By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Surely, ’tis the best week of the year, is it not? St. Patrick’s Day is not until Wednesday but some of us have begun celebrating early. I am personally contributing to the festivities by drinking a pint of Guinness every day. Guinness is the mother’s milk of Ireland, and for good reason. Three years ago I had the good fortune of spending time in the Emerald Isle with four of my girlfriends. On the first day of the trip I ate something that didn’t agree with me. Our driver suggested that I “take a Guinness”, extolling it’s virtues as a cure-all for most any ailment. I gulped it down and, sure enough, I began to feel better. He went on to explain that when he was growing up, doctors were scarce – and unaffordable – so Irish mothers gave their children a nip of Guinness whenever they were sick, as it was believed to be chocked full of vitamins and minerals. Sort of the Irish version of Children’s One-A-Day.
Once back home I began to research the miracle of Guinness. Was it really a health food? Should I be drinking more? Turns out that back in the 1920s, when the “Guinness is Good for You” slogan was introduced, the claim was based on market research that found people felt good after they drank a pint of the dark and foamy stout. Okay, but substitute “stout” for almost any form of alcohol and you’d probably have the same result. Soon after the slogan gained popularity the flimsy claim was bolstered by the discovery that Guinness contains iron. A ha! Now we’re getting somewhere. Even pregnant women were advised to have an occasional pint. Of course, it would take something like a dozen pints a day for a woman to get her recommended daily allowance of iron, in which point the alcohol and calories would cause more harm than good.
But in 2003 researchers at the University of Wisconsin found a truly redeeming feature of the beloved Guinness. Turns out that stout beer like Guinness (as opposed to lager and other light beer) is high in the antioxidant compounds called flavonoids—similar to those found in red wine, tea and chocolate—that can reduce the risk of heart attack from blood clotting. The researchers carried out laboratory tests on dogs with clogged arteries, comparing the effects of Guinness and Heineken. Only those dogs fed Guinness had reduced clotting. Wow – red wine, chocolate, dogs and Guinness. The gods have come together to link all of my favorite things together into one healthy bundle! I should live to be 100.
My brother and I share a love for Ireland, even though our DNA results show our Irish heritage to be somewhat limited. I am 12% Irish and he is 8%, which doesn’t seem fair because he has frequented a lot more Irish pubs than I have. In fact, he has a unique ability to find an Irish pub everywhere he travels. When he hiked Machu Picchu, he fortified himself beforehand at Paddy’s Irish Pub in Cusco, Peru, which holds the distinction of being the highest elevation pub on the planet at over 11,156 feet. I recently watched the Amazon Prime Video movie “The Irish Pub” and it became clear why we cling to our small but powerful Irish ancestry. The documentary highlighted pubs all over Ireland, interviewing the owners and customers. Charming doesn’t begin to describe it. Yes, some of the pubs were dark and possibly had not been cleaned since 1947. But the owners and customers alike took great pride in their establishments and their welcoming of strangers. Anyone who has visited Ireland can attest to that – the Irish seem to be universally good-natured and friendly. The film made it clear that the local pub provides a gathering place for people to chat and get to know one another and many customers remarked that they would rather do that than watch television.
I think what we can conclude from all this is that America would be a far better – and healthier – place if we all gathered down at the local pub for a good conversation and a pint of Guinness. Throw in a dog by the fire and that’s about as close to Heaven as one can get.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day and…Slainte!!