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Silicon: It's good for you, especially in beer

Researchers at UC Davis say that silicon, the most common metalloid and a known booster of bone-mineral density, is highly "bioavailable" when consumed in beer.

The author recently hosted an unwittingly healthy IPA beer tasting. Elizabeth Armstrong Moore/CNET

As a bit of a health nut, I've kept quiet about something I didn't start consuming regularly until moving to Portland, Ore., aka Beervana. Yes, that something is beer. That bastion of bad health. The oh-so-tasty temptress. The barren wasteland of big bellies.

Or maybe beer has gotten a worse reputation than it deserves. In recent years, researchers have extolled several healthy side effects of beer (in moderation, of course), from its role in limiting kidney stones and gallstones to lowering the risk of adult-onset diabetes and even, due to its folate content, helping prevent cancer.

And that's not all. Silicon, present to varying degrees in various beers, has been linked to higher bone-mineral density in animals--including, of course, in humans. So researchers at the University of California at Davis set out to analyze 100 commercial beers to determine silicon content. They report their findings this week in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.

The average beer contains 29.4 parts per million (ppm), with my personal favorite--India Pale Ales (this is very validating)--topping the list at a whopping 41.2 ppm. Ales in general average 32.8 ppm, and my least favorite, lagers, were down around 20. Hey, maybe my body actually knows what kind of beer to drink!

Researcher Charles Bamforth hard at work. UC-Davis

"The wine guys have stolen the moral high ground," said Charles Bamforth, a biochemist and professor of food science at UC Davis who also goes by the title Anheuser-Busch Endowed Professor. He adds:

The reality is there's now growing consensus around the world that the active ingredient in alcoholic beverages that counters atherosclerosis is alcohol. It doesn't matter if it's wine or beer. I resent the stance that people take that wine is better. It's not.

Bamforth's team's findings suggest that raw ingredients and brewing techniques determine how much silicon is in the final pour. They found that malt, a sprouted grain, is the greatest source of silicon; starches in sprouted barley or wheat break down into sugars that yeast converts into alcohol. (Barley contains even more silicon than wheat.)

The jury is still out on how much silicon is best. Katherine Tucker, a nutritional epidemiologist at Northeastern University in Boston, says people tend to consume an average of between 20 mg and 50 mg of silicon a day, and studies suggest that people should get at least 46. Depending on the kind of beer being consumed, you can get about that much in two or three beers. Besides beer, silicon sources include fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, news I took singing "la la la" with my hands over my ears.

Apparently the average guy--who nutritionists generally agree should stop at two drinks a day--gets most of his silicon through beer; the average lady--who they say should stop at one--through grains and veggies. Since I am a lover of grains, veggies, and beer alike, I shall henceforth be called Silicon Wonder Woman. After all, I can control my wireless mouse on my beer-happy (or is it hoppy?) abs.