Beer isn’t exactly healthy, especially when it’s slurped in excess. That’s bad news for football enthusiasts, who will chug, on average, a gallon of beer on Super Bowl Sunday, at least according to some sources. Although it’s doubtful that every viewer will suck down more than a six-pack, those who do will be taking in about 1,500 extra calories, not to mention a boatload of carbs and sugars, the compounds that are converted into belly fat. Alas, the dreaded beer belly.
But despite its alcohol content, the beverage of choice for most sports fans isn’t all bad. Beer has a hearty dose of cell-protecting antioxidants and polyphenols, and a post-workout beer has been shown to reduce inflammation and help with recovery. That’s why a “hydrating” brewski is often waiting for marathon runners as they cross the finish line.
We’re not going to pretend like avoiding a drink during the biggest party of the year is an easy strategy—even if you’re Paleo and tend to steer clear of gluten and carbs. Cracking open a bottle is practically a requirement of watching the Super Bowl, and unless you have an iron will, you might succumb to having one (or two). Instead of totally abstaining, choose a beer with a little more nutritional bang for it’s buck while you watch the Panthers and the Broncos battle it out.
Check out the ABV content
If you’re drinking whatever’s on tap or can’t find the nutrition label on the bottle, check out the alcohol content of your drink.
Beer gets the bulk of its calories from two things: alcohol and carbohydrates. Both are byproducts of the fermentation process, with alcohol weighing in at seven calories per gram and carbs at four calories per gram. In general, the higher the alcohol content, or alcohol by volume (ABV), of a drink, the higher the calorie count. For example, most light beers are considered “light” because they contain less alcohol—anywhere from 3 to 3.5 percent ABV—and about 100 calories per 12 ounces. A heavier ale or stout might have twice that, or about 6 percent ABV and 180 to 200 calories.
Short answer: Check out the alcohol content, and remember that, in general, the higher the number, the higher the calories. Limiting calories or carbs? Lighter beers are your best bet.
But just because it’s lighter doesn’t mean it’s always better
On the other hand, opting for the lightest beer in the cooler just because it has fewer calories isn’t the right choice for everyone. Light beers probably won’t have much in terms of extra health benefits (more on that later)—and let’s face it, they’re usually pretty bland. Choose wisely: Bud Light has 110 calories and close to 7 carbs, but rival Miller Lite has 96 calories and 3.2 carbs. Even though they’re both “light” beers, Miller is the much better choice—the difference of four measly carbs doesn’t seem like much, but if you’re downing a beer every quarter (which is way easier to do with a lighter brew) that number ends up being 16 extra carbs, more than in a slice of bread.
Short answer: Paleo eaters or low-carb dieters should be wary of light beers, which might have fewer calories but can pile on the carbs.
Try a superfood(ish) brew
So beer isn’t known for its nutritional value. But if you’re going to drink it anyway, might as well get one with a few extra health benefits built in—like those that have been fermented with healthy ingredients. Abita’s “Purple Haze” is brewed with real raspberries, which are well-loved for their antioxidant activity and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. Not a fan of fruity beers? Dr. Jekyll, a craft brewery based in California, makes a trio of “superfood beers” with potent ingredients like maitake mushrooms, garlic, cloves, maqui berries, and even flax oil.
The jury’s still out on how many nutritional benefits we actually reap from sipping these upgraded brews, but we do know they’ll still give you a nice buzz.
Short answer: Beers brewed with superfood ingredients technically have more antioxidants and vitamins—but we still don’t know how well the nutrients hold up in the final product.
When in doubt, pick the stout
You may have heard that Guinness is surprisingly low in calories, and at about 125 per 12 ounces, it’s true! Most stouts fall around this range—although they contain a few more calories than light beers, they make up for it with higher levels of antioxidants and fiber. And according to a University of Wisconsin animal study, regular, daily consumption of a stout prevented the risk of heart attacks. Researchers found that Guinness worked as well as aspirin in preventing clots from forming in arteries—so drink to your (heart) health.
Short answer: Stouts contain more fiber and antioxidants, which give them their signature dark color. They also tend to have fewer calories yet are more filling, so you’re less likely to overindulge.
Having a couple drinks during the big game isn’t something to freak out over, and one day of imbibing definitely won’t set back your health permanently. But, you might feel and look better the next day if you choose your brew wisely.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho