Consuming vinegar with a meal reduces the spike in blood sugar, insulin, and triglycerides, and it appears to work particularly well in those who are insulin resistant and on their way to type 2 diabetes. No wonder the consumption of vinegar with meals was used as a folk medicine for the treatment of diabetes before diabetes drugs were invented.
Many cultures have taken advantage of this fact by mixing vinegar with high glycemic foods. For example, in Japan, they use vinegar in rice to make sushi, and, in the Mediterranean, they dip bread into balsamic vinegar. Throughout Europe, a variety of sourdough breads can lower both blood sugar and insulin spikes.
You can get the same effect by adding vinegar to boiled white potatoes then cooling them to make potato salad. Adding vinegar to white bread doesn’t just lower blood sugar and insulin responses, it increases satiety, or the feeling of being full after a meal. A study found that if you eat three slices of white bread, it may fill you up a little, but in less than two hours, you’re hungrier than when you began eating. If you eat that same amount of bread with some vinegar, though, you feel twice as full and, even two hours later, still feel nearly just as full as if you had just eaten the three pieces of bread plain.
But this remarkable increase and prolongation of satiety took nearly two tablespoons of vinegar. That’s a lot of vinegar. What’s the right amount? It turns out that even just two teaspoons of vinegar with a meal can significantly decrease the blood sugar spike of a refined carb meal, a bagel and juice, for instance. You could easily add two teaspoons of vinaigrette to a little side salad or two teaspoons of vinegar to some tea with lemon. Or you could scrap the bagel with juice and just have some oatmeal with berries instead.
What if you consume vinegar every day for months? Researchers at Arizona State University randomized pre-diabetics to take daily either a bottle of an apple cider vinegar drink, a half bottle at lunch, and the remaining half at dinner, or an apple cider vinegar tablet, which was pretty much considered to be a placebo control. While the bottled drink contained two tablespoons of vinegar, the two tablets only contained about one third of a teaspoon. So in effect, the study was comparing about 40 spoonfuls of vinegar a week to 2 spoonfuls for 12 weeks. What happened? On the vinegar drink, fasting blood sugars dropped by 16 points within one week. How significant is a drop of 16 points?
Well, this simple dietary tweak of a tablespoon of vinegar twice a day worked better than the leading drugs like Glucophage and Avandia. This effect of vinegar is particularly noteworthy when comparing the cost, access, and toxicities associated with pharmaceutical medications. So the vinegar is safer, cheaper, and more effective. This could explain why it’s been used medicinally since antiquity. Interestingly, even the tiny amount of vinegar in pill form seemed to help a bit. That’s astonishing. And, no: The study was not funded by a vinegar company.
What about long-term vinegar use in diabetics? To investigate this, researchers randomized subjects into one of three groups. One group took two tablespoons of vinegar twice a day, with lunch and supper. Another group ate two dill pickles a day, which each contained about a half tablespoon’s worth of vinegar. A third group took one vinegar pill twice a day, each containing only one sixteenth of a teaspoon’s worth of vinegar. I wasn’t surprised that the small dose in the pill didn’t work, but neither did the pickles. Maybe one tablespoon a day isn’t enough for diabetics? Regardless, the vinegar did work. This was all the more impressive because the diabetics were mostly well controlled on medication and still saw an additional benefit from the vinegar.