What if Beer Companies Told the Truth?

August 27, 2013
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beerWould some of their labels say, “Brewed with pure Rocky Mountain spring water, GMO corn syrup, and fish bladder”?

If you like to kick back now and then with a cold one, you may not have given much thought to what’s in the bottle or can. Perhaps you were reassured by ads with wholesome images of sparkling mountain streams and barley rippling in the breeze, or by slogans like “Budweiser: The Genuine Article.”

The reality is far less appetizing. The list of legal additives to beer includes:

  • MSG
  • Propylene glycol (it helps stabilize a beer’s head of foam, though in high quantities it can cause health problems)
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Calcium disodium EDTA
  • Caramel coloring
  • FD&C blue 1, red 40, and yellow 5
  • Insect-based dyes
  • Glyceryl monostearate
  • Isinglass (see below)

You’re unlikely to see any of these industrial-sounding ingredients on a label, because listing ingredients in beer is voluntary. And when ingredients are listed, it may be a partial list—which is even more deceptive than having no list at all.

Several beers, for example, contain HFCS, most of which is genetically modified (GMO), and isinglass, a clarifying agent made from the swim bladder of fish. But check most beer websites and they’ll tell you their “key ingredients” are “roasted, malted barley, hops, yeast, and water.” Perhaps the HFCS and isinglass were not “key” enough to merit inclusion on this list?

Some brands with less-than-wholesome ingredients:

  • Newcastle uses artificial caramel color to simulate the golden brown color that is supposed to come from toasted barley. “Caramel color” sounds innocuous, right? But it’s manufactured by heating ammonia and sulfites under high pressure, which may create carcinogenic compounds.
  • Miller Light, Coors, Corona, Fosters, Pabst, and Red Stripe use corn syrup, and Molson-Coors acknowledged that some of their corn is GMO.
  • Budweiser, Bud Light, Bush Light, and Michelob Ultra use dextrose (made from corn).
  • Anheuser-Bush uses corn.

The labeling regulations are confusing and capricious. Food is regulated by the FDA, and requires a Nutrition Facts panel, but alcohol is regulated by the US Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). Unless it’s beer made with something other than malted barley, and then it’s regulated by the FDA and must carry a Nutrition Facts panel. States also have their own regulations, which can supersede those of TTB, but not of the FDA.

Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University, explained on her blog why we still don’t know the ingredients in alcoholic beverages. In short, TTB has been procrastinating since 2007 on completing their rules for labeling of alcoholic beverages.

People with allergies to genetically modified corn are taking a chance when drinking beer, as there is no requirement that GMO ingredients be identified on the label. We told you early this year about the dangers of GMOs, and in 2011 about the dangers of sugar, especially fructose. So genetically modified fructose carries a one–two punch, and may be one of the more toxic foods that can be hiding in your food or drink—with nothing about it on the label.

Unfortunately for those with a sweet tooth, eschewing HFCS for plain old cane sugar may not be that much of an improvement. A recent study of mice fed a mixture of fructose and glucose showed that even moderate amounts of sugar shorten life span (females fed sugar died twice as fast) and hamper reproduction (males were less likely to hold territory and sired fewer offspring).

While it certainly has its health benefits, and studies suggest that people who drink a little live a bit longer, alcohol—even without unsavory additives—has more negatives than plusses. It introduces what is treated as a poison by your body and stresses the entire gastrointestinal system, from mouth to colon, making cancer possibly more likely, especially in the esophagus. It may increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and cirrhosis of the liver.

Not ready to give up the occasional brewski? According to the Food Babe, Sierra Nevada, Heineken, and Amstel Light are good choices, as they use only non-GMO grains and no artificial ingredients, stabilizers, or preservatives. German beers are subject to the “Reinheitsgebot” law mandating that beer be produced using only water, hops, yeast, malted barley, or wheat—you won’t have to guess what’s in them.

An obvious choice is certified organic beer, which cannot include GMOs and other harmful additives by law. And then there are the microbreweries. Many craft beer companies will give you a complete list of ingredients if you ask. Be warned, however: large beer companies are buying up microbreweries one by one, as Molson-Coors did with Blue Moon and Anheuser-Busch did with Goose Island Brewery.

The healthiest of all alcoholic beverages is not beer at all, but red wine. It naturally contains resveratrol, which appears to have anti-aging, cancer-preventing, cardio-protective, neuro-protective, and anti-diabetic effects. It’s also an anti-inflammatory and an antiviral to boot. As we noted in a recent article, red wine can also help clear bad bugs from your stomach. Cheers!

30 Responses to “What if Beer Companies Told the Truth?”

  1. Daniel Ellwanger says:

    In general there is a great lack of information in this article, as well as some serious misunderstandings. The author of this article has little understanding of beer or the brewing process. First of all Isinglass is a natural product used as a fining agent (clarifying agent) that bonds with oppositely charged particles in the fermented beer (like proteins and yeast) which then settle to the bottom of the Bright Tank, and are filtered out before bottling. Secondly corn and corn products are used in brewing, especially by the mass produced American Light Lager companies, as “thinning agents”, meaning they lighten the body, or mouth feel, of the beer, and don’t add much in the way of taste. I am a brewer, but have never heard of HFCS being used in production of beer, rather corn meal, flaked corn/maize, and rarely corn syrups. The reason corn is used is because it is highly fermentable, especially compared to malted barely. In the case of syrups, as high as 100% fermentable, meaning all the fructose and sucrose is completely consumed by the yeast in the fermentation process, leaving CO2 and ETOH (alcohol) behind. The yeast consume the sugar and then are filtered out with the isinglass, or seaweed which is another powdered product used in fining beer. This was obviously an article not designed to inform, but motivated to move people away from drinking beer, which has both good and bad qualities as a food item. A little more research and a little less sensationalism would be appreciated by the educated people reading this article.

       16 likes

    • Ailora says:

      Yeah, well, for people like me who are allergic to HFCS, this article is important and a great read and source of information. This will help me make choices regarding what beer brands to remember if I happen to be out and want a beer. HFCS is straight up poison and even people who don’t suffer debilitating joint pain as a side effect of consuming it would do themselves a favor by avoiding it.

         2 likes

  2. Mirta Luque says:

    California wines have fluoride, aluminum and pesticides. Italian and French wines have lower levels of fluoride but I don’t know if they have aluminum and pesticides too.

       1 likes

  3. Brenda says:

    Red wine from america has high levels of fluoride.

       2 likes

  4. Mahhn says:

    Stating that red wine healthy because it has resveratrol is misleading at best. You would have to drink about 20 gallons a day to get enough resveratrol from red wine to equate to one dose (pill or a cup of knotweed tea) and you would need to do that several times a week to get any benefit.

       3 likes

  5. Kendra Livewell says:

    As for the reservatrol in red wine, the amount is neglible. Recent studies have show that you’ll get much more reservatrol by eating a handful of grapes that you will from a bottle of wine and you don’t have to deal with the sulfites and other toxins that result from the fermenting process.

       5 likes

  6. Kendra Livewell says:

    This might explain why I don’t like the popular beers. And I thought I was just a snob. My preference is for the darker beers, Guinness, Spaten, etc.I’ll drink water before I’d drink Coors, Bud, or any of that other pwater that is sold by America’s mass producers.

       3 likes

    • Brandon J says:

      Guiness is one of the worst offenders for additives and preservatives. It contains HFCS and isinglass.

         2 likes

      • Gina Scarnati says:

        to say that Guinness contains isinglass is much like saying cheese contains cloth, or pasta contains metal, simply because they were strained. The fish bladder (isinglass) is used to filter the Guinness. It’s not an ingredient. Do a little research. This article is a bit alarmist.

           4 likes

  7. Shallel says:

    If you enjoy the occasional beer and wish to maintain your healthy lifestyle, choosing one without GMOs and additives is ideal. Unfortunately, most of the mainstream beers available have additives, but luckily, there are a few that don’t. For example, Sierra Nevada, *Heineken*, and Amstel Light

    Emphasis mine.

    http://foodbabe.com/2013/07/17/the-shocking-ingredients-in-beer/

       2 likes

  8. Clarke Pauley says:

    This is a good wake up call for labeling requirements of the remaining food hand beverage products that have slipped through the net of labeling laws. We should add wine to the list too as the winemaking industry does use additives that are not labeled. http://winefolly.com/review/wine-additives/

       4 likes

  9. Ariane Sullivan says:

    Thanks! It is time the contents are published.
    In Germany by law only 4 ingredients are legal, water, hops — I cannot remember the other two right now. But this is it! So no labelling needed….. wish it was like that HERE>
    I was told even the famous LOWENBRAU that is sold here is NOT brewed in Germany according to their specifications.

       5 likes

    • Clarke Pauley says:

      Barley and yeast?

         2 likes

    • Penderyn Littledog says:

      The German beer purity law was overturned after Germany joined the EU; it was ruled in restraint of trade. Adherence to the law’s rules is voluntary.

      More to the point, this article is sensationalist. Just because there is a list of “legal” ingredients doesn’t mean they’re added. Why the fuss over isinglass? It is a natural ingredient that has been used in beer for centuries: it is added as a fine powder that attracts particles of protein and yeast in the beer so they will settle out to be removed before packaging. Brewers may used corn syrup (and corn grits, and corn flakes, and shaved corn), but I don’t know of any that use HFCS.

      The small brewers of America make a fetish of keeping their beer free of additives; even the large brewers don’t add these things anymore. It’s cheaper to do it naturally these days.

      Why no ingredients on beer labels? Federal regulators PROHIBIT them, for fear that beer will actually be seen for as healthy a beverage as it is, same reason they don’t allow nutritional information on beer labels.

      Pah. Sure, beer has alcohol, and all the dangers and benefits that come with it. But otherwise, it’s one of the healthiest things you can drink. This is nonsense.

         3 likes

  10. David S. Clark says:

    I love a good IPA once and awhile, but mostly drink red wine that I grow and make from my own vineyard. I don’t know that Isiglass bothers me so much since it is a clarifying agent and eventually settles out and is removed from the final liquid product, but the GMOs and all the other crap should not be consumed. Also, I was under the impression that EDTA was good to use to chelate heavy metals, etc. from your system, many wholistic doctors use chelation therapy to eliminate artery blockages. It is almost always the case that if a product has synthetic ingredients in it, they’re there to give long shelf life, stabilize the product, etc., not for the purpose of health, often times just the opposite! Buyer beware!

       4 likes

  11. Mikeal St. Ayre says:

    Utter. This is a barely re-written version of the awful blog post by the so-called “food babe”.
    Yes, if you drink beer that is mostly made made with adjuncts, you run a risk of ingesting GMO’s. Prop Glycol is not used in the beer, but in the cooling system around the beer. Isinglass is used interchangeably with carrageenan as a clarifying agent. It bonds with particles in the beer, sinks to the bottom of the tank, leaving a nice sparkling beer.

    By the way – red wine is preserved with sulfites, and the grapes are sprayed with them though out the growing cycle.
    http://maureenogle.com/2013/08/18/whats-in-your-beer-or-the-dangers-of-dumbassery/ is a good rebuttal with information galore including actual input from actual brewers!

       5 likes

  12. Reina says:

    Does anyone know about the non-alcoholic beers.I know many laugh at that, but I like one of them,O’Doul’s it’s made by (I think) Anheuser- Busch.So does it have high fructose corn syrup or even worse, in it?

       0 likes

  13. Alea Taylor says:

    Truth in Labeling Please

       0 likes

  14. Teri says:

    I would not have guessed! HFCS in beer? Shame on the Beer companies.
    Many people who are Lactose Intolerant also cannot tolerate HFCS. The effects of these intolerances include, but are not limited to gas and diarrhea. Not so fun to socialize and have
    these symptoms pop up.

       1 likes

  15. TJ says:

    Samuel Adams follows the Reinheitsgebot also, but only for their flagship brew, Boston Lager. Samuel Smith’s is an English brewer that makes several outstanding organic beers and ales that are widely available; ask your local shop to get some in for you if you can’t find them!

       3 likes

  16. you left out the fluoride in beer

       2 likes

  17. Joan Gugerty says:

    What if the beer has it own brewery? – a lot of pubs make their own beer now.

       1 likes

  18. Barbara Talbert says:

    Thank you for this informative article. I had no idea high fructose was in some beers and am shocked to learn that it is. How disgusting morally and physically that GMO’s with their shadowy plasmids are in everything. I will stick to German beers and Heineken and Amstel from now on.

       2 likes

  19. DyeDiet says:

    Yeah…. That’s bad news for darker beer lovers…. Except one common misleading thing: HFCS cannot be genetically modified (GMO) simply because it does not contain neither genes (DNA) nor proteins, just glucose and fructose. So the dangers of HFCS are associated only with its abundance as like as too much sugar in our diets. GMO grains is a different story – it contain genetically modified DNA and proteins.

       1 likes

  20. Joe says:

    Unfortunately, wine (unless organic) also is allowed to contain a lot of ingredients that aren’t listed on the label.

       0 likes

  21. Marge Mullen says:

    Thank you for this very informative article!!

       1 likes

  22. Andrew Foertsch says:

    I don’t think it’s really fair to place isinglass in the same category as phony caramel, HFCS, and GMO products. It’s good for vegetarians to know however Isinglass is traditional in many British and Irish brewed beers and stouts whereas the other ingredients are new and add no redeeming quality to the brews. One thing that can be said about beer is that in most cases when you find yourself l in a location where the water is bad or uncertain you can usually get by on beer.

       1 likes

  23. Suzanne says:

    The darker the beer, like Porter, the healthier and closest to food it is.

       0 likes

    • Daniel Ellwanger says:

      This simply is not true. Darker beers use the same grains as lighter beers but during the malting process the barley is cooked for a longer time at a higher temperature, thus making a darker malt and a darker, roastier finished beer.

         0 likes

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