By Jack Challem
Strange as it might seem, including some vinegar in your diet might improve your blood sugar. Although vinegar has a bit of a checkered past—it has too often been hyped in weight-loss diets and miracle cures—solid research has clearly shown that it can improve glycemic control.
Vinegar has been widely consumed throughout Asia, and is considered a functional food. There is now modern research backing the ancient use of vinegar, particularly for keeping blood sugar levels under control, for both normal individuals and those with diabetes.
The biologically-active constituent of vinegar is acetic acid, which is also the source of the liquid’s lip-puckering pungency. Acetic acid inhibits the activity of several carbohydrate-digesting enzymes, including amylase, sucrase, maltase, and lactase. As a result, when vinegar is present in the intestines, some sugars and starches temporarily pass through without being digested, so they exert less of an impact upon blood sugar levels.
Research tracking hemoglobin A1C in people with type 2 diabetes found that daily acetic acid ingestion from vinegar improved glycemic control, and was superior to dill pickles or vinegar in pill form.
Because taking a teaspoon or two of vinegar alone seems to cause burping and acid reflux in a lot of people, it’s a good idea to include vinegar with food. The easiest way of doing this is to use oil-and-vinegar salad dressing, made with balsamic, red-wine, apple-cider, or any number of flavored vinegars (avoid the fruity, sweet ones, of course, or you may cancel out the benefit.) When making the dressing, use about 50 to 75 percent vinegar, and add some diced garlic, dried oregano, and basil—or stir in a little Dijon mustard.
You can also try vinaigrette dressings drizzled over steamed veggies such as cauliflower. Another option is to dip small, thin slices of whole-grain bread into a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Or, better, try sourdough bread, which contains a substance that also seems to mediate blood sugar response.
Vinegar is a natural meat and fish tenderizer, so you can use it to marinate meat and chicken. It’s also used to cook brisket and sauerbraten, and in the preparation of the spicy Korean vegetable kimchi. Look for low-sodium versions of dill pickles, and consider other condiments and veggies pickled or preserved in vinegar.
As for the weight-loss claims attributed to vinegar, there is some evidence that it delays the emptying of the stomach’s contents and prevents some absorption of carbohydrates. Research finds that daily vinegar ingestion by animals with type 2 diabetes protects against obesity.
Acetic acid in vinegar has been shown in research to reduce postprandial blood sugar. This benefit is stronger when taking vinegar with the meal instead of after the meal. Daily vinegar, taken with a meal, could help you keep better blood glucose control.
Jack Challem, The Nutrition Reporter™, is a member of the American Society for Nutrition and one of America’s most trusted nutrition and health writers. He is the bestselling author of more than twenty books, including Stop Prediabetes Now, and gives nutrition presentations across the United States and around the world. For more, visit www.nutritionreporter.com.
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Johnston, C.S., White, A.M., Kent, S.M. “Preliminary Evidence That Regular Vinegar Ingestion Favorably Influences Hemoglobin A1C Values in Individuals with Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus.” PubMed.gov. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. The National Center for Biotechnology Information. March 9, 2009. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19269707.
Kohn, J.B. “Is Vinegar an Effective Treatment for Glycemic Control or Weight Loss?” PubMed.gov. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. The National Center for Biotechnology Information. July 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26115563.
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Yamashita, H. “Biological Function of Acetic Acid-Improvement in Obesity and Glucose Tolerance by Acetic Acid in Type 2 Diabetic Rats.” PubMed.gov. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. The National Center for Biotechnology Information. July 29, 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26176799.
Updated by Victoria Dolby Toews, MPH, 09/16.