Is Guinness Actually Healthy? Here's What a Beer Expert Says
Guinness is an iconic Irish beer known for its velvety mouthfeel and richness. It's also known for several touted health benefits, like its iron content and being good for your heart. We wanted to know if Guinness is good for you and has any health benefits—or if drinking it just gives you the luck of the Irish.
We reached out to Charles Bamforth, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor Emeritus, UC Davis, to learn more about Guinness and its supposed health benefits. Bamforth is a multi-decade veteran of the brewing industry in the U.S. and U.K. and the author of more than a dozen books on beer.
How Did People Start to Believe Guinness Is Healthy?
"There was a time in the middle of the 20th century where Guinness was advertised on a slogan of 'Guinness Is Good for You,'" says Bamforth. "Otherwise, it somehow developed as a word-of-mouth thing."
According to the Guinness Storehouse Archives, the first official advertising campaign was launched for Guinness in 1929. Along the lines of the later "Guinness is Good for You" campaign, the very first campaign carried the slogan, "Guinness for Strength." This first campaign showcased people doing incredible feats of strength, powered by Guinness.
Is There Research to Back Up the Touted Health Benefits of Guinness?
Bamforth says there are plenty of nutritional benefits in most beers, including antioxidants, B vitamins, fiber, silicon and prebiotics. He says Guinness is one of the richer sources of these nutrients.
A 2021 review in Nutrients found that moderate beer consumption—up to one beer per day for females and two per day for males—is associated with a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease and overall mortality. Moderate beer consumption may also increase bone mineral density, according to this review.
And since beer is made with barley—a whole grain—it contributes some antioxidants (heart-healthy polyphenols), B vitamins, fiber and prebiotics to your beverage. The polyphenols from barley and hops have been shown to lower cholesterol, reduce your risk for heart disease and protect against free radicals, according to research like the 2020 review in Nutrition Reviews.
While early studies done specifically on Guinness found that drinking Guinness offered more protective effects against heart conditions than lagers, this research was preliminary and warrants further study. Bamforth says it's likely the alcohol in any beverage—not just Guinness—can protect against atherosclerosis.
Is Guinness Really Lower in Calories Than the Average Beer?
Guinness is also lower in calories than the average beer, even though it has a richer mouthfeel and fills you up. Bamworth says Guinness is 4.3% ABV, whereas most popular lager beers in the U.S. are at least 5%. Alcohol is the main source of calories in any alcoholic beverage, so a Guinness will naturally be lower in calories than a beer containing 5% (or more) alcohol—even though it might seem more filling.
The makers of Guinness use a process called nitrogenation, which pairs nitrogen gas and carbon dioxide to give the beer its iconic velvety texture. This is similar to how drinking nitro cold brew is silkier than a regular cup of cold brew coffee, making it seem more filling without adding any extra calories.
There is plenty of contradicting research out there regarding alcohol consumption and health. Some research, like the 2021 review in Nutrients supports moderate alcohol intake for cardiovascular and bone health. But there is also research that warns about the increase in certain cancers due to alcohol use, like the 2018 study in PLOS Medicine.
It's important to note Guinness does not make any health claims about its beer.
Most health organizations, like the American Heart Association (AHA), say that moderate alcohol consumption—one drink a day for females and two for males—is safe. However, these organizations also advise you not to start drinking alcohol if you currently abstain. In other words, light to moderate drinking likely won't harm your health, but you shouldn't imbibe for the sake of longevity.