Sodium, or the salt content, is one of the first things people check out when picking up their favorite food product or beverages.
The FDA states that all packaged food should have a Nutritional Content label, which includes that all-important level of sodium, which also applies to packaged beer.
But why the obsession with sodium levels? The body needs sodium to function, conduct nerve impulses, contract and relax the muscles, and help the body maintain a proper balance of water and minerals. Sodium is also found in the water we drink in trace amounts, so it can’t be that bad, can it?
Well, we only need a small amount of sodium. Too much sodium in your diet messes with your blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and strokes. Excess sodium can also cause calcium losses, most of which will be pulled from your bones.
So, by now you are probably wondering just how much sodium is in beer that you are chugging down, what are the daily recommended amounts of sodium (RDA), and is that beer going to push you over the maximum level of sodium for the day?
Do we beer drinkers need to be checking the Nutritional Values label a bit more closely? Read on to find out.
Sodium – How Much Do You Need, and How Much Is Too Much?
The Harvard School of Public Health estimates that the human body only requires a very small amount of sodium to function correctly, less than 500mg a day.
Although there was not enough evidence to establish an RDA or recommended daily amount needed, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend adults should limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg a day – about a teaspoon of table salt!
Unfortunately, most Americans consume more sodium than the recommended maximum amount, otherwise known as the Chronic Disease Risk Reduction Intake (CDRR), and don’t even realize it.
Too much sodium in the blood can cause the kidneys to struggle to keep up with those excess levels and causes the body to retain water to dilute the sodium (That’s why salt can be a good cure or preventative measure for a hangover, but more on that later).
As the extra liquid retained causes more fluid surrounding the cells and a higher volume of blood in the bloodstream, it can mean more work for the heart and more pressure on blood vessels.
Higher blood pressure is a major contributory factor to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. There’s also evidence that too much salt can damage the heart, aorta, and kidneys without increasing your blood pressure.
Therefore, you’re not always going to know that the damage is being done. This can also be true of the calcium loss to your bones.
So, is your favorite beer contributing to the high sodium levels in America?
The Sodium in Beer – Is It Really That High?
Fortunately, when it comes to sodium, beer is not your enemy. A regular beer only contains 10 – 20 milligrams of sodium per 12 oz. serving.
Most soft drinks contain about four times that level of sodium with 45 milligrams or more found in a similar serving of Pepsi or Root Beer.
To exceed the maximum recommended intake of 2300 mg of sodium, you would need to drink over 160 cans or bottles of beer (12 oz. servings) in a 24-hour period, which is likely impossible.
Even if you are at risk of high blood pressure or heart disease, and have been recommended to limit your sodium intake to less than 1500 milligrams of sodium, you would still need to drink about 100 beers in 12 oz servings to exceed that number.
That being said, remember that sodium is present in the other food products you consume, especially processed and canned foods, so it can all add up quickly.
Salt is the food product that most often contains the mineral sodium. It’s often referred to as sodium chloride as it’s made up of one atom of sodium and one atom of chlorine.
Sodium also occurs naturally in some foods as well as being added during manufacturing and packaging.
Even the water profile used in the brewing process of beers will have a sodium content, with many bottles of natural mineral water now being labeled as “Low Sodium” for those concerned about their salt intake.
On the whole, about 70% of the sodium we consume comes from restaurant and processed salty foods.
The rest of the sodium in your diet forms those minerals that occur naturally in food, approximately 15%. The rest is added when we are cooking or eating, i.e., using that salt shaker or adding MSG (monosodium glutamate) to a stir fry.
In the grand scheme of things, the sodium content in beer at 10 -20 milligrams per 12 oz serving is negligible. Overall, drinking one or two beers a day isn’t going to cause you to exceed the recommended maximum amount of sodium.
(PLEASE NOTE: We are not a medical advisory website and all the information we provide is only for your guidance. If you do suffer from high sodium consumption levels, you should always seek the advice of a medical professional.)
The Sodium Content of Popular Brands of Beer per 12 oz. Serving
|Bud Ice Light||20 milligrams|
|Bud Light||10 milligrams|
|Coors Original||12 milligrams|
|Coors Dry||10 milligrams|
|Coors Light||13 milligrams|
|MGD Miller Genuine draft||7 milligrams|
|Miller High Life||7 milligrams|
|Miller Lite||5 milligrams|
|Amstel Light||0 milligrams|
|Michelob Ultra||0 milligrams|
|Red Stripe||0 milligrams|
You will notice that Budweiser beers have the highest levels of sodium, with light beers generally having a little less, the exception being Bud Ice Light 20 milligrams of sodium.
The lesser amounts are barely noticeable, but if you’re concerned about the sodium you may be consuming, there are no-sodium beers like Red Stripe Jamaican Ale, Michelob Ultra Light, or Amstel Light that you can drink instead.
Is Beer a Healthy Drink for People on a Low Sodium Diet?
In moderation, yes. A study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found the low sodium content of beer was representative of 6.95mg /100 Gm and comparable to the drinking water containing 10mg/100 Gm recommended on the low salt diet.
The study showed a more accurate salt restriction in those patients who included beer in moderation in their diets than in a control group who refrained from any beer. The experts also discussed the use of beer in some therapeutic situations.
However, the low levels of sodium in beer can also be a problem for those who are dependent on beer and eat or drink very little else.
A condition known as potomania (poto as in drinking, and mania as excessive) can lead to sodium levels in your bloodstream that are too low.
As beer contains a high level of water with relatively low sodium content, drinking beer excessively can cause potomania from the lopsided water-to-salt ratio, especially in people whose intake of protein and sodium-rich foods is also lower.
Sometimes referred to as beer drinkers’ hyponatremia (the medical term for abnormally low sodium levels in the bloodstream) this can cause neuropsychiatric issues from the body having more water than it can handle.
Symptoms can include:
- an acutely altered mental state, including irritability, restlessness, or confusion
- weakness of the muscles or spasms and cramps
- a loss of energy and a feeling of fatigue
- trouble walking
- nausea or vomiting
- in worst-case scenarios, the inability to wake (ie. a coma)
These can often follow an episode of binge drinking, especially when combined with poor nutritional intake.
Perhaps the question shouldn’t be is beer too high in sodium, but rather is beer too low in sodium?
Sodium in the Brewing and Fermentation Process of Beer
The sodium in beer in general comes from the composition of the brewing water. Although brewers often concentrate on negative ions like sulfates or chloride, sodium is one of the more positive ions found in water, which accentuates the flavor of the beer.
Just like adding salt to any food can enrich the flavors, small amounts of sodium minerals in water used for brewing can enhance the sweetness, maltiness, and roast flavor of beers to provide a fuller palate.
Darker beers with a full body (e.g. stouts and porters) will often use additional sodium in the water. Around 100mg/l in brewing water is recommended for these styles.
By exceeding 150mgll, the finished beer taste will be unpalatable to most, and over 200mg/l of sodium will often cause a sour flavor in beer.
An exception to the 200mg/l ration is the traditional German beer style, Gose.
With this beer, brewers will often use a sodium level of between 200mg/l and 250 mg/l to counterbalance the sourness with the acidity from a warm, mixed fermentation with herbs and spices.
At the other end of the scale, more delicate beers like a lager or pilsener will benefit from much lower levels of sodium, normally less than 50mg/l.
Hops and malt can also add sodium to a beer, but only in small amounts. When a grain, especially barley, is dried and kilned, the malt contains dehydrated water. This can increase the level of sodium in the wort (and the hops to a small extent).
However, the majority of sodium enters the beer through the brewing water.
Why Do Some People Add Salt to Beer?
If we know salt is bad for us, why do some beer lovers, believe it or not, add salt to their beer? My grandfather always swore by grabbing the salt shaker when he had a bottle of Miller, claiming it improved the flavor of the drink.
Salt is the seasoning that most people add to just about anything they eat. Even scientists have found salt makes food taste better by suppressing the bitterness while adding a balance to other flavors like sweet and sour sensations.
Therefore, this sounds like an ideal companion for plenty of beer styles.
Common reasons to add salt to a glass of beer include, fending off hangovers, reducing gassiness, allowing increased consumption, eliminating flatness, and improving flavor.
Let’s look at these reasons in further detail:
- Reduces the bitterness. We already mentioned how salt can reduce our perception of bitterness in foods, and for those who love a stronger beer but don’t enjoy the bitterness, a little salt can help. As a rule of thumb, though, if your beer tastes salty after adding salt, you have probably added far more than needed.
- Eliminating flatness. When a can of beer is opened, within a day or two the contents will go flat. However, adding just a dash of salt to the beer can cause the dissolved gasses to form and rise to the surface. But just a dash of salt as the effect can be quite short-lived.
- Reducing the gassiness of beer. Although we just argued a dash of salt can increase the fizz or frothiness of a beer in the short term, the bubbles which are formed don’t hang around too long, causing the beer to go flat again. Some people, especially those who suffer from indigestion from gassy drinks, use salt to quickly dissipate the gasses before drinking their beer.
- Fending off a hangover. The main reason you suffer a hangover is that alcohol causes the body to become dehydrated, resulting in that yucky feeling you can’t shake off the next morning. Some beer lovers who want to drink a lot of beer will often add salt, believing it will help their body to retain more liquids and thus fight that dehydrated feeling. But the next point seems to conflict with this theory.
- Allowing for increased consumption of beer. The intake of more salty foods can increase how often you urinate. Some people drinking beer will add salt, thinking it’s going to make them pee more often, thus creating more room to consume more of the water-rich liquid in beer.
- Improve the flavor. Just like salt improves virtually any food, adding umami and helping break down proteins and other flavors, some drinkers and even brewers will add salt to a beer for richer maltier flavors. The German beer-style Gose will add up to one ounce of salt to every five gallons in the brewing stage.
Sodium Levels in Beer – Should You Be Worried?
Like most health issues or concerns when discussing beer, the key is moderation. Beer is one of the lowest sodium beverages there is, so you’ll need to drink heavily – 160 12 0z servings – to exceed the daily maximum levels of sodium through just beer alone.
Perhaps one area where drinking beer could be an issue for your sodium levels is the salty snacks that often accompany the beer. Those salted peanuts or pork rinds might be a great source of protein but they tend to be highly salted.
In Ukraine, many bars serve salted fish which is a great accompaniment to the hoppy bitter flavors of the beers, and also a salted pork fat called Salo. Very tasty but a heart attack waiting to happen if enjoyed too much.
Overall, by following a well-balanced nutritional diet, with less emphasis on processed or packaged foods, then the salt in beer is something you can easily take with a pinch of salt!