With St. Paddy’s fast approaching, you’re surely seeing the billboards for Guinness beer popping up around your local pubs. Known for its Irish roots, precision pouring, complex flavor, and versatility, the stout is a holiday favorite among St. Patrick’s Day revelers.
But aside from its seasonal appeal and unique appearance when set next to ales, pilsners, and lagers, there may be something else to offer an element of individuality to Guinness beer: health benefits. The benefits are highly debatable, but used in the proper context, it’s possible to see how there is some truth to the health claims surrounding Guinness. Beer nutrition may sound like an oxymoron, but in this case, there might be an exception.
What Is Guinness?
Guinness beer is about 260 years old and was first brewed by Arthur Guinness at the St. James’s Gate Brewery in Dublin, Ireland in 1759. Since then, it has become one of the most popular beers in Ireland and the world over. It’s estimated that roughly 13 million pints of Guinness will be poured on St. Patrick’s Day.
Guinness is a type of ale called stout, and is known for its rich, dark color and complex bitter flavor. The color and flavor come from the combination of malted barley and roasted unmalted barley, which is called the “grist.” A white, creamy head rises to the top of a pint of Guinness when poured, looking almost like a rich layer of ice cream. Many people find a pint of Guinness heavy and filling, yet it has fewer calories and less alcohol while seeming to lack the bubbly carbonation of other beers.
What’s in Guinness? Nutrition Facts
The dark color seen in stouts has much to do with the high amount of roasted unmalted barley used in the brewing process, which does offer some unique nutrition benefits to Guinness. Although it’s important to remember Guinness is an alcoholic beverage and not a health drink, research has shown it does have some useful nutritive properties.
Beer in general is made from barley and contains antioxidants, B vitamins, silicon, prebiotics, and maybe even some fiber. Guinness may do a little better from a nutrition standpoint than other beers, where research has shown it’s higher in folate. Folate is a B vitamin used to create DNA.
It should also be noted that liquid, no matter the source, is not an ideal source of fiber and some question whether it should even be counted.
When it comes to Guinness calories and Guinness alcohol percentages, they’re also lower than those of typical ales and lagers.
In terms of calories and macronutrients, here’s what you can expect from a pint (568 ml) of Guinness:
Purported Health Benefits of Guinness Beer
Let’s start this section off by clarifying that you’ll likely never hear your doctor or nutritionist recommend drinking more Guinness if you’re trying to improve your diet. It’s not up there with vegetables, fruits, or anything like that. Any health claims about Guinness must be taken within context.
In the 1920s, Guinness beer introduced the slogan “Guinness Is Good for You,” and the idea seems to have stuck around even if the marketing was eventually forced to be pulled. But the claim didn’t come from any nutritional benefit; it was because market research found that people felt good after a pint. Surely it had nothing to do with the alcohol…
1. Reduces Stress and Anxiety
The biggest and truest health benefit you’ll get from a pint of Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day is that it provides an opportunity to sit down with friends and relax. It may loosen you up enough to get on the dance floor (if you’re not a dancer), talk to your crush, or tell your boss how you really feel. (However, this is not recommended!)
But really, when it comes to the benefits of booze, the big one for most is that it can be a fun, social thing to do—especially on St. Patrick’s Day! Of course, there are limits to this.
Alcohol can lower the body’s stress response if consumed moderately, which means one or two drinks. Your headspace is important, too. You don’t want to be angry, depressed, or overly anxious when you reach for a drink, and you certainly want to be in a social situation in the company of friends. When you drink too much or drink alone, alcohol can increase stress and anxiety levels.
2. Promotes Heart Health
There is research indicating that Guinness beer can provide some benefits to heart health. One study out of the University of Wisconsin showed that when dogs with clogged arteries were fed either Guinness or Heineken, only the Guinness-drinking dogs had reduced blood clotting. These benefits are thought to come from antioxidant compounds called flavonoids that help limit cholesterol deposits on arterial walls to prevent blood clots.
These antioxidants are not exclusive to Guinness, however, and can be found in a variety of other sources like tea, dark chocolate, berries, citrus fruit, apples, and red wine.
3. Anemia Prevention
Guinness contains iron, which plays an instrumental role in red blood cell production. Without enough iron, a person is at serious risk for anemia. The risk is even higher for women because of their elevated iron requirements. At one point, post-operative patients, pregnant women, and nursing women were all advised to drink Guinness to boost iron levels! Of course, present recommendations refute this—and rightly so, alcohol during pregnancy can lead to birth defects. There is only 0.3 mg of iron per pint, which really won’t do much! Better options include red meat, organ meant, shellfish, lima beans, chickpeas, kidney beans and baked potato—to name a few.
Guinness possesses the same risks as other alcoholic beverages and should not be treated as some type of unicorn. So if it’s your drink of choice, the same rules apply: drink in moderation (one to two drinks per day) and do not drive or operate any machinery after drinking. Even moderate alcohol consumption is also associated with increased breast cancer risk.
As mentioned, alcohol consumption during pregnancy can lead to birth defects. Also, if you have celiac disease, it’s important to note that Guinness contains gluten.
The biggest thing to pay attention to with alcohol is your consumption patterns. Alcohol can be addictive, and for some, stopping at a drink or two is very difficult. In these cases, health risks increase greatly and include issues like liver disease, nutrient deficiency, heart disease, and alcohol dependency.
Cooking with Guinness
Guinness is a versatile drink that lends itself quite nicely to sauces, marinades, gravy, and more. Its dark, rich color and flavor can provide a unique twist to some old favorites.
And if you don’t drink alcohol, it’s perfectly suitable because the alcohol is cooked out during the process. If you’re looking for a St. Paddy’s Day Guinness recipe, here’s one worth trying:
Lamb and Guinness Stew
Prep: 10 Minutes Cook: 3 hours Serves: 6
- 5 lbs stewing lamb/lamb shoulder (you can substitute stewing/chuck beef, if preferred)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Black pepper
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 2 onions, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 oz bacon, diced
- 3 tbsp plain flour
- 1 can Guinness beer (14.9 oz)
- 4 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 cups beef/chicken stock or broth
- 3 carrots (peeled and cut into 1/2-inch-thick pieces)
- 2 large celery stalks (cut into 1-inch pieces)
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- If you purchased a lamb shoulder or beef brisket, cut the meat into two-inch chunks. Pat dry and season with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Brown meat in batches, transfer to a plate, and set aside.
- Remove the pot from heat and allow to slightly cool. Lower the heat to medium and add a little more oil if needed.
- Return the pot to the burner and add garlic and onion. Cook until soft, for about three minutes, then add bacon.
- Brown the bacon, then stir in the flour.
- Pour in Guinness. Mix well to ensure flour dissolves completely. Add the rest of the ingredients, including the lamb/beef, to the pot.
- Pour in enough water so everything is almost fully submerged.
- Cover and bring to a simmer over low heat so there is a gentle bubbling. Cook for two hours.
- Uncover and let simmer for another 30 to 45 minutes, until the meat falls apart when touched and any sauce has thickened.
- Skim fat off the top and remove thyme sprigs and bay leaves. Serve over creamy mashed potatoes.
You can also cook this dish in an Instant Pot/pressure cooker. The directions are below.
Instant Pot Directions:
- Press the “sauté” button, adjust to “more.”
- If you’ve purchased a lamb shoulder or beef brisket, cut into two-inch chunks. Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper.
- When “hot,” add oil and brown beef in batches. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Press “cancel.”
- Press “sauté” and set to “medium” and add onion and garlic. Cook until soft, add bacon, and brown.
- Press “cancel.”
- Add the rest of the ingredients EXCEPT for flour. Mix well and secure the lid.
- Press “meat/stew” and set to “more.”
- Allow for natural pressure release.
- When the pressure valve has dropped, mix three tablespoons of flour with three tablespoons of water and mix in a bowl. Press “sauté” and set to “less” and stir in flour mixture. Allow sauce to thicken and serve over creamy mashed potatoes.
Guinness: Enjoy One Guilt-Free on St. Patrick’s Day
Look, Guinness beer can be good for you if you’re cooking healthy dishes with it or drinking in moderation, but it’s not the health boon some people make it out to be. At the end of the day, it’s a beer—albeit a unique one with slightly less alcohol and calories than most others—that’s going to do what beer does. So don’t overthink it and enjoy yourself (responsibly) for the day!
Drayer, S., “Is Guinness really ‘good for you’?” CNN, March 16, 2018; https://www.cnn.com/2017/03/17/health/guinness-good-for-you-food-drayer/index.html, last accessed February 21, 2019.
Mansfield, S., “Six Amazing Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Guinness” Men’s Health, May 4, 2011; https://www.menshealth.com/trending-news/a19531926/guinness-facts/, last accessed February 21, 2019.
Abrams, A., “Here’s How Many Pints of Guinness Will Be Drunk on St. Patrick’s Day” Fortune, March 9, 2017; http://fortune.com/2017/03/09/guinness-st-patricks-day-pints/, last accessed February 21, 2019.
Olsen, N., “What You Need to Know About a Full Liquid Diet,” Healthline, November 13, 2017; https://www.healthline.com/health/full-liquid-diet, last accessed February 21, 2019.
Barnett, B., “Does Drinking Reduce My Stress?” CNN, September 24, 2013; https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/24/health/drinking-reduces-stress-upwave/index.html, last accessed February 21, 2019.
Cherney, K. & Jewell, T., “Alcohol and Anxiety” Healthline, November 30, 2016; https://www.healthline.com/health/alcohol-and-anxiety, last accessed February 21, 2019.
“5 Health Benefits Of Guinness On St. Patrick’s Day” Virginia Spine Institute, March 14, 2017; https://www.spinemd.com/news-philanthropy/drink-up-5-health-benefits-of-guinness-beer, last accessed February 21, 2019.
Bramen, L., “Is Guinness Really Good for You?” Smithsonian, March 17, 2009; https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/is-guinness-really-good-for-you-54943899/, last accessed February 21, 2019.
“Guinness Could be Really Good For You,” BBC News, November 13, 2003; http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3266819.stm, last accessed February 21, 2019.
“Alcohol: Balancing Risks and Benefits” Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 2019; https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-drinks/drinks-to-consume-in-moderation/alcohol-full-story/, last accessed February 21, 2019.
Nagi, “Irish Beef and Guinness Stew” Recipetineats, July 13, 2016; https://www.recipetineats.com/irish-beef-and-guinness-stew/, last accessed February 21, 2019.