You probably know the benefits of fermented foods and beverages. Nature has gifted us with yeast and other organisms that transform food into savory probiotic delights such as kombucha and kefir. Even alcohol has its benefits. In nature under the right conditions, the sugars present in fruit and grains will ferment, resulting in yummy concoctions such as wine, which also pack beneficial antioxidants.
Therefore, beverages such as beer and wine are good for you in moderation, correct? Yes — but as is often the case, modern production and processing techniques disrupt Mother Nature’s benefits. The advantages of fermentation are quickly outweighed by the additives poured into your favorite beverages. So, how can you enjoy a healthier treat?
What’s Really in Your Wine and Beer?
Many people picture wine the way it was shown in Fantasia: a luscious blend of red grapes being mashed and fermented into a delectable delight. And this savory beverage has been proven to have some impressive health benefits:
- High levels of resveratrol: help balance levels of blood sugar and cholesterol.
- Antioxidants reduce the risk of cancer.,
- Reduces effects of harmful bacteria in the gut
- Inhibits the formation of beta-amyloid protein, found in Alzheimer’s brains
In real life, winemakers must ship their products far and wide. To make it more marketable, they add artificial acidifiers, extra sugar, and even food coloring to boost the wine’s taste and appearance. This increases the calories and packs potentially toxic chemicals. Red dyes have been linked to various carcinogenic effects. And what is especially bad is that there’s really no reason to artificially color wine.
Also, winemakers will often add sulfur to make the wine more palatable and extend its shelf life. While sulfur is a natural by-product of fermentation, it normally occurs at low rates — about 10-20 parts per million. Yet the legal limit in the U.S. is 6,070 ppm. The thing is, some people are allergic to sulfur. And even if they’re not, excessive sulfur levels contribute to hangovers and other ill effects. No one wants that if you’re hoping to enjoy wine’s cardiovascular benefits!
Similarly, beer is often construed as a relatively healthy treat. A light beer is a source of electrolytes, antioxidants, and carbs that promotes recovery after exercise. And even if you don’t work out, beer’s combination of carbs, vitamins, and minerals provides a fat-free beverage that may have some neuroprotective effects.
However, domestic beer is rarely a simple fermentation of hops and malt. To extend the shelf life, improve its appearance, and reduce the costs of production, many breweries use GMO ingredients, then pack in the high-fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring. Altogether, these make your beer more akin to soda than a potent fermented beverage. Plus, the carbon footprint is significantly higher!
To reduce both your health risks and carbon footprint for fermented beverages, opt for organic wineries and craft breweries whenever possible.
The Benefits of Organic Wine
Organic wines are produced by vineyards that use eco-friendly practices. This means not draining the soil of its nutrients, avoiding wastewater runoff that contaminates the environment, and sustainably harvesting grapes. The resulting wine is distilled with minimal artifice, then bottled and shipped shorter distances. The result is that the wine may not be able to travel overseas, but it better retains its flavor without requiring dangerous chemicals.
In addition, organic wines are produced from organically raised grapes, which retain more of the soil nutrients. If winemakers need lots of fertilizers and pesticides to grow their grapes, those fruits are going to carry that into the wines. By contrast, organic farming practices enhance the level of resveratrol in the grapes — so your wine actually has all those health benefits you seek! Plus, you’ll miss all the additives that impair the wine’s natural taste and add to its negative health effects.
Unfortunately, no winemaker is required to list their ingredients and additives. This means you’ll have to do your research to find wines that are created without preservatives, excess sulfur dioxide, or non-vegan materials.
The Benefits of Craft Beer
Mass-produced beer relies on a highly standardized recipe relying on corn-based sugar, rice as a source of starch, and GMO wheat. Then, macrobreweries add isinglass (fish bladder extract), propylene glycol, and sulfites to make the product more shelf-stable. These ingredients have raised concern about their effects on or our health.
By contrast, microbreweries, aka craft breweries, tend to source whole grains from nearby sources. They have limited geographic distribution that reduces the need for preservatives. And because their recipes entail fewer additives and fillers, their beer may have more bioavailable nutrients. Also, craft beer typically includes a second fermentation that generates more beneficial compounds and probiotics.
In contrast to the larger carbon footprint of macrobrews such as Coors and Budweiser, craft beers have a limited distribution, which automatically makes them a bit more eco-friendly. Plus, you’ll consume fewer additives that contribute to hangovers and other ill effects.
Choosing Fermented Beverages
These principles are the same for all fermented beverages, including kefir and kombucha. In general, the more national and commercialized the brand, the more likely you are to get undesirable additives in the product. By contrast, the more local and organic the maker, the more benefits you derive — and the smaller your carbon footprint.
So, don’t make the mistake of assuming that fermented drinks are more natural than sodas and the like. They may be just as contaminated with harmful chemicals — if not more! Yet by shopping local and organic, you can reap the benefits of fermentation without the negative side effects (in moderation, of course!)