Is Non-Alcoholic Beer Better For You?
The non-alcoholic beer movement is in full swing. Sure, you’ve probably noticed six-packs labeled “alcohol-free” out of the corner of your eye in stores for the past few decades. But these watered-down versions of traditional beer were limited, usually tasteless, and marketed primarily to people focused on sobriety.
While it’s still a tiny segment of the beer industry — non-alcoholic beer accounts for about 1% — it’s made a huge leap over the years. You no longer have to sacrifice alcohol removal for flavor. The ever-growing craft beer scene is largely credited with the rise in popularity of non-alcoholic beer, as you can now find these options at your local craft brewery.
Since the taste has drastically improved, one question remains – is non-alcoholic beer healthier and better for you? We searched for answers.
How to make non-alcoholic beer
The art of brewing beer is quite simple. Brewers start by mashing malted barley with hot water. This process extracts sugars to create what is known as wort. The wort is boiled with hops and fermented with yeast. The yeast then eats sugars in the wort to produce alcohol.
When making non-alcoholic beer, the tricky part is removing or limiting the amount of alcohol production. In the early days of non-alcoholic beer, brewers either cooked the finished product at high temperatures to evaporate the alcohol or used a filtration system to remove the alcohol. While both methods were successful at removing alcohol, they also tended to remove flavor as well, leaving a less palatable experience.
However, new discoveries have enabled brewers to either use no alcohol at all during the process (alcohol reduction and prevention) or to use post-brew methods (dealcoholization) that preserve flavor and aroma.
Alcohol reduction and prevention
fermentation prevention: Holding back yeast prevents the sugar in the wort from producing alcohol. This approach is one way to ensure a 0.0% beer.
Limited fermentation: This can be achieved in two ways: by using modified yeasts or by reducing the fermentable sugars in the wort. Rice or corn have fewer extractable sugars than wheat or barley. Without sugar, the yeast produces less ethanol. Some types of yeast cannot digest maltose and therefore do not produce ethanol.
distillation method: The brewer heats the fermented beer to boiling point to vaporize ethanol. Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water.
vacuum evaporation: This newer method uses low pressure to lower the boiling point of beer and preserve flavor. Ethanol boils at 173 F, but vacuum pressure can reduce this to 68 F.
reverse osmosis: High pressure pushes the fermented beer through a membrane. The membrane allows tiny particles like water and alcohol to pass through, while the larger molecules, which include flavor and other aromas, stay behind. The concentrate is then diluted with water to get the final product.
gas stripping: The brewer heats fermented beer in a vacuum and uses nitrogen to remove the alcohol and leave the beer behind.
Does non-alcoholic beer have alcohol?
In short, it depends. The US Food and Drug Administration allows non-alcoholic beer to legally contain up to 0.5% alcohol. For comparison: A typical light beer contains 3.2% alcohol.
Non-Alcoholic Beer vs Non-Alcoholic Beer
Alcohol-free beer: Traces of alcohol remain during the brewing process. Despite the name “non-alcoholic”, many beers have 0.3 percent or 0.4 percent alcohol.
Alcohol-free beer: For a truly alcohol-free beer, some brands place the words “alcohol-free” on their label to indicate 0.0 percent alcohol.
Is Non-Alcoholic Beer Good For You?
In a vacuum, non-alcoholic beer isn’t necessarily good for you because it still has calories and carbs — albeit fewer than regular beer. Instead, a better rating would be that non-alcoholic beer is better for you and a healthier choice over lager.
Alcohol is a poison, so any way you can limit the amount of alcohol in your body is a healthier choice. Non-alcoholic beer does this by satisfying your taste buds without the rush. In fact, many people have turned to non-alcoholic beer, not necessarily to replace beer, but to reduce their alcohol consumption, either for dietary reasons or to improve their mental health.
Anecdotally, switching from beer to non-alcoholic beer can help improve alcohol-related sleep problems. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research found just two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women (classified as moderate alcohol consumption). decreased sleep quality by 24 percent.
Drinking non-alcoholic beer may also be indirectly related to improving your diet. Researchers believe that alcohol affects ghrelin production, a hormone released by the stomach that stimulates appetite and food intake. This could explain why drinking alcohol can lead to late-night munchies.
Still, you should be cautious about claims of possible health benefits. Some non-alcoholic beer advocates claim that it can be used by athletes to hydrate and replace electrolytes. Years ago, Olympians claimed they used the drink as a means of recovery.
However, there are better and more affordable ways to go about it — a six-pack of non-alcoholic beer from a craft brewery will set you back at least $10. Chocolate milk is an example. It contains carbohydrates and proteins that help you recover. Also, non-alcoholic beer cannot replace electrolytes like sodium. When you sweat, your body loses important electrolytes.
Calories in non-alcoholic beer
Fewer calories is one of the main advantages of non-alcoholic beer compared to regular beer. Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, which is almost the same as fat (9 calories per gram).
Many commercial beers fall in the 140 to 170 calorie range, with light beers being around 100 calories. Non-alcoholic beers can range from just 17 calories to 80 or 90 calories. Additionally, higher ABV beers, like IPAs and stouts, can contain up to 300 calories in a pint. In comparison, some non-alcoholic IPAs only have 60 calories.
The truth is that beer, with or without alcohol, has empty calories. Though there’s no added sugar — the sweetness comes from malted barley — the calories can add up if you’re downing multiple non-alcoholic beers in one sitting. Non-alcoholic beers also tend to have more carbohydrates. For example, Coors Non-Alcoholic has only 58 calories but contains 12.2 grams of carbohydrates.
Here’s a look at the nutritional content of several non-alcoholic beers:
Athletic Free Wave Hazy IPA: 70 calories, 5g carbohydrates, 0g sugars
Bush NA: 60 calories, 12.9g carbohydrates, 0g sugars
Coors Alcohol Free: 58 calories, 12.2g carbohydrates, 8g sugars, sugar
Coor’s Edge: 41 calories, 8g carbohydrates, 4g sugars
Gruvi Stark: 45 calories, 12g carbohydrates, 0g sugars
Heineken 0.0: 69 calories, 16g carbohydrates, 1.3g sugars
Lagunitas IPNA: 80 calories, 18g carbohydrates, 3g sugars
Miller Sharps: 58 calories, 12.0 carbohydrates, 8 g sugars
Sam Adam’s Just the Haze IPA: 98 calories, 22g carbs, N/A sugars
Stella Artois without alcohol: 60 calories, 14g carbohydrates, 3g sugars
Surreal natural bridges in Kolsch style: 17 calories, 2.8g carbohydrates, 0g sugars
Right side citrus wheat: 49 calories, 10g carbohydrates, 0g sugars
What about hop water?
If you’re a regular at craft breweries, chances are you’ve seen an iteration of hop water on the menu. Because hops have become so popular in beers, brewers are now using them to flavor carbonated water.
The idea is to have a finished product with no alcohol and no calories. For example, Sierra Nevada, one of the largest private breweries in the country, launched Hop Splash. This sparkling water contains Citra and Amarillo hops — two popular species used in IPAs and pale ales — to add flavor.
Some breweries use small amounts of yeast to enhance hop flavor in a process called biotransformation.
Can you drink non-alcoholic beer while pregnant?
Since some non-alcoholic beer contains up to 0.5% alcohol by volume, you should not drink it during pregnancy. That goes for any amount of alcohol, since even small amounts can lead to pregnancy complications and other developmental problems, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
However, you can drink mocktails or non-alcoholic beer with 0.0 percent alcohol clearly marked on the packaging.
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