Beer is one of the oldest alcoholic drinks known to mankind. It is also the third most popular drink after water and tea worldwide. No surprise that health concerns about such a popular product are an important issue of research and debate. Is sodium level in beer something to worry about?
What is beer?
Beer is an alcoholic drink made from cereal grains (mostly barley or wheat). Starch sugars contained in these grains goes through a fermentation process, producing ethanol and carbonation. Most beers are brewed with hops, to add a certain bitterness and to stabilize the drink.
History of beer
Archaeological evidence for beer brewing goes as far back as 13,000 years. It is likely that the fermentation process was discovered simultaneously in different parts of the world. The written records concerning the use of beer in earliest civilizations makes some researchers believe that the fermented drink was instrumental in the very development of human societies. In particular, just as the rise of agriculture made possible population growth, beer was the key ingredient in establishing urban centers. This was not just because city folk enjoyed an occasional cold one. They would have been happy with simple water, however potable water was prone to contamination and in the warm climates of Mesopotamia and Egypt it could not stay fresh long enough. The general lack of reliable sanitation did not help the matter. Without a drink that could be stored for at least a few days and remained safe to drink cities could not exist. Beer was such a drink. It only needed simple ingredients to make and the alcohol content was just enough to kill dangerous microorganisms that thrive in water. The brewing process also required boiling water which made the final product much safer. As an added benefic, beer was also highly coloric (a benefict of the drink’s cereal origins). The workers who built the pyramids in Egypt enjoyed a daily ration of four to five liters of beer which kept them well hydrated, as well as undoubtedly making food breaks less frequent.
Salt content in beer
It is very unlikely that among the many ingredients a modern beer brewer uses you will find a dash or even a hint of salt. In fact, salt would probably inhibit fermentation and damage the taste in unprecedented ways. As a result, beer has very little sodium. In many cases you can say that beer has just about the same sodium content as the water that was used to make it. Different other ingredients used in beer brewing can add a little sodium, but never a significant amount.
Brand variations in beer’s salt content
Because different beer manufacturers use slightly different ingredients and processes, their products end up differing slightly in terms of sodium levels. Budweiser, according to some tests, contains 20mg of sodium per 12 oz serving, while Miller Lite is reported to have 0mg of sodium. There is no hard and fast rule, however, about light beer variations having less sodium. Sometimes the sodium content is the same or even higher in the more “healthy” kinds of beer.
It is curious that there have been some studies and experiments about adding just a little bit more salt to beer. This would be done to increase the drink’s ability to replenish electrolytes (which could probably be used as an advertising point, as beer would rival sports drinks such as Gatorade but without the unhealthy loads of sugar or artificial sweeteners typical for them). After all, there should not be much sugar in beer either, as it fuels the actual fermentation process.
Is beer the right drink if you are on a low sodium diet?
Being a very popular drink, beer is always subject to scrutiny. Part of this scrutiny comes from the yet solidified understanding of how alcohol affects our bodies. Occasionally, you may even see articles about health benefits that come from consuming beer or wine. It is necessary to remember that these health benefits do not increase exponentially if one begins to drink a lot more beer. However, an occasional can of beer is probably ok, if there are no other health concerns. Most importantly, if you choose to decline a beer offered to you do not do so on the grounds of its high sodium amount. That would simply not be true. Instead, mention a taste aversion and you are safe :) Just don’t order any salty snacks with your beer.