You are in for a rant…sort of.
Topic: The Beer Belly Myth
I’m sure you’ve read an article or two in the past year or so, or at least seen a triumphant twitter update, that exuberantly claims defeat to an age old myth, the beer belly. Citing a British study on Czech men and woman that states, “They found no link between the amount of beer they drink and the size of their stomachs. Writing in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, they said claims people are obese because they drink too much beer are wrong,” many beer authors breathed a sigh of guilt-relinquished-relief and proudly declared to the world that their beer belly must come from unknown origins; perhaps genetics, constipation, a tapeworm: anywhere but from beer.
Am I the only one not buying this?
It seems much easier to say, “I’m just a little chubby,” than it is to say, “I drink too much beer.”
Now, I’m not MD…I don’t assume to possess a detailed knowledge of the gastro-intestinal workings of the human body, energy absorption, etc., but I did ace health class in high school, I do enjoy beer, and I am a not so proud proprietor of a…*gasp*…beer belly. (Those are internet worthy “expert” qualifications, right?
Hear me out. Let’s take a quick look at this study.
Who are the subjects:
891 Czech men and 1,098 women between the ages of 25 and 64
How much are they drinking:
The survey showed the men consumed on average 3.1 litres of beer each week with women drinking on average 0.3 litres per week.
What were the conclusions:
Doctors measured their weight and their waist to hip ratio and body mass index, both used to measure obesity.
The scientists found no link between beer consumption and obesity.
They said the findings suggested there is no truth in the claim that drinking too much beer makes people obese.
“There is a common notion that beer drinkers are, on average, more ‘obese’ than either non-drinkers or drinkers of wine or spirits,” the researchers said.
“This is reflected, for example, by the expression ‘beer belly’.
“If this is so, then beer intake should be associated with some general measure of obesity, such as body mass index or with indices of fat distribution such as waist to hip ratio or with both.”
But they said: “The association between beer and obesity if it exists is probably weak.”
What were they drinking? Let’s interpolate a bit here. Admittedly postulating, I’d be willing to bet that the majority of the beer drinkers in the study primarily drink Pilsner, rarely going much higher than 5.5%. Typically, the higher the ABV, the higher the calorie count (reference Simply Beer for more info). I guarantee that the typical beers consumed by Mike and I on a weekly basis have at least double the calories found in the typical Czech’s beer.
How about their consumption? The average male drank 3.1 liters of beer a week. That’s 8.7 long necks a week. Pretty moderate consumption if you ask me. How many beers do you consume in a week? More than the average Czech test subject?
What about life style? Here I am primarily in the dark. Although an educated guess, based off the more predominant and widespread agricultural and industrial subsistence of the Czech Republic (contra the US), would be that the Czech test subjects lead a more active lifestyle (vocationally) than the majority of Americans, including myself.
Here’s what I’m getting at. You can’t take one small, isolated test subject from a different country, different culture, with different habits and lifestyles, and transpose the results upon an overwhelmingly different country, whether that be the US, the UK, Germany, or wherever. Odds are the average beer geek who believes drinking beer has no impact on his beer gut drinks more than 3.1 litres of beer a week. I do! I know several guys who put down twice that in a weekend.
I wonder what the test results would have been like had the survey been administered in my home town, Toledo, OH? Or how would they differ were the researchers to use the grounds of the Great American Beer Fest as their subject?
The bottom line is: When you drink a beer you consume calories. If your body doesn’t fully use this energy, the surplus has to go somewhere, and that place is your (and my!) gut, same as when I ate that fatty cheeseburger and french fries on Saturday. Beer is no different than any other food. While I can’t blame my gut solely on beer, I can partially…just as I can partially blame that cheeseburger, my desk job, and my lapsed jogging routine. Beer isn’t the SOLE cause, but a peripheral cause of that gut.
You don’t have to call it a beer belly since it stands to reason that while affecting the “beer belly” other factors have a bigger effect. Until I rid myself of the bulge above my belt, I’ll call it my “I’m too complacent to jog” belly. Although I’ll admit that’s not as cute sounding.
Another problem is, and I’m definitely a victim of, you tend to eat more when you drink. There is a notion that if you have something to eat, full stomach, you won’t absorb as much alcohol. True or Flase, your still consuming calories and the calories in beer, it all adds up.
You referenced my calorie counter (thanks!), while every beer will differ depending on calories based on the original amount of sugar in the beer and the residual sugar left after fermentation. all those calories are directly tied to the amount of alcohol in a beer, Higher ABV -> more calories. The unfortunate side to this is knowing… now that I know I cringe sometimes before consuming my wonderfully delicious Dogfish Head 120.
Now I just make sure I get more exercise, hit the Dojang an extra hour and I can keep on drinkin’!
Interesting post … I have definitely seen an increase in my weight since I started drinking “good” beer. I think I put on at least 10 pounds when I went through my “try as many stouts and porters as I can” phase.
Which of course leads to putting on more weight, since I agree that drinking promotes snacking. Those “pub mixes” are deadly … but they are so good at the time of consumption …
Well done, Nate.
There’s an easy fix for all this. MGD 64 baby!
alcohol affects the bodys ability to burn fat, some say up to 30%! So the low cal beer isn’t even necessary. You won’t see much difference if you indulge yourself on 64 cal. beer or 120 cal. beer… But you will definitely see a difference between a drinker and a non drinker, since the body of the non drinker will continue burning calories 30% more efficiently.
@SimplyBeer: It’s a great table…def. helped me choose my beers recently…although your right 1) beer and snack have been happily married since the discovery of beer and 2) ignorance, at times, is blissful.
@Scott from Manland: pub mixers are deadly: the beer makes us hungry, the snacks make us thirsty. It’s a vicious cycle:
@scott the brew club: I have yet to try a MGD64: although next time I am hiking the appalacian trail or participating in a triathalon and need a pick-me-up, I know where to turn.
@My favorite ex-bar patron: man I miss closing down the bar and delving into philosophical extrapolations with you! Seriously Dave, glad you stopped by…that knowledge nugget was sweet. I wish I had known it prior to writing this post, otherwise I would have found a way to incorporate it.
I actually eat less when I drink. I drink at home 99% of the time, because I have a family, and it’s easy to sit with my wife and chat or watch a movie while enjoying a beer. Before I was into beer, it was junk food that I would enjoy during this time. So out with the cookies and Cheetos, and in with craft beer! The net difference in my waistline has been zero.
Any medical study that says calories won’t make you fat has obviously been funded by Trimspa or some acai berry juice manufacturer. The math is really simple, burn what you eat or gain weight.
I’m with you 100% Nate. If someone ate a loaf of bread every night before bed, you could be pretty confident that the spare tire hanging around their midsection is a bread belly.
Take the typical American metabolism, which is compromised by a lack of physical activity and gallons of high fructose corn syrup, and shackle it with an additional 400 carb-loaded calories a day and you’re gonna grow those fat cells. And for most folks, this means a gut. End of story.
So I say stop eating dinner, and replace those wasted calories with a nutritious and delicious beer of your choosing!
@Howard…Interesting perspective. We have written elsewhere on the site about the nutritional benefits of beer. My waist has grown (a little, I’m still pretty slim) but I attribute it to a job that no longer has me on my feet, since my beer habits are relatively the same.
@Jim..Along those lines and Howards, perhaps we could make money marketing “the beer diet?” Sounds good to me!
@Jim & Nate: Actually, funny that you should reference the “beer diet.” When Mike and I actually started drinking beer together on a regular basis each night, I wasn’t too concerned since I was training for a half-marathon and could afford some extra carb calories. But I was woefully aware that when my running tapered off, I was not going to be very happy about the extra calories. So we have been working towards compensating for the extra beer grains by eating less grains during the day. The beer diet at work! (Hey, if the monks counted on beer for their sustenance, who am I to argue?)
@ Byrd: I love the idea of building your entire diet around beer consumption. Maybe we should come up with a no-grain, no-carb cookbook full of recipes that pair perfectly with beers. This way all of the food groups will be represented, with the really important ones in your glass.
@Byrd Yeah, Mike and I have written here and there on the site of the nutritional benefits of beer. I think another post is in order.
@Jim That’s a great idea, actually. I do think it would sell quite a few copies too/
that is the smartest thing I ever heard in my life. I might be gay now.
Now I really have a gut! I’m sure the rest of you are amateurs. While there is truth to the idea that beer calories will eventually end up on your belly, so will all the others. You need to burn what you consume. Pretty simple.
Another point here is I didn’t hear anything about a control group of non-drinkers. Unless you have a control group to establish a proper baseline the findings are pretty meaningless.
I think this assumes that people have the same amount of caloric intake, as far as food consumed. The difference seems to be the beer. Honestly, it is a simply matter of burning it off and calories consumed, so if the beer drinker works that into their eat (etc.) then it becomes a matter of simple math. No more calories than the non-drinker= no more weight than the non-drinker.
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