with a smoother consistency. Its texture is similar to sour cream and it's often sold in Germany mixed with fruit, chives, or herbs—similar to the various styles of cottage cheese available in America. It has lots of protein, although not terribly low in fat, depending on the producer. Quark is available in some gourmet shops in America.

  3. Schmaltz on BreadSchmalz. Spreadable rendered animal fat (usually chicken). Also schmaltz. Popular in German and Jewish communities, schmalz consists of rendered chicken fat (sometimes goose, duck, or other animal fat is used), which is used instead of butter as a bread spread. Kosher Jews who wanted to cook meat in fat without mixing dairy also often relied on schmalz for frying. It has also entered the vernacular to describe something that is particularly emotionally overwrought or sentimental. For example, Love Story is a really schmaltzy movie.

  4. Sauerbraten. Pot roast marinated in vinegar. The marinade for sauerbraten, usually containing vinegar and sugar, has a much higher acidity than typical meat marinades. That's because the original protein for the dish was horse meat, which was much tougher and needed a lot more breaking down than beef.

  5. SpaetzleSpaetzle. A dumpling cooked by running batter through a colander. The word literally translates as "small sparrows," although who knows why because it isn't shaped like a sparrow and, thankfully, does not contain sparrow as an ingredient. It's actually a simple dough made of eggs, flour, and salt. Combining pasta-making and funnel-cake-making technologies, the dough is pushed through a colander or other press into boiling water and then drained and tossed with cheese or butter or added to stews or sauerkraut.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, just email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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