Whether alcohol-free beer is healthy is probably just as much a question as whether alcohol-free beer is a full-fledged alternative to conventional beer at all. Some fitness gurus swear by non-alcoholic beer because it's said to help with weight loss. Others, in turn, attribute performance-enhancing effects to the brew and still others even claim that alcohol-free beer is said to be good for preventing one or the other chronic disease.
With this article we want to bring light into the darkness, which represents the tangle of unanswered or at least not clearly answered questions. In the following lines we want to illuminate this topic neutrally and provide a better understanding of it.
the essentials in brief
- Both alcohol-free beer and conventional beer contain polyphenols, which are said to have many positive effects. Among other things, an anti-inflammatory function is proven. Otherwise, alcohol-free beer is characterized by fewer calories and less stress on the liver than normal beer.
- Being labeled as an alcohol-free beer does not mean that there is actually no alcohol in the bottle. Alcohol-free beers are usually produced by evaporating or stopping the fermentation process. However, the alcohol content is not equal to 0, as you can probably imagine. With 0.5 percent, a beer can be sold as "alcohol-free" in Germany, although this regulation is up to 10 times stricter in other countries.
- Since beer is generally an isotonic drink, it is very popular with athletes to quickly compensate for water and mineral losses. Furthermore, the maltodextrin in beer is considered a good way to fill up the depleted glycogen stores after exercise.
Is non-alcoholic beer healthy: What you should know
As I said, many questions arise when it comes to alcohol-free beer in relation to health. We have done our best to answer the most important of them objectively and well documented. We want to clear up any doubts about this topic.
Which non-alcoholic beer is the healthiest?
A high content of polyphenols, xanthohumol or maltodextrins in the drink makes it healthier. In addition, it is better the less alcohol there is left. It is difficult to say whether it is healthier to stop the fermentation process or to evaporate excess alcohol afterwards. However, both processes have a different influence on the taste of the beer.
What are disadvantages of non-alcoholic beer?
In the eyes of many, alcohol-free beer is the better alternative to "normal" beer in terms of health, which is probably true from many points of view. A disadvantage for many beer drinkers is that alcohol-free beer contains almost no alcohol, but that's what the name says and we won't go into that in this question.
According to most beer drinkers, alcohol-free beer does not taste like normal beer, which is probably its biggest disadvantage. The reason behind this statement is that the two most common methods of producing non-alcoholic beer cannot prevent the taste of it from being different from regular beer(6,10,11">.
In terms of taste, non-alcoholic beer and "normal" beer always differ. (Image sources: Wil Stewart / unsplash)
Unfortunately, when alcohol evaporates after the fermentation process is complete, some flavorings also evaporate, which makes the taste less interesting, and if fermentation is stopped early, some flavorings are not produced at all and some non-fermented sugars remain(6,10,11 ">. With the method of dry hopping, this can possibly be counteracted in the future, as a study was able to show(11).
Another disadvantage is an increased nitrate - or glyphosate - load, which could be found in many non-alcoholic beers.
How much non-alcoholic beer can you drink without problems?
In itself, the regular consumption of non-alcoholic beer is harmless. The low content in beer bottles labeled as alcohol-free is so small that you cannot get drunk with alcohol-free beer, since the alcohol content is so small that it breaks down faster than it can flow in with alcohol-free beer.
Furthermore, according to the limit of 0.5% alcohol content in alcohol-free beer permitted in Germany, one would have to drink 10 bottles in order to consume the level of pure alcohol contained in a beer bottle with 5% alcohol content. By then you would probably be so dehydrated that you'd gone to the bathroom at least 5 times.
In conclusion, there is no fixed value that should not be exceeded, at least as far as pure alcohol is concerned. Nevertheless, one should not necessarily try to drink a crate of non-alcoholic beer in a week. But there are no underlying health concerns.
Can an alcoholic drink non-alcoholic beer?
Even if you are a dry alcoholic, you should avoid alcohol-free beer. This is partly due to the low alcohol content, which is still allowed to be contained in alcohol-free beer when it is sold, and partly because the taste is too similar to "real" beer.
As a dry alcoholic you should definitely avoid alcohol-free beer. (Image sources: Thomas B. / Pixabay)
This similarity can easily trigger a relapse, which is why malt beer is also best avoided. The similarity in taste can easily leave you wanting more. Alcohol-free beer can thus be seen as the beginning of a renewed increase in beer consumption. Also, with an already damaged liver, one should be very careful when discussing the benefits of the drink in relation to the liver(5).
Does non-alcoholic beer help you lose weight?
The polyphenol xanthohumol contained in beer can inhibit fatty liver, which in turn would lead to weight gain. According to this, alcohol-free beer does not directly help with weight loss, but it does prevent a corresponding weight gain(5,7,9">.
It is often said that non-alcoholic beer should be very low in calories. This is certainly the case with regard to ordinary beer. On average, beer has about 2 times more calories than non-alcoholic beer, which is quite a lot. Still, by and large, non-alcoholic beer is not considered a subpar product in terms of calorie count. In order to really lose weight, you should use water instead of non-alcoholic beer(5.9">.
Which organs is alcohol-free beer harmful to?
Alcohol-free beer can still be harmful to the liver(3,5,7,9">. As mentioned above, it prevents fatty liver, but the low alcohol content can have a negative impact on the liver, especially if This means that from a health standpoint, alcoholics and ex-alcoholics alike should stay away from non-alcoholic beer since their liver is already stressed(3.5">.
People with liver diseases, people with elevated liver values and above all people who have been infected with the hepatitis virus should also keep their hands off the supposedly non-alcoholic beer. Although the product is available for children, which is also indicated by the alcohol content, among other things, you should still not serve non-alcoholic beer to your child.
Is non-alcoholic beer harmful to children?
As mentioned above, non-alcoholic beer makes you want more. It is repeatedly emphasized that alcohol-free beer is a lot healthier than conventionally brewed beer. However, this fact is not synonymous with the fact that alcohol-free beer is completely harmless to health, although this is often suggested(5).
Non-alcoholic beer means a child gets used to the taste from an early age, which makes a close relationship with beer much more likely in later years. While consumption cannot harm the child directly, drinking alcohol, even in small amounts, downplays how dangerous alcohol can really be. So drinking non-alcoholic beer is only an indirect health concern for children, but we still wouldn't recommend children having access to non-alcoholic beer. In any case, the younger generation's understanding of a safe dose of alcohol is way off the mark(4)
Which ingredients in non-alcoholic beer can be harmful?
Purines are components in beer that are harmless to most when consumed normally. They are contained in many foods, and the nucleobases used to produce RNA and DNA in our body are also purines. Nevertheless, too high a proportion of purines in the body can lead to gout attacks and people who already suffer from gout in particular should avoid alcohol-free beer.
Purines are also part of our DNA. (Image sources: Arek Socha / Pixabay)
Ethanol is still an ingredient in non-alcoholic beer. Ethanol can be harmful to the liver even when it is present in low doses in non-alcoholic beer. It is often argued that the negative effects of ethanol are outweighed by positive effects such as inhibited fatty liver due to the polyphenol xanthohumol contained in alcohol-free beer, but this is still controversial(5).
Furthermore, an increased nitrate load is possible with a non-alcoholic craft beer. In addition, alcohol-free beer seems to have an increased glyphosate load. These two substances are suspected of being carcinogenic.
Is non-alcoholic beer healthier than regular beer?
Non-alcoholic beer is undoubtedly healthier than beer. This statement can be made simply because there is less alcohol in non-alcoholic beer, since the drink is automatically less harmful to the liver(1.7">.
The argument automatically makes the drink more attractive for everyday applications. Since non-alcoholic beer is isotonic and contains maltodextrin, it is ideal for taking after exercise. It helps replenish glycogen stores after exercise and also gets minerals into the blood quickly and safely. In conclusion, alcohol-free beer is more likely to prevent than to have an impact on an existing problem in the organs concerned(2,3,5">.
For which ailments should you avoid alcohol-free beer?
For some ailments, the consumption of alcohol is very questionable or even impossible. Of course, most of these ailments are directly related to organs responsible for breaking down alcohol. Hepatitis, for example, literally means inflammation of the liver and excludes those affected from any intake of alcohol, since the liver cannot break it down and would be even more burdened(5).
For some ailments, giving up non-alcoholic beer is necessary. (Image sources: Radovan/unsplash)
Diseases of any digestive organs should result in at least a temporary renunciation. Even dry alcoholics should stay away from beer and alcohol-free beer. Pregnant women should avoid alcohol altogether because of the immense strain on their bodies, but also because of the negative consequences for their child. A weak heart and elevated liver values also speak against the intake of alcohol(5).
Diabetes sufferers should also not drink beer because of the malt sugar. However, modified variants of non-alcoholic beer can even be good against diabetes (12).
How does alcohol-free beer work during sports?
Since beer is generally isotonic, it is particularly popular with athletes. The alcohol-free or low-alcohol version of the beer is probably even more attractive, since after sport you primarily want to replenish glycogen stores and missing minerals in the body and not get full(13).
However, non-alcoholic beer does not work miracles during exercise, it is more suitable for consumption directly after exercise. However, the producers of beer are well aware that beer is generally very popular in the world of sports. This can very often be seen from advertising printed on bottles or from the fact that every second commercial involves a sport such as cycling being associated with a beer garden(13).
Unfortunately, many studies on isotonic drinks or non-alcoholic beer in relation to sports are not very meaningful, since they were mostly financed by the producers themselves and have a small number of participants, which can distort the results(13,14">.
What alternatives are there to non-alcoholic beer?
The purpose of non-alcoholic beer is to be able to enjoy the actual taste of the beer without the impact of an intoxicating effect. We have listed some alternatives here that replace this or another aspect of non-alcoholic beer.
- Isotonic Drinks: Isotonic drinks aren't all about beer. Many isotonic drinks are particularly popular with athletes.
- Child-friendly variants: We have listed child-friendly drinks that are based on alcoholic beverages here, since non-alcoholic beer is not necessarily suitable for children, as we have already described above.
- Low-calorie drinks: Many sites point out that non-alcoholic beer should help you lose weight. While that's only partially true, we have some low-calorie drinks that do better in this category.
It has to be considered for which aspect of non-alcoholic beer you are looking for an alternative. For this specific niche of beer that contains no or little alcohol, there is no full-fledged alternative. Nevertheless, we have put together alternatives for you that relieve alcohol-free beer in some aspects.
Beer, or the non-alcoholic variety thereof, aren't the only beverages that are considered isotonic. However, beverages whose marketing is solely based on being well received by athletes due to the ingredients are usually quite unpopular with consumers and critics. This is because many so-called sports drinks contain sweeteners instead of sugar, which cannot provide the energy required by the athlete. Otherwise, they usually contain artificial additives.
The German Olympic Sports Confederation recommends putting together your own isotonic drinks for reasons such as these. These should be equivalent to a mixture consisting of two-thirds still mineral water and one-third apple juice. So making your own isotonic drinks isn't that difficult.
Basically, kid-friendly versions of drinks that contain alcohol in the original are just soft drinks meant to evoke the taste of that original. Examples of this would be, for example, children's sparkling wine or malt drink. The latter is even conditionally isotonic and could find a similar application for athletes.
Children's sparkling wine or non-alcoholic sparkling wine is not at all relevant to health, but should only give children a certain "feeling". However, these drinks are intended entirely for enjoyment and do not strive for any real status among athletes or health scientists.
Low calorie drinks
Water or even sugar-free tea are the best choices for hydrating your body. If you get bored with these low-calorie ones, you can spice them up with a slice of lemon or mint. Ginger is also a way to make your drink a little more interesting in terms of taste and health.
Spritzers are an alternative, but you should pay extreme attention to the sugar content of the drink. Coffee is also a very low-calorie alternative that may not be the first thing that comes to mind for everyone.
Low-calorie and gluten-free would also be non-alcoholic beer based on rice(8).
In conclusion, alcohol-free beer is at least healthier than beer with a normal alcohol content. In addition, taking it after exercise is at least harmless and certainly refreshing for the body.
Nevertheless, "healthier than" does not necessarily mean that it can also be generally described as healthy. It contains many substances that are healthy for the body and one or the other of them also helps to prevent suffering later in life. Nevertheless, alcohol-free beer is certainly not an option in everyday life instead of water. Regular consumption, however, is harmless, if not quite healthy.
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