Beer: age-old diet food?

diet food? Who knew?

The latest lesson in the importance of calorie control comes with a strange new twist.  A man in Iowa has been fasting on nothing but beer and water since Lent began on Ash Wednesday (March 9th).  Lent is the 40 day period of religious fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and many people chose to observe this fast by giving up things they like: coffee, TV, sweets – just about anything is fair game.  Hundreds of years ago, monks in Germany observed this fast by giving up food and consuming nothing but beer.  “Whoo hoo!”,  you might say.  “Par-tay!”  Well, maybe on day 1 or even into Day 2.  But these monks ate no food whatsoever for 40 days.  Nothing but Doppelbock style beer, brewed to be particularly rich and high calorie.  After a few days of this, even beer could seem like deprivation.

J. Wilson reportedly had lost 15 lbs at the halfway point of Lent, and was sticking to his regimen of four 12-oz bottles of a Doppelbock brew per day.  Nothing else except water.  He blogs about his experience here. So far, he feels OK and reports the osteoarthritis in his neck has gone away, among other effects (Day 27).

Judging from estimates about the nutritional content of Doppelbock-type brews, there are around 250 calories per bottle, so Mr. Wilson is consuming roughly 1000 calories/day, which is pretty low for a guy.  No wonder he’s losing weight.  It will be interesting to see if he can stick it out through midnight April 23rd, and if he does, how he feels.

Craft brews are actually high in many nutrients, so it’s not surprising those German monks used it for their yearly fast.  Compared to bland and rather colorless mass production beers, craft brews contain some protein, significant amounts of B vitamins and a variety of minerals.  Dark beers are actually a vegan source of vitamin B-12, as long as you don’t count consuming the fermenting bacteria as a vegan violation.  Another surprising benefit: craft brews have fiber, mostly soluble fiber such as you get from oatmeal.  The darker the beer, the higher the fiber content.  If you’re going to follow a beer fast, a dark craft brew is the way to go.

The bigger message is this: if you consume a small enough portion, you can lose weight on pretty much anything.  Ben ‘n Jerry’s Ice cream, potato chips, craft beer, broccoli, steak, bread, diet shakes.  Whatever you choose, weight loss depends on reduced calorie intake, not on some supposedly magical metabolic properties of any food or diet.  Of course, healthy weight loss is another thing.  Mr. Wilson can stick to beer for a short period, but in the long term, a healthy diet is important.  But for weight loss, never underestimate the power of calorie control.  It’s the secret behind every single fad diet known to man, or woman.

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