Many Popular Carb Diet Books Provide 
Incorrect Information About Beer

The popularity of recent carbohydrate diet books has focused Americans’ attention on carbohydrates in their food like never before. Even those who are not on strict carb diets consider some carbs “good” or “bad” based on this advice and make their food choices accordingly.

Unfortunately, many of these books contain errors about beer, which are focused in three areas:

Error 1: Maltose in beer
Error 2: Glycemic index of beer
Error 3: ‘Beer belly’ 

Error 1: Maltose in beer

Some recent, popular carbohydrate diet books incorrectly claim that beer has a high glycemic index. They base this on the incorrect belief that beer is high in sugar, or particularly maltose.(1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Beer is made, in part, with malted barley. When the barley malt is first cooked in the brewing process, the resulting liquid contains maltose, which is a sugar. During fermentation, however, yeast consumes the maltose, converting it to alcohol and natural carbonation.

Popular beers in fact contain little or no maltose or any other simple sugars.(8, 9, 10, 11)

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Error 2: Glycemic index of beer 

The science of nutrition, and in particular carbohydrate metabolism, is complicated and dynamic. Many popular carbohydrate diet books attempt to simplify and popularize these difficult concepts by calling food “good” or “bad” based on its “glycemic index” alone.(1, 2, 5, 6,) 

The glycemic index is a way of measuring how fast and high a specific food increases blood sugar.(26, 27) Although there are two similar methods for measuring glycemic index, there is no consensus among doctors or nutritionists that glycemic index alone is a reliable way to choose foods for weight loss or any other diet.(12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22)

When it comes to beer, many diet book authors say beer’s glycemic index is high.(1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7) But this is based on the mistaken belief that beer contains high levels of sugar or maltose, which we know is incorrect.(8, 9, 10, 11)

So, what is the correct glycemic index of beer?

At this point, it is unclear. Some sources say beer contains too few carbs to be tested for glycemic index.(23, 24) Measuring the glycemic index of a food generally requires the food be consumed in about a 15-minute time period and in quantities that deliver 50 grams of carbohydrates. Then, the blood sugar is measured over time and the results are compared to the blood sugar response of a standard food, such as glucose or white bread.(13, 26, 27)

The problem with testing beer this way is that all beers are relatively low in carbs.(23, 24) It would require a person to drink, for example, 7.5 light beers within 15 minutes to consume the 50 grams necessary to measure the resulting blood sugar. That is not responsible consumption of beer by adults. 

Beer’s glycemic “value” is very low.

Many carb diet books focus on glycemic index. But several experts warn against using glycemic index alone when choosing foods because it does not account for serving size, the effect of eating different foods together in one meal, which is how most people eat, or other factors.(12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22)

For this reason, some experts suggest that a more important measure is the “glycemic load,” which adjusts glycemic index for serving size. (Multiply glycemic index by the number of carbs per serving and divide by 100.) Glycemic load provides a better idea of how a single serving has an impact on blood sugar.(12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22)

If you select your food based on glycemic index (GI) alone, then you would have little guilt eating chocolate cake, while watermelon would be forbidden. But when you account for carbohydrates per serving, watermelon’s glycemic load (GL) is much lower, and much preferred, than the chocolate cake.

Beer’s glycemic index has not been published.(23, 24, 25) However, even if beer’s glycemic index were determined to be 70, the glycemic load for Bud Light, for example, would be 4.6. Less than 10 is considered low.(23, 24)

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Error 3: ‘Beer belly’ 

There have long been humorous references to “beer bellies” on some people who carry extra weight around their midsection. Two carbohydrate diet books (“South Beach Diet” and “Suzanne Somers’ Fast and Easy”) also suggest beer specifically encourages fat deposit in this area.(1, 2)

The truth is, there is no such thing as a “beer” belly. Excess fat in any part of the body is caused by too many calories from any source and not enough exercise, according to published academic sources. If calories consumed exceed calories burned, fat will result.(28, 29, 30, 31)

Where fat is deposited on the body is mainly determined by gender and genetics, not by the type of food you eat.(29, 31, 32, 33, 34)

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Beer, and especially light beer, is enjoyed responsibly by many adults who also happen to be on weight-loss diets of all kinds. Beer has zero fat. (10) Most light beers are low in carbs and low in calories.

No matter what kind of diet – low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie – is chosen, most doctors agree that the keys to weight loss are moderate food and beverage intake and regular exercise. Beer can be part of that kind of lifestyle for many adults.

We are not endorsing any particular diet or diet book, and we are certainly not saying that drinking beer will cause you to lose weight. Rather, we are providing accurate information for adults to determine what products can fit within their food and beverage choices. 

We want any consumption of our beers to be by adults and to be responsible.

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