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Expat Life

What really causes a beer belly? Inquiring minds need to know!

On May 29th, I’ll be the featured presenter at the Boot Camp for Newcomers, where I’ll be talking about staying healthy at 8,300 feet — or 2,529.84 meters!

This informative event will be held at the Golden Prague Pub, across from the Supermaxi El Vergel, where they serve their own craft beers and traditional Czech and Ecuadorian fare.

Which got me to thinking about beer bellies. Makes sense, no?

My father was a single-malt scotch aficionado. And liked rum and coke. And vodka and tonic. But not beer. And he sure had a beer belly. But it wasn’t from beer.

According to WebMD.com, it’s not necessarily beer but too many calories that blows up your belly. It’s calories that count, and beverage calories are a really quick way of packing them in. Overdoing on alcohol is one of the best ways to grow that belly. The body cannot store alcohol, so the body prioritizes its absorption and digestion before dietary fat, protein, and carbs.

The main source of calories in any alcoholic beverage is alcohol. Popular Science quotes Dr. Aliya Sohani, alcohol researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, who says that the myth of the beer belly may result because people who drink beer tend to consume… more beer! Beer is almost always lower in alcohol than wine or spirits, so people typically drink more at one sitting. Sohani notes that that can be the difference between several hundred calories a night (for beer) to just a couple of hundred for wine.

By the way, a bottle (12-oz) of beer has about 150 calories; 5-oz. of red or white wine about 120 calories; a 1.5 oz. shot of 80-proof spirits has about 100 calories. Alcohol has seven calories per gram; protein and carbs four calories per gram, and fat has nine.

Don’t forget the calories in mixers! Mixers sometimes add more calories than the alcohol, and often, lots of sugar. For example, a 4-oz. Margarita has about 170 calories but a 9-oz. Piña Colada has about 500 calories. I’ll never forget when my father’s doctor cautioned him about that big belly — he switched to rum and diet coke.

Jan Hertz, at the Craft Beer Association, quotes obesity researcher Michael Jensen in an article for WebMD.com who says, “When you drink alcohol, the liver burns alcohol instead of fat.”

But this effect is not specific to beer, says Herz. Regardless of the type of alcohol you drink, and in fact, where the calories come from, if you’re not in need of that food or beverage energy (calories) then the liver converts them to fat.

She notes that the calories in any fermented beverage depend on two main things: the carbohydrates it contains (in the form of alcohol and residual sugars), as well as the serving size.

She notes that Sam Adams Boston Lager, one of the top-selling beers from a small and independent craft brewer, has 175 calories in a 12-ounce bottle, and is 4.9 percent alcohol. A typical 6-oz glass of dry wine has 15 percent alcohol and contains the same 175 calories!

Herz is right when she boosts beer for a better beverage (admittedly she’s a bit biased). She says, “The higher the alcohol content, the higher the calories. So you can think of beer as the beverage of moderation in terms of your weight. It will fill your stomach, but it won’t bulk up your belly any more than wine or liquor will.” She says, “The beer belly is bunk! You never hear anyone talk about a “wine belly” or a “bourbon belly.”

As NBC News reported, there are science-based reasons that beer may be good for you. It has antioxidant components from barley and hops, different from wine’s but still valuable. It contains some protein not found in spirits or wine. They quote researchers that say that beer is better than wine because it contains some B-vitamins, phosphorus, folate and niacin, and some prebiotics that feed the good bacteria in our gut. Beer contains silicon, an essential mineral for bone formation. Researchers at Loyola University in Chicago found that moderate beer drinkers are 23 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer’s and dementia than those who don’t drink beer.

Remember, any kind of excessive calories, from alcohol, sugary beverages, or food — even healthy food — can lead to belly fat.

Moderate alcohol (one drink a day for women, up to two for men) may be heart healthy but as reported in MedicalNewsToday.com, how much alcohol a person drinks, genetic factors, gender, body mass, and general state of health all influence how a person’s health responds to chronic heavy drinking.

So when you drink, pick a beverage with some known health benefits like a craft beer or dry red wine, stay moderate, and stay healthy.