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The extraordinary health benefits of balsamic vinegar

The extraordinary health benefits of balsamic vinegar

Dark, rich and complex-tasting, balsamic vinegar is generally acknowledged as the “king” of all vinegars.  The only variety of vinegar not made from alcohol, balsamic vinegar is instead derived from pressed Italian grapes by way of liquid fermentation - then aged in wooden barrels for a period of two to 50 years.  By the way, the culinary and medicinal use of vinegar dates back at least 5,000 years, with vinegar “aficionados” including such epic historical figures as the renowned Greek physician Hippocrates and the Egyptian princess Cleopatra.

The sky-high levels of beneficial polyphenols and amino acids in balsamic vinegar set it apart from other vinegars - and are likely responsible for its impressive disease-fighting properties.  Let’s examine three of the surprising gifts to health offered by this premium vinegar.

Balsamic vinegar helps to fight type 2 diabetes and heart disease

Vinegar has a long history of medicinal use to treat diabetes.  Before the days of insulin, in fact, diabetics drank vinegar “teas” to help manage symptoms.

And, science backs this traditional natural intervention.  According to an older review published in Medscape General Medicine, balsamic vinegar has anti-glycemic effects, meaning that it can help to reduce undesirable blood sugar “spikes” after meals.  The scientists reported that the blood glucose-stabilizing effect of balsamic vinegar was so effective that it created a blood sugar “plateau” for up to five hours after a meal!  A newer (2020) study published in the Journal of Functional Foods supports these findings, with the researchers reporting that balsamic vinegar improves insulin sensitivity and blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.

Since diabetes is linked to higher rates of heart disease, it’s good to know that consuming balsamic vinegar can help lower to high blood pressure – a known risk factor.  In addition, balsamic vinegar contains proanthocyanidins - natural plant pigments found in grapes.  These compounds help reduce the “stickiness” of blood platelets, making them less likely to coagulate into dangerous clots.  Balsamic vinegar’s anti-inflammatory properties also support heart health.

Improve gut health, immune system health and digestion

Acetic acid in balsamic vinegar contains beneficial strains of probiotics - live organisms that help support the community of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract.  Not only do these probiotics help boost gut health, but they support the immune system as well.  (With 80 percent of the immune system located in the gut, it’s not surprising that the two are closely linked).

Rich in amino acids, balsamic vinegar just happens to contain all three of the “building blocks” – cysteine, glycine and glutamate – needed to produce glutathione, the body’s most important disease-fighting antioxidant enzyme.  Many of the amino acids in balsamic vinegar have antioxidant effects, allowing them to neutralize harmful free radicals that can trigger oxidative damage and disease.  And catechin, a flavonoid found in balsamic vinegar, also has disease-fighting and antioxidant effects.

Not only does balsamic vinegar promote efficient digestion, but it has a somewhat surprising reputation as a possible home remedy for easing heartburn and acid reflux.  Although it might seem that this tangy, spicy condiment is the sort of food that should be avoided when heartburn strikes, many sufferers report that it is, in fact, effective for them.  Experts recommend trying small amounts of balsamic vinegar and waiting a few hours to see if it helps alleviate the discomfort.

May help lose weight and combat obesity

While not a “magic weight-loss potion” by any means, balsamic vinegar is still a wholesome, low-calorie, fat-free nutrient that supports healthy weight - and can even suppress appetite and contribute to weight loss.  Research has shown that chlorogenic acid found in balsamic vinegar may boost fat metabolism, suppress the accumulation of fat and improve obesity-related hormone levels.

One study showed that 750 mg of acetic acid (the amount found in 15 mL of vinegar) for 12 weeks significantly decreased body weight in obese people, along with total cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) in the blood.  In one placebo-controlled trial, healthy adult women who ingested vinegar at a morning meal consumed less calories throughout the day than the non-vinegar group.  If you’re looking to “save” calories, experts advise using balsamic vinegar in place of butters and oils.

Add robust flavor to recipes with balsamic vinegar

Balsamic vinegar is a flavorful addition to salad dressings, soups, sauces and marinades, and can be used in a glaze to enhance salmon, chicken, pork or beef.

It is also a key player in the classic Caprese salad.  Simply combine fresh tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, virgin olive oil and fresh basil to create this refreshing appetizer.

Or, add a splash of smoky flavor to a quinoa bowl or vegetable dish. Some balsamic vinegar fans even employ it to add an intriguing accent to carbonated drinks, fruit punches and cocktails.

To avoid possible irritation and inflammation of the throat and esophagus, balsamic vinegar intake should be limited to two tablespoons a day.

Balsamic vinegar purists say that the highest-quality vinegars are produced from Tebbiano grapes at two specific sites in Italy - Modena and Reggio Emilia.  Unlike inferior “industrial” balsamic vinegars - which are amplified with wine vinegar, brown sugar or caramel - true balsamic vinegars contain no added sugars.  Check the label to make sure you’re getting a quality product.

Balsamic vinegar is not only richly flavorful but is brimming with nutrients and polyphenols that can act against chronic degenerative disease.  This makes it a fabulous addition to your healthy diet.

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