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Ah, the Smell of Vinegar in the Morning

My friend Terry told me how—while holding her nose because it tastes so bad—she takes a spoonful of vinegar mixed in water every morning.

"Is there really anything to this?" she asked me. "I mean health-wise."

Here’s what I found out, Terry:

Vinegar has been around for thousands of years, according to a 2006 review article on this topic in MedGenMed. It probably began when unattended grape juice fermented to wine which further fermented into vinegar. In fact, vinegar gets its name from the French word for "sour wine."

Most any carbohydrate-containing food can be fermented to vinegar, including apples, berries, grapes and rice. The process of fermentation alters the chemical nature of food, say scientists, which contributes to its health value. For example, antioxidant compounds called polyphenols are produced during fermentation; these substances are currently being studied for their potential to prevent or improve conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Perhaps the most evidence for vinegar’s effect on health involves its role in helping to lower blood sugar levels in people with or without diabetes. Studies on humans have shown that doses of vinegar (usually between 2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons a day) helped slow the rise in blood sugars after a meal by as much as 20% compared to those who did not take vinegar. Researchers theorize this may be due to acetic acid in vinegar that keeps sugars and starches (carbohydrates) in food from being completely digested.

Other studies hint that vinegar may help control our appetites (maybe because we have to hold our noses to get it down?). In any case, when compared to a similar dose of unsweetened cranberry juice, volunteers who took 2 tablespoons of red raspberry vinegar daily for a month lost more weight.

Most studies on vinegar and cancer have been done with animals, namely rats. However, in laboratory studies on human cancer cells, scientists were encouraged to learn that Japanese rice vinegar "Kurosu" and a vinegar made from sugar cane called "Kibizu" slowed the growth of certain cancerous cells.

As usual with health claims, experts say we need more well-conducted research before we can be absolutely sure about the health benefits of vinegar. For example, "mother" of vinegar refers to a harmless slime that grows on the surface of vinegar as it ferments over time. Claims that this is the good stuff for your health have not been substantiated.

In the meantime, vinegar is a great accompaniment to salads, meats and other foods we enjoy daily. Nutritionally, 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar has zero calories, zero fat, zero sodium and zero carbs. Splash it on salads, meats and other foods you enjoy. Or hold your nose and drink it.

Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Box Butte General Hospital. She is the author of Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating, Westbow, 2015. Email her at