Erika Yanil Faraoni, PhD
Erika is a scientist currently studying how diet influences tumor development and novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Erika Yanil Faraoni, PhD
Erika is a scientist currently studying how diet influences tumor development and novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.


Much has been said lately about the power of acidic beverages to improve glycemic control. But before you reach for that vinegar bottle, let me share with you what science says about these drinks and their impact on our daily carbohydrate intake. 

What is vinegar?

Versatile and flavorful, vinegar is an aqueous solution that results from a two-step processthe anaerobic conversion of sugars to ethanol by yeasts followed by the bacterial aerobic oxidation of ethanol into acetic acid. This naturally fermented product was first found in Egyptian urns and Babylon around 5000 B.C. and since then many cultures have used it as a sour-tasting drink, a condiment, a food preservative, and as a wound healer. 

The word vinegar derives from the Old French vin aigre, which means sour wine; however, vinegar can also be made from rice, wheat, and other fruit juices such as apple, grape, and coconut juice. Over the years, the food industry diversified vinegar production into a wide range of acetic acid-related products, such as salad dressings, pickled products, and sourdough-based recipes. 

Vinegar reduces the impact of starchy foods on blood sugar

Starches are a group of complex carbohydrates like bread, cereal, and pasta, which are made of lots of simple sugars strung together. When we eat starchy foods, our body breaks those down to generate glucose, which it uses for energy once it reaches circulation. This generates insulin spikes which are usually temporary in a healthy person; however, repeated blood sugar spikes can cause lethargy and hunger. Over time, they may lead to metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes. 

Several scientific studies have shown that consuming vinegar either before or in combination with starchy foods, such as bread, rice, bagels and cereal bars, helps reduce post-meal glucose spikes in both healthy adults and patients with glucose disorders. 

Pouring Apple Cider Vinegar in a Measuring Cup
Consuming vinegar either before or in combination with starchy foods helps reduce post-meal glucose spikes.

For example, drinking 20 grams of apple cider vinegar (~1.5 US tbsp) mixed in a glass of water before eating a bagel with juice reduced blood glucose spikes in half compared to having the same meal without vinegar. Having white bread with vinegar also reduced blood sugar spikes post-meal. Eating rice with 11 grams of vinegar (~¾ of a US tbsp) or pickled foods reduced blood sugar levels by 20-35%.  Drinking 30 mL of vinegar (2 US tbsp) diluted in water 5 min before a starchy meal  reduced blood sugar levels by around 20%. Lemon juice intake seems to reduce the glycemic response to bread.

How does vinegar reduce glucose spikes?

The benefits of vinegar intake in reducing blood sugar spikes are associated with its acidic properties. Starch digestion starts in the mouth with the enzyme salivary α-amylase, which is stable when the pH is between 4.5 and 7.0. Once in the stomach, enzymatic digestion continues until the increasing acidity of the stomach (pH  between 3.0 and 3.8) inactivates the salivary α-amylase. Digestion continues with other enzymes that effectively function under acidic conditions. Starch digestion is then completed in the small intestine, where glucose is finally absorbed and released into circulation. 

During the first 30 minutes of gastric digestion, α-amylase can digest up to half of the starch from bread before it’s inactivated by the acidic environment of the stomach. However, pairing foods with vinegar or lemon at the time of ingestion accelerates inactivation of α-amylase, lowering the release of glucose until digestion can be completed in the small intestine. This ultimately lowers the amount of glucose that reaches the bloodstream. Pairing vinegar, pickled foods or lemon juice with starchy meals reduces blood sugar levels by 20–50%. 

Cooked and cooled potatoes in the skin and rice with pasta
Pairing starchy foods with vinegar or lemon accelerates inactivation of α-amylase, the enzyme that digests starch. This ultimately lowers the amount of glucose that reaches the bloodstream.

Vinegar may suppress appetite and  help you stay full longer

Studies with a single exposure to vinegar showed that pairing it with meals suppressed appetite for up to 2 hours post-meal in a mixed population regardless of age or health status. In a separate study, vinegar was found to increase feelings of fullness. Drinking acidic beverages with starchy meals may also delay the time it takes for food to empty out of the stomach.

These data are promising as simply pairing starchy foods with vinegar or lemon beverages may potentially help you delay hunger and potentially improve your energy and mood after a meal.

Tips and tricks to sour your meals

Adding around 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar as dressing or diluted in beverages, or drinking a glass of lemon juice during meals can be enough to lower glucose spikes and improve your glycemic profile. You can consume vinegar during mealtimes as salad dressing, paired with a starchy meal or diluted into a glass of plain water.

Other acidic complements used in studies include apple cider, wine, and grape vinegar with a dose per meal of approximately 10-30 grams, which is equivalent to 2-6 tablespoons

Vinegar pouring into fresh salad bowl. White background.
Vinegar can be consumed during mealtimes as salad dressing, paired with a starchy meal or diluted into a glass of plain water.

Is it safe to consume vinegar?

It’s important to highlight that these small amounts of vinegar and lemon juice are safe for the digestive epithelium, since their pH (between 2-3 for both) is comparable to that of gastric juice and to several commercially available acidic beverages like Colas, Tonic waters and sport drinks. However, taking too much can be harmful and cause several serious side effects like stomach ulcers.

The bottom line

Blood sugar spikes represent an important field of study, and many efforts have been made to find non-pharmacologic approaches that lower blood sugar levels. 

The successful reduction in glucose spikes observed when consuming starchy meals in combination with vinegar, pickled foods or lemon drinks is encouraging, as it’s a simple and easy habit to incorporate in our daily eating routine.

I’m excited to give this a try already. I hope that by reading this post, you start pairing your starchy meals with acidic drinks! 


Erika Yanil Faraoni, PhD

Erika is a science communicator with a passion for writing and teaching. She has a PhD in endocrine tumors and is currently working as a postdoctoral scientist studying how diet influences tumor development and novel therapeutic strategies for the treatment of pancreatic cancer.

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