Vinegar: more than just a tart condiment?Last updated: Oct 01, 2016
Lately we’ve been hearing about possible health benefits for vinegar, a flavoring used in mustard, ketchup, and chutney; and a key ingredient in pickled foods like dilly beans and pickles. There are many different types of vinegar, including apple cider, balsamic, red wine, rice, distilled white, sherry and champagne. The active ingredient in all types of vinegar is acetic acid, which gives vinegar its characteristic taste and smell.1 Vinegar is produced by fermenting a variety of different foods including apples, grapes, barley malt, and molasses to produce alcohol. Bacteria are added to change the alcohol into acetic acid. All vinegar sold in the United States is 4-7% acetic acid according to U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements.2
There is a lot of popular belief that vinegar improves health in a variety of ways, but the scientific research is less clear. The bulk of research has been done on rats or mice with few human studies.
Some human studies have shown that drinking a solution of vinegar mixed with water before eating meals helps reduce blood sugar levels in people with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. Drinking a vinegar/water solution before bedtime may lower fasting blood sugar levels. It’s believed that acetic acid reduces glucose absorption as well as decreases the amount of glucose produced by the liver to lower blood sugar levels.1
A Japanese study with 175 obese volunteers found that drinking a solution of apple vinegar and water after breakfast and after supper resulted in losing body fat and weight, and reducing waist circumference. During the 12 week study the volunteers lost on average 2-4 pounds and decreased their waist measurement by .4 to .75 inches. The authors also saw reduction in blood pressure, total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL cholesterol levels, and conclude that drinking a total of 1 tablespoon of vinegar per day is well tolerated, although some people experienced nausea.3
Take home tips:
- Using vinegar in cooking or salad dressings is not associated with any side effects and can help reduce the amount of salt used to flavor foods.4
- If you want to try drinking a mixture of vinegar and water, start with 1 teaspoon of vinegar mixed into ½ cup of water per day, and drink before meals. Gradually increase to no more than 1-2 tablespoons vinegar per day. Long term use of higher amounts of vinegar could cause low blood levels of potassium or osteoporosis.4
- Avoid vinegar tablets, which have been associated with adverse events such as nausea, heartburn, or an irritated throat.4
- People with Type 1 diabetes or gastroparesis should avoid drinking vinegar in water as it can slow the rate of gastric emptying.5
- If you take digoxin or diuretics, check with your physician before using vinegar in water since it can interfere with the actions of these medications.5
- Mitrou P, Petsiou E, Papakonstantinou E, et al. Vinegar Consumption Increases Insulin-Stimulated Glucose Uptake by the Forearm Muscle in Humans with Type 2 Diabetes. Journal of Diabetes Research. 2015;2015:175204. doi:10.1155/2015/175204.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. CPG Sec. 525.825 Vinegar, Definitions - Adulteration with Vinegar Eels. http://www.fda.gov/ICECI/ComplianceManuals/CompliancePolicyGuidanceManual/ucm074471.htm Revised March 1995. Accessed September 19, 2016.
- Kondo T, Kishi M, Fushimi T, Ugajin S, Kaga T. Vinegar intake reduces body weight, body fat mass, and serum triglyceride levels in obese Japanese subjects. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2009 Aug;73(8):1837-43.
- Kohn, Jill Balla. Is Vinegar an Effective Treatment for Glycemic Control or Weight Loss? J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Jul;115(7):1188.
- Natural Medicines Professional Database. Apple Cider Vinegar. https://naturalmedicines.therapeuticresearch.com/databases/food,-herbs-supplements/professional.aspx?productid=816 Updated 2-13-2015. Accessed 9-19-2016.