Monday, January 11, 2010

Why Beer Makes You Fat

Recently I saw a segment of a show called "Manswers" that addressed the question "How long could you live on just beer?" Apparently it is manly to like beer so much that you would want to drink beer as your only source of nutrition.

I'm not here to address this issue, however, but rather a sub-issue that came up as a part of it. They asked a "nutritionist" about it, and one of the things she addressed was beer making people fat. According to her dogma, because there is no fat in beer, beer can't make you fat. She went on to say that because people who drink too much beer have poor judgment, they tend to eat fatty foods while drunk, and this is what gives them a beer gut. Her eyes got a little shifty as she made this last pronouncement, which is understandable, as there is absolutely no evidence to support it, and obviously beer does make you fat. All by itself. The problem was that she apparently doesn't understand how the body deals with excess energy in the bloodstream, and where this excess energy comes from in the first place. This, by the way, seems to be a standard lack in the educations of most dieticians and nutritionists I've encountered. This is a deplorable state of affairs, as merely knowing what nutrients are in which foods is not enough, one must also take into account the way the body deals with those nutrients. Most nutritionists seem to claim that because they know about nutrients in food, they are experts in what foods should be put in the human body. This is rather like being an expert on fossil fuels, and claiming that just by this knowledge you know all about cars. Ever see a fat dietician, or nutritionist? I certainly have. To me, taking their advice is rather like taking the advice of a mechanic who can't get his own car to run.

Fat Nutritionist receiving an award

The first step in knowing how the body deals with different foods is to know what the body ultimately does with those foods to turn them into energy that is available to the organs and muscles of the body. Vitamins and minerals are distributed this way as well, but as far as immediate fuel goes, from a nutritional aspect,(as opposed to a respiratory one) our bodies run on glucose. Yep, sugar. Eventually, every calorie gets turned into glucose in our bloodstreams, and our muscles use this as fuel.

I can hear some of you thinking "Oho, then if this is true, wouldn't it be more efficient to live on just sugar, and save my body the work of doing the conversion?" And, yes, it would, sort of. As far as simple efficiency goes. The problems, of course, would be that there are no vitamins and minerals in sugar, and in the way the body deals with excess sugar in the bloodstream.

If you have ever known someone with diabetes, you know that the body is designed to have a certain range of sugar content in the bloodstream. Too low, and you start acting crazy, and eventually go into a coma. Too high, and you run the risk of all sorts of problems, including vision problems, kidney disease, stroke, heart disease, and so on. Bad news. The good news is that if you are not diabetic, your body has a way to deal with this. It's called insulin, and yes, it is the same thing diabetics inject to control their glucose levels. The reason they have to do this is that the insulin their bodies produce no longer works. (Which is a subject for another article.)

Insulin helps muscle tissue to absorb glucose for energy. It also turns excess glucose into a sort of short-term storage called glycogen. Glycogen can be reconverted into glucose to be used by the muscle tissues, should they need it, but, more often in most people who are not regularly exerting themselves, it gets converted into fat, which is long-term storage. Guys, did you ever see a female athlete, aerobics instructor, or whatever, who while seeming otherwise shapely and toned had a flabby, jiggly butt? Ever wonder why? This is because she thought she needed more carbs in her diet because she was exercising all the time, but the fact was that her carb-laden diet produced too much glucose in her bloodstream, so even at her high level of activity, the glycogen was being converted to fat. The same thing applies to guys, of course, except we tend to store that fat as a spare tire, rather than on our butts.

Therefore, you may begin to see that the main problem we have, as far as glucose being converted into fat is not so much how much we eat, as it is how quickly and easily what we eat is converted to glucose. Eat a half-pound of candy, and this turns into glucose in the bloodstream almost instantly, where some of it is used by the muscles as energy for locomotion, but most of it is converted to glycogen, which, unless needed by the muscles, gets turned into fat.

So, you say, "I don't eat much candy anyway, so I'm safe, right?" Well, candy and other sugars are not the only problems. There are plenty of other foods that are quickly and easily converted by the body into glucose, like carbohydrates. Bread, pasta, rice, potatoes and so on. And beer, of course. Current nutritional dogma says silly things regarding what turns into fat. "It's not the potato, it's what you put on it," and other such absurdities. However, the butter, sour cream, bacon, and all that take far longer for the body to process into glucose, and so glucose from things like that enter the bloodstream much more slowly, so glucose levels do not become elevated. No elevated glucose levels, no fat production. Therefore, it's not what you put on it that makes you fat, it's the potato. People who eat potatoes with no toppings are deluding themselves, and missing out on the good, flavorful portions while consuming the part that makes them fat. It's a sad state of affairs in which dietary dogma makes people miss out on things that taste good in favor of the one component of a dish that is actually bad for them.

Eat a half-pound deliciously marbled steak, instead of that candy, and not only will it not make you fat, it will give you a long-lasting source of energy which is only doled out to the body as it is processed, a little at a time.

So, how does this all relate to beer? Well, aside from water, the major component of beer is starch, from grains, rice, and so on. Some of this starch gets converted to alcohol during the fermentation process, but by no means all. Despite what people (even people who should know better) say, it is not the alcohol in beer that makes you fat. The body converts alcohol to acetaldehyde, which is converted to acetate and is eventually metabolized as carbon dioxide and water. Carbon dioxide and water do not make you fat. It is rather the starch, or carbohydrate portion of the beer that gets turned into glucose, then glycogen, and then fat.

So, it is not the fatty foods you consume after a night of drinking beer that make you fat, nor is it the alcohol you consume in the beer, or in any other alcoholic beverage, for that matter. It's the rapidly convertible starches that turn into excess glucose in your bloodstream.

My advice, if you like to go out, drink a bunch of beer, then go out for breakfast afterward is to drink straight booze instead, (no sugary chasers or mixers) and then for breakfast have a steak, or just the bacon and eggs, and don't eat the potatoes or bread. Oh, and with your breakfast, forget the soda or orange juice. Instead, have a big glass of something non-sugary, like water. You will find you feel better the next day than you normally would, and, over time, you will discover that you won't put on a big beer gut like your friends who continue to drink beer and eat hash browns and toast for breakfast afterward will.

In a future article, we will examine the pseudo-science that villanized good foods like red meat and butter.