by Rachel Grumman Bender
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, chances are you’ve heard about the much-touted health benefits of vinegar—in particular, apple cider vinegar. The ancient condiment—the earliest known use of vinegar dates back more than 10,000 years and has been used as both food and medicine—is enjoying a real resurgence lately. “Cleansing diets and juicing have become so popular, and I think that’s created the recent buzz around vinegar,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, registered dietitian and author of “Read It Before You Eat It.”
As with any trend, it’s easy to get lost in the hype and start believing that vinegar is a miracle medicine (it isn’t). In fact, one of the most popular claims—that drinking a small amount of apple cider vinegar before a meal helps curb appetite and burn fat—has little scientific support, according to the Mayo Clinic.
So we did some digging and found some valid, science-back benefits to vinegar that are worth sharing. In fact, research shows that vinegars contain antioxidants, which slow premature aging and reduce the risk of cancer, for example.
Here are a few more ways vinegar can give your health a boost:
Vinegar improves blood sugar levels. Drinking apple cider vinegar before a high-carbohydrate meal improves insulin sensitivity—slowing the rate of blood sugar levels rising—in people who are insulin resistant (a prediabetes condition) or have type 2 diabetes, according to a 2004 study. The researchers note that vinegar may possess physiological effects similar to the anti-diabetes medications acarbose and metformin.
It protects your heart health. Balsamic vinegar prevents the oxidation of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), which is believed to contribute to atherosclerosis—a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries, blocking blood flow and in some cases, eventually leading to a heart attack or stroke, according to a 2010 study.
Substituting in vinegar can help you lose weight. The condiment can easily replace unhealthy fats—namely, in commercial salad dressing. “What I love to do is take a favorite dressing, even blue cheese, which is rich and high in calories, and I dilute it down with vinegar,” suggests Taub-Dix, who splits commercial dressing into two bottles and fills up the remaining half with vinegar. “The vinegar adds a delicious flavor and cuts calories in half. Or I make my own dressing at home with balsamic or champagne vinegar.”
It kills bacteria. Vinegar is thought to have antibacterial properties that can help fight the infection behind a sore throat. The acidity decreases the pH of tissue, which helps prevent bacteria from growing on its surface. In addition, a 2014 study even found that vinegar’s ingredient, acetic acid, which gives vinegar its tart flavor and strong odor, acts as a non-toxic disinfectant against drug-resistant tuberculosis (TB) bacteria.
Vinegar may help reduce the risk of cancer. Vinegars are a rich source of polyphenols, compounds synthesized by plants to fight oxidative stress. According to 2006 research, consuming polyphenols enhances antioxidant protection and reduces cancer risk.
Bottom line: Vinegar can be beneficial in several ways, but it isn’t a magical cure-all and doesn’t replace common sense behaviors like eating a healthy, balanced diet, notes Taub-Dix. Plus, vinegar is an acid, so going overboard with it or not rinsing out your mouth after consuming it can erode tooth enamel over time.