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So everything is green on St. Patrick’s day, and that includes our food and drink — everything from green cake to green ketchup, to the iconic green beer.
People might be wondering if this green food colouring carries any health risks.
We are seeing more and more organic, plant-extract based food colouring and dyes being used, but the most commonly used dye in green beer and in most green foods that you’ll find on St. Paddy’s day is a synthetic dye called Fast Green FCF, which is the only one permitted in Canada.
Now interestingly, it’s also permitted in the U.S., but it’s banned in the European Union over concerns about its carcinogenic potential.
That being said, practically speaking, just a few drops of the dye are required to turn an entire pint green, and given that we consume food dyes every day in our diet, and green is the least used dye on every other day of the year, indulging in green beer on one day of the year is unlikely to cause you any real harm.
Because it’s not readily absorbed by the body, most of it it tends to stay in the bowel, and the worst that can probably happen from overconsumption is a little diarrhea.
But the bigger health issue is how much beer you actually consume.
Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks for women, and five or more drinks for men over two hours.
Doing this more than once a week for several years can have an impact on the health of the blood circulation system, but an annual binge on St. Patrick’s Day is unlikely to cause health problems (unless you really overdo it and develop alcohol poisoning).
The bigger risk is not so much from the alcohol as it is from the intoxication, which is associated with high risk behaviours, personal injury, and motor vehicle accidents.
Particularly, impaired driving fatalities tend to be higher on St. Patrick’s Day.
There’s also the impact on your diet.
We always hear about the dreaded beer belly, and a typical pint of beer does contain about 190 calories.
On the other hand, there are almost as many calories in a glass of wine, and the reason for this is that most of the calories in these beverages come from the alcohol, and wine has a higher concentration of alcohol than beer.
For the average person, it would take about a 20-minute jog to burn off the calories consumed in a single pint of beer.
But what if that beer is Guinness — the quintessential Irish, St. Patrick’s Day beer?
Surely it’s dark colour, creamy texture, and caramel-tinged flavor mean that it has more calories?
Well actually, the answer is no.
The dark colour and sweetness come from small amounts of roasted barley used in brewing, and that unique texture results from the fact that most beers are carbonated with carbon dioxide bubbles, whereas Guinness also uses nitrogen bubbles, which are finer and create and illusion of cream.
And because it contains only 4.2 per cent alcohol, compared to 5 per cent for most beers, a pint of Guinness comes in at just under 170 calories, which is less than most normal beers.
So whether it’s green beer or Guinness, or anything else, enjoy it in moderation, and have a happy — and healthy — St. Patrick’s Day.