Drink Belgian beer for the good of your health

By now we know how important our gut bacteria are, the good ones at least. And we must do all we can to look after them. Well, here’s a method a lot of people will be pleased about. Drink beer!

But not just any beer. Strong beer such as the Belgian beers Hoegaarden, Westmalle Tripel and Echt ­Kriekenbier.

What’s so healthy about these beers? The magic ingredient is yeast and the magic lies in the fact that yeast is a probiotic – something that keeps our good bacteria happy and makes it hard for bad bacteria to thrive.

Unlike most beers, these brands are fermented twice – once in the brewery and again in the bottle.

The second fermentation increases the strength of the beer and importantly for health, in-bottle fermentation uses a different strain from the ­traditional brewer’s yeast.

This yeast not only converts the sugar in the grain into alcohol, but also makes acids that kill disease-causing bacteria. Professor Eric Claassen, a gut bacteria expert from Amsterdam University, said: “You are getting a stronger beer that is very, very healthy.

“We don’t want to give people a licence to drink more beer. In high concentrations alcohol is bad for the gut but if you drink just one of these beers every day it would be very good for you,” Professor Claassen said.

The research from the US University of Nebraska found that some beers contain up to 100,000 probiotic bacteria per millilitre, which equates to 50 million per bottle.

The fact that yeast can kill off ­undesirable bacteria has been put to use for centuries.

“In the Middle Ages people made beer because the water was not ­drinkable,” says Claassen. “The yeast killed off the bad bacteria in the water, so it was much safer to drink beer than water.”

Most beer today is not probiotic because of modern pasteurisation and production processes.

If you don’t drink beer Professor Claassen suggests eating Italian dishes containing garlic, onions, asparagus and artichokes because they are particularly rich in prebiotics – plant sugars that help good bacteria thrive.

Chicory contains the highest amount of prebiotics of all foods but porridge topped with chopped banana is pretty good.

Dark ales and stouts are said to lower the risk of heart ­problems and improve blood flow – so lower the risk of ischaemic strokes.

On the negative side, alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer, stroke, heart and liver disease and causes more than 7,500 deaths a year in Britain. So stay within NHS guidelines which would be four and a half 330ml bottles of ­Westmalle Tripel a week.