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-backed 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.