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SPENCER: Cheers to beers

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I was born in the Kitchener-Waterloo area where Oktoberfest is widely celebrated with polka, song, lederhosen and beer.

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For years, I thought the celebration was just a party for October. Little did I know that Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest, beer festival and travelling funfair that is held annually in Munich, Germany. It is a 16 to 18-day folk festival running from mid or late September to the first weekend in October, with more than six million people from around the world attending the event every year.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Oktoberfest, based on the original German funfair, is an annual nine-day festival in the twin cities with claims as Canada’s Greatest Bavarian Festival, and is the second-largest Oktoberfest in the world.

The good times start on the Friday before Canadian Thanksgiving and run until the Saturday after and attracts up to one million visitors every year.

Someone asked me about my thoughts on beer not too long ago and if I thought beer was healthy. As a ball player that enjoys a cold one, my immediate response was “of course it is!”

But is beer really healthy? I decided to take a close look.

The main ingredients of beer are water, barley, malt, yeast and hops. Barley, a natural grain, transitions from being a breakfast cereal ingredient to beer by making malt barley. Malt is created through the natural process of malting. You malt barley by soaking it in water for a few days, allowing it to germinate and produce the components necessary for fermentation. Yeast in its simplest terms converts the sugar in beer into CO2 and alcohol. Technically, it is an alive fungus, invisible to the naked eye but nevertheless the magical ingredient that makes a beer a beer. Hops give beer its flavour and is sourced from the plant Humulus Lupulus.

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Sounds healthy so far right?

However, through the years and technical advances some beer companies have added chemicals, colouring and corn syrup to change flavours, make lighter and sweeter and to control the foam retention. Many of the chemicals have been linked as carcinogenic and genetically modified (GMO).

If you are looking to avoid genetically modified ingredients or stay away from artificial chemical colours and flavours, your best bet is a German beer. According to Vani Hari, food investigator and blogger, “The Germans are very serious about the purity of their beers and enacted a purity law called “Reinheitsgebot” that requires all German beers to be only produced with a core ingredient list of water, hops, yeast, malted barley or wheat. Advocates of German beers insist that they taste cleaner and some even claim they don’t suffer from hangovers as a result.”

Organic beers are also a great choice if looking to avoid the chemical additives. They are required by law to not include GMOs and other harmful additives. Organic beers also support environmental friendly practices and reduce the amount of pesticides and toxins in our air, support organic farmers, which is a huge plus.

Beer has been reported to have health benefits with moderate consumption (one to two drinks per day). The list includes antioxidants (which assist to diminish free radical cells that promote cancer), vitamin B, iron, calcium and fibre. A Dutch study showed a 30 per cent increase in Vitamin B6 in beer drinkers, which makes sense because hops are loaded with the vitamin.

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A study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that folks who had one alcoholic drink a day had less cognitive impairment and less decline in their cognitive function compared to those who abstained from any alcoholic beverages.

Multiple studies consistently show up to a 50 per cent reduction in the risk of strokes in moderate alcohol drinkers. Most notable was a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association. The American Stroke Association has stated that two alcoholic drinks per day may decrease your incidence of a cardiovascular or cerebral incident caused by blood clots.

Dr. Paul Thompson, wellness author and physician, reports that there are more than 20 well-done, large international studies that all demonstrate the heart benefits of moderate alcohol consumption. Now, that doesn’t mean drinking more is better. Drinking beer responsibly is drinking healthy.

And while the “beer belly” often gets pinned on the traditional pint, it is not necessarily the beer causing the excess girth, but the amount of calories, lack of portion control and starch and sugar content of our diet that can be the culprit.

So raise your glass and “cheers” to beers and your health and happiness.

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