Could vinegar actually reduce the tendency of certain foods to cause weight gain?

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Whilst I endeavour to eat a broadly healthy diet, the hedonist in me sometimes surfaces and urges me to eat something I know is somewhat suspect from a nutritional standpoint. From time to time, for instance, I like to indulge in some fish and chips. As it happens, my local chippy does offer salmon and trout, which although deep-fired, at least contain health-giving omega-3 fats. Unfortunately, there really is no similar nutritional justification for the chips that accompany the fish: potato is a relatively unnutritious vegetable, and one that releases its sugar relatively rapidly into the bloodstream. The biochemical changes that result will tend to stimulate fat production and may also stall its burning within the body. There’s really no getting away from the fact that eating piles of chips will tend to pile on the pounds.

Recently, I was interested to read of research which suggests that the weight-gaining effects of chips might be tempered by the addition of vinegar to them. Being acidic, vinegar has the ability to impair the alkali-activated digestive enzymes involved in the digestion of starch, thereby helping to slow release of sugar from food into the bloodstream. Studies in animals also indicate that the acid in vinegar can help the uptake of sugar from the blood stream into the body’s cells. In combination, these effects would be expected to help to reduce the blood sugar level rise that comes after eating.

This theory was put to the test in a study published last year in the journal Diabetes Care. The addition of vinegar to a meal was, indeed, found to reduce the overall rise in blood sugar levels (also known as the glycaemic index or GI) associated with it. This may have significant benefits for the body as a reduction in GI will reduce the tendency for the body to make fat after a meal, and will also help to preserve the body’s ability to burn fat as a fuel.

Vinegar’s ability to lower the GI of the foods it is eaten with may have other boons for those seeking to attain or maintain a healthy weight. Several studies show that lower GI meals tend to sate the appetite more than higher GI ones. Overall, the evidence suggests that a decrease in the glycaemic index of a meal of about a third will roughly double the satisfaction derived from that meal. Vinegar’s ability to lower GI may therefore help to protect against weight gain by putting a brake on the amount of food eaten subsequently.

The evidence suggests that the addition of vinegar to relatively high GI meals or foods is likely to help weight maintenance in the long term. Commonly eaten foods which may benefit from a vinegary addition include wheat-based breads, rice and pasta. Dipping bread into olive oil and balsamic vinegar makes sense, as does accompanying rice and pasta with a salad dressed with oil and vinegar. The addition of vinegar is also a useful trick for those who eat occasional fish and chip suppers but are nonetheless keen to keep excess weight at bay.

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