• Fri October 24 2008
  • Posted Oct 24, 2008
By Earl Horlyk SIOUX CITY - Beer lover and avid cyclist: sounds like a contradiction in terms, right? Well, maybe not. For more than 20 years, John Gray has enjoyed the pleasures of a well-crafted beer. That's almost as long as he has been trekking the Hawkeye State as a participant in the Register's Annual Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI). "There's something about riding a bike and drinking beer that just seems so right," Gray, a Sioux City attorney, said. "The two things just go hand in hand." As the temp cool down, the leaves turn an autumnal shade and folks begin thinking of Octoberfest, we ask ourselves: Just how healthy is beer, anyway? There's been many studies that show a moderate intake of beer, or any alcohol n one to two 12-ounce glasses per day for men and one for women n can actually be good for Baby Boomers, like Gray, as they face common diseases related to aging. The study of the health benefits of alcohol began back in the early '90s when Dr. Serge Renaud, a scientist at France's Bordeaux University coined the phrase "French Paradox" to describe his countrymen's relatively low incidence of coronary heart disease despite having a diet rich in saturated fats. In a 1992 interview with "60 Minutes"'s Morley Safer, the doctor concluded it was his country's love of red wine that decreased its likelihood of cardiac disease. Because of that report, U.S. consumption of red wine increased 44 percent and many wineries began lobbying for the right to label their vino as "health products." Hy-Vee nutritionist Sarah Nelson doesn't go that far. But she does supports the studies that show the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption when it comes to cardiovascular disease. "It reduces the level of fibrinogen in the blood," Nelson explained. "It also reduces the stickiness of platelets that can cause clots while increasing a person's good cholesterol (HDL) level." Although she cautions alcohol consumption among young adults is associated "with a higher risk of traumatic injury and death" and that women who consume "more than one drink per day have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer," Nelson concluded: "Compared with non-drinkers, adults (who drink moderately) appear to have a lower risk of coronary heart disease." But what about beer? Nelson touts the natural ingredients that go into the brew. "It doesn't contain sugar, fat, cholesterol or triglycerides," she said. "Beer also has low (25 mg) sodium, and is a good source of folic acid and B6." The B vitamins are important because it reduces a person's homocysteine levels, a leading cause of heart disease. Worried about osteoporosis? According to Nelson, silicon, the high-fiber grains found in hops, has also been shown to promote bone health. Additionally, beer contain flavonoids that are quite different than those in red wine. "Xanthohumol, found only in hops, has been researched as a potential cancer-preventing compounds," Nelson said. Beer also has a significant amount of polyphenols n an antioxidant that can also be found in red wine, fruits, vegetables, and green and black tea. "The key, here, is the darker the brew, the higher the level of antioxidant present," Nelson said. Which is good news for Gray. "I never worry about gaining weight from beer," the slender Gray said. "I burn off a lot more calories cycling than I ever would drinking beer." As a member of Sioux Brew RASCALS, Sioux City's beer and home-brewing club, Gray said he enjoys all types of beer. That is, with the exception of mass-produced, lower-calorie beer, which he calls "a ripoff." "If higher calories means more flavor," Gray admits, "then, I'll go high calorie every time." "Stouts, lagers, pale ales?" he said, smiling. "Don't have a favorite beer. Never have. It all depends on what I'm in the mood for that day." Which, according to Gray, is a trait shared by both bicyclists and beer aficionados. "We're risk takers who love to try new things," he explained. "We're active people who are passionate about the things that we love." "You see, bicycling and beer really do hand in hand," Gray added with a laugh.

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