- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

The health benefits associated with moderate consumption of beer have been mounting in recent years, but for those who do not want to or are unable to drink, non-alcoholic forms of the brew could provide some of the same benefits.

Beer has been associated with a reduced risks of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and dementia. Although there has been little specific research on non-alcoholic beer, some researchers think it could have similar healthy qualities because many of the benefits of beer seem to come from the grains — hops and barley — and malts used to make the beverage rather than the alcohol.

"If there are special benefits of beer beyond those provided by the alcohol, which I believe are likely but not conclusively proven, then nonalcoholic beer should be healthful — but we really can't say," Norman Kaplan, a professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas who studies the health benefits of beer, told United Press International.

Julie Walsh, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a registered dietitian in private practice in New York City, agreed with Kaplan that non-alcoholic beers could prove to be healthy.

"We can't say that they're going to have the same cardioprotective effects as other drinks containing ethanol," but they could have some beneficial health effects, she told UPI.

More research is showing phytonutrients — nutrients derived from the process of turning sunlight into energy — found in hops and barley might provide some of the healthy benefits associated with beer, Walsh said. A good rule of thumb is the darker the beer the more phytonutrients it has, she said.

Although most non-alcoholic beers are pale in color, several beer manufacturers recently have begun introducing amber non-alcoholic beers. However, representatives of U.S. brewers Anheuser-Busch, Miller and Coors — all of which make non-alcoholic forms of beer — told UPI they were not conducting or funding research on the health benefits of their respective alcohol-lacking brews.

Another health benefit not due to the alcohol in beer is B vitamins, Walsh said. Some of these vitamins might play a role in controlling homocysteine, a chemical involved in causing heart disease, she said.

Also, because it lacks alcohol, non-alcoholic beer "is a lot lower in calories," which can be advantageous for people watching their weight, Walsh said.

The most obvious benefit of non-alcoholic beer, she said, is it will not increase the risk of becoming involved in a highway crash, as does the consumption of regular beer.

However, despite its potentially positive effects, non-alcoholic beer seems to be on the decline in the United States.

Laurie Levy of the Beer Institute, a trade organization in Washington, D.C., that represents most major brewers, said non-alcoholic beers have been "gradually declining over the past several years." It has decreased from a peak in the mid-1990s of about 2.4 million barrels shipped every year to its current level of about 1.8 million barrels, Levy told UPI, adding that figure accounts for about 1 percent or $6 million of the $60 billion in sales raked in by the entire industry.

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