Vinegar: How sweet it is

iStock photo

iStock photo

Did you know that  vinegar teas were once the treatment of choice for those with diabetes?

The impact of  vinegar –  a.k.a. acetic acid –  on blood sugar readings, while currently given little attention in medical circles, was something that was relied upon for those with diabetes before the development of blood sugar lowering medications.

Now science is showing that there may be benefits for both those with and without diabetes when certain foods are being consumed. Foods with a high glycemic index (GI) – carbohydrates which are quickly absorbed into the bloodstream-  have been labelled as a culprit in promoting a growing list of  diseases.

When blood sugars rise quickly following a meal on a regular basis, for both healthy people and those with diabetes, it may be costly to good health. These blood sugar surges are linked to higher levels of inflammatory compounds in the blood. It’s now thought that inflammation is a major offender in the development of many ailments including diabetes,  cardiovascular  disease, Alzheimer’s and  certain cancers.

Keeping inflammation at bay is definitely key for maintaining good health.

Blunting the quick rise in blood sugar readings following carb consumption also yields lower insulin levels, a factor which plays a role in appetite control and easier waist management.

The research on vinegar is definitely fascinating and once again, demonstrates the wisdom of  ages, that of traditional eating patterns.  For example, Japanese scientists while putting together a  GI table for common  Japanese foods, found that  adding vinegar or pickled foods to sushi rice lowered the GI of the rice by 20 to 30 %.

A Greek study  looked at the effect of vinegar on blood sugar readings following two different meal types in subjects with type 2 diabetes. One included a high-GI meal with mashed potatoes while the other had a low-GI whole grain bread as the source of carbohydrates.  For the high-GI meals, the vinegar actually offset some of the blood sugar surge that would normally follow the consumption of these foods.

Kind of makes you wonder about the British and now Canadian tradition of eating French fries, a high GI food, along with malt vinegar. (Not that I’m saying fries are great for you if you just eat them with vinegar!)

Another study, conducted at Arizona State University, found that the blood sugar effect only occurred with high GI starchy foods and not those containing simple sugars as you might find in soft drinks, high sugar cereals, baked goods and various sugar-laden processed foods.

In this study, only two teaspoons of vinegar were needed to achieve the beneficial effects. That’s the amount you might consume in a two-tablespoon serving of a typical vinaigrette salad dressing.

The consumer tips provided from  the recent  International Scientific Consensus Summit on Glycemic Index, Glycemic Load and Glycemic Response, also take note of the importance of the effect of acids on reducing the blood sugar response following the consumption of carbohydrates.

Another key point to consider is that many of the studies involving vinegar assess it in conjunction with food, not just as a drink – the preferred vinegar delivery method  of  Hollywood celebs who tout its benefits.

There is a cautionary note, though, for anyone with type 1 diabetes. Suddenly adding significant amounts of vinegar to your diet may lead to unexpected low blood sugar levels so careful monitoring is suggested.

Finally, if vinegar’s beneficial effects on blood sugar don’t persuade you  of its benefits, here’s just one more feather in its cap:  in a study on both normal and diabetic rats, after four weeks, the vinegar-fed rats had significant lowering of their artery-clogging LDL cholesterol and triglycerides while levels of protective HDL-cholesterol went up. And though fasting blood sugar readings were not decreased, another measure of blood sugar control  called hemoglobin A1C was lower – something that those with diabetes aim for.

If vinegar’s not a regular on your menu, it may be time for a change.  It’s an easy ingredient to incorporate and can certainly zest to all kinds of dishes.  When I’m cooking and looking to improve the taste of a dish, I frequently turn to vinegar. In some cases, as in a vegetable soup, for example, I find garnishing it with a generous splash of vinegar makes it easy to use less salt.

In addition, don’t limit your vinegar to apple cider vinegar, again the choice of Hollywood stars. Keep an assortment on hand to give you a range of  tastes – balsamic, rice, wine (both red and white), sherry, champagne, malt and even white.

The results may indeed be very sweet.


How do you incorporate vinegar in your eating pattern? Please share in the comment section below.

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Categories: Research Roundup, Superfoods

Author:Rosie Schwartz

Rosie Schwartz is a Toronto-based consulting dietitian and writer.

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