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Whenever my German-born, trend-savvy mom gets onto a new health food kick, I usually pay close attention.  However, when she started taking apple cider vinegar a few years ago, I pretty much dismissed it and went on with my life.  I vaguely remembered having seen suspicious ads about weight loss and other health benefits, none of which I’d paid any attention to.

Websites claim that apple cider vinegar can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, treat diabetes, fight obesity, prevent osteoporosis and prevent cancer and agina.  Supposedly, a single teaspoon dissolved in a glass of water provides trace minerals, beneficial bacteria, enzymes, pectin, beta-carotene, fiber and so on – the list varies depending on the manufacturer.  Can this really be true?  And what about regular vinegar?

It turns out my mom wasn’t the first to get into the sour stuff – the Babylonians supposedly were the first to make vinegar from wine, and they believed it to be a great healer.  Hippocrates used it as an antibiotic, and during the American civil war, soldiers used it to treat pneumonia and scurvy and to prevent upset stomachs.   Some trace apple cider vinegar’s legendary properties back to the 1950’s, when Dr. D. C. Jarvis, a “country doctor” from Vermont, published Folk Medicine, in which he detailed this fermented liquid’s amazing curative effects.  Jarvis recommended its use in pregnancy, gastrointestinal problems, arthritis and weight loss.

Unfortunately, analyses have found that apple cider vinegar contains only minimal calcium, miniscule traces of iron, magnesium, sodium, copper, manganese and phosphorous, a small quantity of potassium and no measurable amount of pectin.  According to the USDA, they couldn’t find any vitamin A, B6, C, E, K, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, beta-carotene, lycopene, or amino acids, either.

At this point I would imagine that you, like me, are about ready to write vinegar off completely.  It may surprise you, as it did me, that beyond the loud marketing claims it does seem that vinegar might actually be a very worthy part of a healthy diet.

A small study out of Sweden, published in the 2005 European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that vinegar reduced the insulin response to a carbohydrate meal, and also increased feelings of satiety.  Though they only used 12 subjects, they found find that glucose and insulin responses after eating white bread with three tablespoons of vinegar were 25% lower than when the bread was eaten alone.    Satiety scores were also significantly higher 30, 90, and 120 minutes after the meal.

Maybe this is why I get full at a favourite restaurant that I go to, even though I usually just order a lean yummy fish dish.  To my frustration, I never seem to be left with any room for dessert.  I’d wondered about it, as it’s not as if I eat more than usual.   Their entrees come with a salad that’s doused in huge quantities of balsamic vinegar, and little else – perhaps that’s the reason I get so full.

Another study, published in Diabetes Care in 2004, reported that vinegar increased insulin sensitivity in diabetic and insulin-resistant patients, and even reduced insulin levels in the blood of healthy subjects.  Again, the study looked at only a small group of thirty people, but the results are very intriguing.

And though tests reveal that vinegar itself doesn’t seem to contain a bunch of newsworthy nutrients, the acetic acid which gives vinegar its sour taste can indeed increase our absorption of minerals from foods.  Vinegar can actually help us extract calcium from vegetables, which is great news for those women who eat salads and little else (of course, I still worry about those women, so the vinegar factor is just a minor comfort).

From a practical point of view, low-calorie vinegar might also help you lose weight, or control cholesterol, if you substitute it for fatty processed condiments like rich salad dressings and mayonnaise.  As for preventing cancer, one of my sources claimed that rinsing produce in a mixture of water and vinegar helps remove pesticides.  If I weren’t so lazy, I might actually consider trying that.

In the end, I don’t recommend you run out and start a regime of apple cider vinegar supplementation, but some balsamic vinegar on your salad or veggies is exactly what this doctor will order…unless, of course, I need to save some room for dessert.

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