Vinegar has been used by people for thousands of years for preserving food and in cooking – but, is vinegar an important part of a healthy diet?
Let’s take a look at what vinegar is, how it’s made, what its uses are, and the facts about what it can (and can’t) do for your health.
What is Vinegar?
Vinegar has played an essential role in human life from ancient times; from recipes to removing stains. But, very few people know exactly what vinegar is.
Vinegar is simply acetic acid combined with other chemicals and flavorings and diluted with water in a concentration that varies from 5% to 20%. Acetic acid (a colorless liquid by itself) gives vinegar its distinct odor and unmistakable taste.
Vinegar can be made from anything containing sugar; which is why there are so many varieties of vinegar available in the supermarket. The most popular one is by far apple cider vinegar which has achieved an almost cult status in the healthy living community for its reputed health benefits.
But there’s also:
- Red wine vinegar,
- White wine vinegar,
- Rice vinegar,
- Malt vinegar
And a cornucopia of fruit-based vinegars such as; raspberry, fig, and pear vinegar that are also used to bring out flavors in an incredible variety of foods.
How Vinegar is Made
While no one knows when, or even who, invented vinegar – it was likely discovered by accident after stored wine turned sour from being exposed to oxygen due to improper storage. The word vinegar is actually derived from an old French word; vin aigre, which just means ‘sour wine.’
A Two-Step Process
Vinegar is created by 2 separate processes that involve the use of harmless microorganisms to turn sugars into acetic acid.
The first step is alcoholic fermentation, the same as occurs to produce beer or wine. Common yeast changes the natural sugars into alcohol. Depending on the type of vinegar being made, the alcohol can be produced from either grain or fruit sugars. Once the liquid has fermented completely, the alcohol will be blended with water for the second stage of vinegar production.
This is known as acid fermentation and happens when a particular strain of bacteria, Acetobacter, changes the alcohol into acetic acid. The vinegar is then filtered and blended to adjust the strength (acidity) of the vinegar.
The finished product is a mix of water, acetic acid and trace amounts of vitamins and minerals. These minerals in the starter ingredients are what develop into the unique flavors of the many types of vinegar.
Common Uses of Vinegar
The first use of vinegar was probably to preserve foods by pickling.
Storing food in vinegar prevented spoilage, meaning food could be stored for long periods (a primary concern before refrigeration was invented). People quickly discovered that vinegar had a wonderful additional use; it improved the flavor of many foods with that classic sour bite. But, over the years people have discovered that vinegar can also be an essential ingredient for environmentally friendly home-cleaning solutions.
Vinegar as an Environmentally Friendly Cleaner
Pet Odors: White vinegar will eliminate the smell of pet urine from carpets, furniture, and clothing – you can apply it straight or dilute it with water for a powerful deodorant mixture.
Soften your laundry: Save money on store-bought laundry softener by instead filling the dispenser with a ¼ cup of white vinegar.
Clean windows: Just mix 50% white vinegar and water in a spray bottle. Spray windows and wipe dry for streak-free clean.
Grease cutting power: Mix 2 tablespoons of white vinegar in your liquid dish soap to turbocharge its cleaning power.
Health Myths about Vinegar
We’re always on the lookout for that ‘magic bullet’ that can ward off illness while guaranteeing health and a long life – and many myths have grown up around vinegar as one such substance. Take a look at a few of the most common ones.
Myth #1 – It Can Prevent Cancer
One research study suggests that apple cider vinegar could help slow cancer cell growth, but this study is only preliminary and compared to related research, the results are inconclusive. Unfortunately, apple cider vinegar isn’t a cancer-fighting substance and shouldn’t be used as one.
Myth #2 it’s Good for Your Digestion
Research shows that vinegar can worsen gastroparesis (a common condition in diabetics that means the stomach can’t empty itself properly). This is because vinegar can slow the process of food leaving your stomach. The high acidity of vinegar also means that consuming too much can make ulcers and esophageal irritation more painful.
Myth #3 it’s Good for Your Teeth
While a quick swish of vinegar can make your mouth feel fresher – the acidity can easily cause tooth damage if it stays on your teeth too long.
Myth #4 Vinegar Has no Health Benefits
No, vinegar isn’t a panacea for what ails you; but that doesn’t mean that it’s not good for you. Here are six scientifically verified ways that vinegar can benefit your health.
6 Scientifically- Backed Health Benefits of Vinegar
1) Vinegar can lower blood sugar levels for diabetics: Sufferers of type 2 diabetes have to manage chronically elevated blood sugar levels due to insulin resistance, and many of us have elevated blood sugar reasons from dietary or genetic factors. Studies have verified the effectiveness of vinegar for reducing blood glucose and increasing insulin sensitivity after a high carbohydrate meal.
Vinegar can also:
- Reduce the blood sugar spike from eating 50 grams of white bread by almost 35%
- Reduce fasting blood sugar levels by 4% when you consume as little as 2 tablespoons before going to bed
- Increase insulin sensitivity during meals
Vinegar is an excellent addition to the diet of anybody with diabetes or that want to keep their blood sugar levels under control.
2) Vinegar Could Aid in Weight-Loss: Besides lowering blood sugar levels (which can help with weight control), studies conducted on humans indicate that it can increase feelings of satiety – helping you to eat less.
According to this study; vinegar consumed with a high carbohydrate meal increased the feeling of fullness and resulted in the test subjects eating up to 275 calories less during the day.
3) Vinegar May Reduce Belly Fat: A three-month study conducted on obese individuals showed that regular vinegar consumption was associated with a modest reduction in abdominal fat resulting in a smaller waist measurement.
4) Could Significantly Lower Cholesterol Levels: Certain studies conducted on rats showed a significant decrease in serum triglyceride and cholesterol levels when given apple cider vinegar.
5) May Reduce Your Blood Pressure: Animal studies showed that consuming vinegar can lower blood pressure. Remember though – what works in animals may not apply to humans.
6) Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease: Harvard University conducted an observational study that concluded that women who ate vinegar-based salad dressings experienced a reduced risk of heart diseased.
The Bottom Line
There is an abundance of incredible claims being made about the health benefits of vinegar, and from the scientific research available to us; it looks like there is a real benefit to including vinegar in your diet. There have also been no harmful side-effects associated with normal use.
For non-health purposes; it has the added benefit of offering an environmentally safe and economical alternative to many chemical-laden detergents for home use. Vinegar can be a welcome addition to any cupboard, pantry or laundry room.
But, vinegar is not a miracle-food, and it shouldn’t be treated as such – just enjoy the taste in moderation and understand that a little can go a long way.