We tend to think of vinegar mostly for salad dressing, but it actually has a long history as a folk medicine to ease such conditions as headaches and indigestion. Now several studies highlight vinegar's benefit for weight management and blood sugar control. Mark Stengler, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor and founder and medical director of the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine in Encinitas, California, tells why this common product is so uncommonly helpful-and how to use it for better health...

Researchers believe that it is the acetic acid in any type of vinegar (apple cider, balsamic, white or red wine) that produces the health effect, interfering with enzymes involved in the digestion of carbohydrates and those that alter glucose metabolism (so that insulin does not spike).

One study found that mice fed a high-fat diet-and given acetic acid-developed up to 10% less body fat than those not given acetic acid. Another study found that having small amounts of vinegar at bedtime seemed to reduce waking blood glucose levels in people. Adding vinegar to a meal slows the glycemic response-the rate at which carbohydrates are absorbed into the bloodstream-by 20%.

Reason: Again, the acetic acid in vinegar seems to slow the emptying of the stomach, which reduces risk for hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), a risk factor for heart disease, and helps people with type 2 diabetes manage their condition.

Ways to add vinegar to meals: Use malt vinegar on thick-cut oven fries... marinate sliced tomatoes and onions in red-wine vinegar before adding the vegetables to a sandwich... mix two parts red wine vinegar with one part olive oil, and use two tablespoons on a green salad... mix a tablespoon or two with soy sauce, olive oil, garlic and herbs for a meat marinade.

For blood sugar balance (for those with diabetes or on diabetes medication) or for weight loss, dilute one to two tablespoons (some people start with teaspoons) in an equal amount of water-and drink it at the beginning of a meal.

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