Should you drink vinegar to control your blood sugar levels? We could answer that with another question: do you really need to control it? This is not an unreasonable thing to ponder, as fluctuations in blood glucose are completely normal and, if we are healthy, our body handles them with ease. In other words, this is not something that you should worry about.
There is a belief that any rise in blood glucose is inherently harmful, and this drives some people to obsessively try to control blood glucose peaks as if it were actually useful for the general population. The truth is that if you do not have glucose management issues, drinking vinegar is not something you need to incorporate into your life anytime soon. And if you do have a problem – be it insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes – drinking vinegar will not improve your condition and should in no way be considered proper treatment.
So, does vinegar affect blood sugar or is it a myth?
Yes, it does. It is true that vinegar intake reduces postprandial blood glucose when it accompanies meals rich in complex carbohydrates. This is a crucial point, because if a person takes it to avoid glycemic peaks after having some candy or a soft drink (which are rich in simple sugars), it does not work so well.
Vinegar helps control blood glucose mainly through two mechanisms: on one hand, it delays gastric emptying, making the food take longer to reach the intestine and lengthening the digestion; and on the other, it controls blood glucose due to the effect of the acetic acid on the enzymes that hydrolyze the carbohydrate chains (breaking them down into glucose molecules), hindering this process and, therefore, delaying the absorption of the molecules. But this knowledge is not even remotely new. So why is drinking vinegar not recommended by nutritionists to everyone, everywhere?
Simple: because it is just one of many things that can soften the blood glucose curve, and not the first choice when a patient needs this kind of control, as nutrition professionals steer clear of deceptively simple solutions to very complex problems.
More distracting than helpful
The main mistake when it comes to this kind of idea is failing to contextualize them correctly. Implying that drinking vinegar has a crucial or relevant role in our health and devising “methods” that revolve around this practice is not a good approach, even if it starts from an attractive, tantalizing premise.
When it comes to preventing diseases, this can actually distract us from the important actions that must be taken. In this specific case, drinking vinegar as a way to avoid abnormally high blood glucose levels and prevent type 2 diabetes (or to improve the condition of a patient who already has it) will divert attention from what is actually useful and necessary.
This is an example of how, starting from a fact that is technically true, health advice can be distorted, shifting the focus to the wrong things:
- More attention is paid to the impact on blood glucose than to the contents of what is being eaten. A pastry is not only unhealthy because it raises the blood sugar, but also because of its ingredients. If we eat it while using strategies to slow the rise in blood glucose, it will be just as unhealthy.
- Fruit is not worse than sausages because it has a greater impact on blood glucose. We could be displacing healthy foods based on poorly substantiated criteria, or thinking that extra precautions (drinking vinegar) are necessary to consume them.
- Controlling the glycemic index is not a valid parameter to determine the suitability of a certain diet, and taking that approach to choose foods will not lessen the cardiovascular risk or insulin resistance.
How to deal with type 2 diabetes?
Changing your habits will significantly improve your chances of suffering from diabetes (or in controlling the disease, if you already have it). There are three main factors that you should pay attention to – and none of them is drinking vinegar.
- Lifestyle: the Standards of Medical Care in Diabetes of the American Diabetes Association mentions lifestyle changes as the most efficient measure to improve this pathology. Diet, healthy weight and physical activity are the fundamental pillars. Regarding diet, the guide states: “Evidence suggests that the overall quality of food consumed [...] with an emphasis on whole grains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables and minimal refined and processed foods, is also associated with a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.” Drinking vinegar is not mentioned once in the entire guide.
- Genetics: some people have a greater predisposition to suffer from a specific pathology, and diabetes could be one among them. Prevention plays a crucial role in this case, which brings us back to the matter of lifestyle, which is what will help curb the risk.
- Pharmacology: after the pathology has been established, pharmacological control with oral antidiabetics, insulin injections or any other strategy determined by a doctor may be necessary. However, taking medication does not exempt the patient from complying with the previous points, which will help control the disease, improve symptoms and increase quality of life.
So, if you decide to drink vinegar, keep in mind that you are disregarding the previous recommendations. It will not be a legitimate strategy (even if it technically can reduce the blood glucose curve at some point), and that if you maintain proper habits – and take medication, if indicated – it will not make a substantial difference in the long term.
And above all, if you are a healthy person, remember that your body is perfectly capable of managing glycemic variations, which on the other hand are completely normal and not a cause for concern. What is going to protect you from diabetes is your overall diet and physical activity, not the vinegar you might drink to flatten the spike in blood sugar from eating a banana.
Lucía Martínez Argüelles (@Dimequecomes), is a dietitian and nutritionist with a master’s degree in nutrigenomics and personalized nutrition. She is the director of the Aleris Nutrition Center, in Madrid, and author of several books and the blog www.dimequecomes.com (in Spanish).