The Vinegar Lowdown

Are you in need of a last minute gift for the holidays? Balsamic Vinegar is a trendy, healthful option. This month’s healthy challenge is to use more vinegar in your food, and is all the more reason to invest in health-boosting vinegar for you, your family, and friends!

Vinegar has actually been around for thousands of years. They have gone through the fermentation process twice and can range in flavor from savory to syrupy, as they take on the flavor notes of the original foods used to make them. Apple cider vinegar has been advertised as a “golden health elixir,” and has become somewhat of a craze. However, there is nothing special about apple cider over other vinegar as a health booster, except good marketing. The starch-inhibiting ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid and happens to be in all vinegar, as does the gut-health properties of vinegar.

Vinegar is slightly beneficial for weight loss, but not nearly as much as people think. It does help keep blood sugar in control by inhibiting the enzymes that digest starch. Undigested starch calories can add up over time and lead to some weight loss, and there is looming research that vinegar might increase fat oxidation. However, it’s not a magic bullet for weight loss as often touted.

Since vinegar offsets the absorption of glucose from starchy foods, vinegar is most helpful for blood sugar when consumed with a meal or just before eating, so it’s in your stomach as the starch reaches it. I encourage clients to simply use more vinegar while preparing and eating food. Diluting 1 to 2 tablespoons of vinegar in 8 ounces of water right before eating a starchy meal is more effective than starting the day off with it. However, using vinegar in food preparation is more pleasant and effective too. Since vinegar is strongly acidic, one shouldn’t drink it undiluted as it can damage the delicate tissues in the throat.

To me, the most exciting benefit of vinegar (besides making food taste fabulous) is it’s helpfulness as a prebiotic to feed the good bacteria and improve gut health. Diet has a big impact on the balance of bacteria in the gut. The imbalance of good and bad bacteria (or using the newer term microbiome) in the gut is associated with increased risk of diseases. Gerard Mullin, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said, “There’s an ocean of data showing that the gut really seems to run the body, and the microbiome is the engineer.” When the microbiome is out of balance, disease, and obesity are more likely to occur.

I particularly enjoy balsamic vinegar, both white and dark. Made from whole pressed grapes, traditional balsamic vinegar is dark, intense, and slightly sweet as it complements fruits, meats, and fish. White balsamic vinegar is lighter in color. True balsamic vinegar carries authenticity stamps. Other mass-produced varieties are actually cider or wine vinegar with sweetener or coloring.

With its natural sweetness, I often use balsamic vinegar in recipes to add a bit of sweetness rather than to add other sweeteners. I use white balsamic vinegar to add a bit of sweetness to my Guilt-Free Creamy Dressing and dip. The same goes for my No-Mayo Avocado Egg Salad. I use white balsamic vinegar and plain Greek yogurt with salt and pepper in combination with avocados as a delicious, healthy substitute for mayo.

Typically vinaigrette or marinade is made by adding one part of vinegar to three parts oil. However,  balsamic vinegar allows you to use more vinegar to oil for a nice vinaigrette dressing; one part of vinegar to two parts oil or even one part of vinegar to one part oil works with balsamic vinegar. It’s easy to make salad dressing when it’s one part vinegar to one part oil. Just add a little salt, pepper, garlic, and mustard to thicken and you’re done.

Splashing balsamic vinegar on roasted vegetables, fish, and whole grains makes the flavors burst. Many of my recipes in my blog, and my new book, 12 Fixes to Healthy, use vinegar. My book paired with balsamic vinegar would make a fantastic gift to give this holiday! It’s not too late!

Take my healthy challenge this month and add more vinegar to your food to improve the flavor of your food and your health. Balsamic vinegar is the bomb and a fantastic way to add sweetness to your food without adding sweeteners. Make sure your vinegar is a high-quality variety and that balsamic vinegar, both traditional and white, are authentic. Give the gift of taste and health this holiday!

Contributor: Ray Norton