What are the health benefits (and side effects) of balsamic vinegar?
Here is our new post about the benefits, medical uses and side effects of balsamic vinegar. You will also learn about whether to use balsamic vinegar in pregnancy or not.
The main origin of the balsamic vinegar is Italy and it has become popular throughout the world. The traditional balsamic vinegar is made by reducing the cooked white Trebbiano grape juice and is used as a condiment (a substance used as a flavor). It has been made since the middle Ages in Modena and Reggio Emilia and it has also been mentioned in a old holy documents. Different modern chefs and food lovers value balsamic vinegar very much. The balsamic vinegar of Modena is quite inexpensive and is widely available in different markets around the world. It is commonly found in salad dressings and used in restaurants. No balsam (an aromatic substance emitted by different plants and trees and used in fragrance and cosmetic preparations) is present in balsamic vinegar.
Types of balsamic vinegar
Now let us look at the different types of balsamic vinegar present in the market. Balsamic vinegar can be widely classified into three types which are Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale (traditional balsamic vinegar), Condimento grade balsamic vinegar and the Balsamic Vinegar of Modena. These three types of balsamic vinegar have been mentioned below:
- Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale – The only two businesses which produce the true traditional balsamic vinegar are Reggio Emilia and Modena. The true balsamic vinegar is made from Lambrusco and Trebbiano grapes. The thick syrup which is formed is aged for about 12 years in different small barrels. Different woods like Juniper, chestnut, oak and mulberry are made from these casks. The true balsamic vinegar has a rich and deep brown color and has a complex kind of flavor. Different ages of balsamic vinegar are given by their color by Reggio Emilia. A red label points out that the vinegar is at least 12 years old; a silver label shows that the age of the vinegar is 18 years whereas a gold label shows that the vinegar has been aged for about 25 years.
- Condimento grade balsamic binegar – There are different names for this balsamic vinegar, such as salsa balsamica or condimento balsamico. There are many ways to make condimento balsamic vinegar. It can be made from the aged Reggio Emilia, but without the supervision of consortium. It can also be made by the same method as tradizionale balsamic vinegar but is made from the producers present outside Reggio Emilia and Modena. It can also be made by adding grape juice to ordinary balsamic vinegar. There is no standard system to measure this type of vinegar and its quality can’t be known from its packaging alone.
- Balsamic vinegar of Modena – These are the commercial grade products and they are just like the traditional product. They are made from wine vinegar by adding coloring, corn flour and caramel in order to simulate the thickness of the aged Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale de Modena. It requires almost two months to receive IGP (Posted in Buyer’s Guide) status. The manufacturing process is quite industrialized and about hundred liters per day are produced by ordinary producers.
Ingredients and nutritional values of balsamic vinegar
Different balsamic vinegar have different ingredients in them, but they all contain one common ingredient which is grapes. The main thing that makes the balsamic vinegar unique is that the vinegar is mixed with grapes which produces a good and healthy taste.
The production of vinegar starts with the fermentation of grapes. The blend and flavor is given to the balsamic vinegar by adding must (the cooked part of grapes). The two major types of balsamic vinegar are traditional and domestic. Reggio and Modena are the places from where the traditional balsamic vinegar is obtained.The production of traditional balsamic vinegar is quite complex and lengthy. Some kinds of traditional vinegars can age for many decades and create a rich and sweet flavor. But they are high in cost. The domestic balsamic vinegar is generally made in the United States and is available at lower costs.
Balsamic vinegar is actually a mixture of different foods which makes it get big flavors with only a limited calories.
There are about 14 calories present in one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and it contains no fats or proteins. There are about two grams of sugar and carbohydrates in one table spoon of balsamic vinegar. This makes balsamic vinegar a good alternative to different high-caloric sauces.
There are different nutritional advantages of balsamic vinegar. Different electrolytes are present in balsamic vinegar that include zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, calcium, sodium and potassium. But the most important nutritional bonus present in balsamic vinegar comes from the phytonutrient flavonoids. Flavonoids are actually antioxidants with a wide range of health benefits like boosting heart and brain health and improving the blood sugar levels.
A common use of balsamic vinegar in different foods is the salad dressing. Balsamic vinegar has a slightly acidic fruit flavor which makes it a good alternative to different tasty sauces. You can sprinkle balsamic vinegar on different fruits like peaches and strawberries.
Health benefits of balsamic vinegar
Now let us look at some health benefits of balsamic vinegar, which are described below:
Low caloric content
One of the major benefit of balsamic vinegar is that it has a low caloric content. It can make any dish tasty without adding much calories to it. There are a minimum of 5 calories per teaspoon in Balsamic Vinegar according to the USDA National Nutrient Database (1). This is lesser as compared to other alternatives like olive oil which contains 45 calories. So, you should use balsamic vinegar because it has low calories and is a healthier alternative to other foods.
Effect on cholesterol
Balsamic vinegar is quite helpful in normalizing the blood cholesterol levels. The dangerous cholesterol which blocks the arteries is the LDL or Low-density Lipoprotein cholesterol. It can cause clogging and hardening of blood vessels. The effect of balsamic vinegar on LDL was found by some researchers back in 2010 (2). The research showed that balsamic vinegar has inhibitory effect on LDL oxidation, which means that balsamic vinegar is quite beneficial against LDL cholesterol and the phenols from the balsamic vinegar inhibit the oxidation of LDL cholesterol. This benefit actually lowers the risk of the damage to the cells from the LDL or harmful cholesterol. You can sprinkle balsamic vinegar on your lunch to keep your cholesterol in check and within healthy levels.
Balsamic vinegar for blood pressure
Blood pressure is the amount of force put on the arterial walls by the blood. A research at Arizona State University looked into the benefits of vinegar for the heart health in 2006. Research found that balsamic vinegar can normalize the blood pressure levels of the body because it reduces the hardening of arteries and atherosclerosis. Researchers are of the view that regular intake of balsamic vinegar can reduce the systolic blood pressure value by about 20 millimeters of mercury. Systolic pressure is the number at the top of the blood pressure reading and finds out the blood pressure during heart beats. Balsamic vinegar is beneficial for human beings but further research needs to be conducted in order to confirm its effectiveness.
Stabilizing the blood glucose levels
The glycemic index of balsamic vinegar is quite low. This system classifies the foods on how they affect the blood sugar levels. The glucose levels are raised by low glycemic index foods but they go back after sometime. The blood sugar levels are raised by high glycemic foods and remains elevated for long. You should consume low glycemic index foods like balsamic vinegar to counter this problem. These foods have the ability to keep a person satisfied for longer durations of time. Balsamic vinegar is low-glycemic food but you still need to be careful with it if you are a diabetic because it contains sugar in it. Research has also shown that balsamic vinegar is quite helpful for lowering the glucose levels of the body (3). One particular research was conducted in 2005 in which the researchers concluded that adding balsamic vinegar to the diet can dramatically lower the blood glucose levels of the body.
Balsamic vinegar for acid reflux
Let us now view the benefits of balsamic vinegar for acid reflux. The human stomach is basically designed for breaking foods into smaller and easily digestible particles. The stomach begins to age with the passage of time and less stomach acid is produced. This can cause poor digestion and causes different ailments such as stomach discomfort and loss of appetite. Acid reflux is one of these digestive problems. The stomach washes itself into the esophagus which causes damage to the sensitive tissues in acid reflux. This causes a sudden pain in the chest which goes directly into the throat. It can be quite dangerous and can cause eating and sleeping problems. The simple solution to counter acid reflux is to add balsamic vinegar to the diet. You can sprinkle balsamic vinegar into your food. This will be quite helpful against acid reflux and boost the digestive system. You can also drink one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar mixed with honey before meals.
Balsamic vinegar and gluten
Balsamic vinegar is gluten free. Balsamic vinegar isn’t a true vinegar because it is made from the grape juices which are aged in wooden casks. The traditional balsamic vinegar has an age of 12 years and sometimes it is more than 25 years. There is a probability that the gluten paste is used to seal the casks have vinegar in them. But only extremely sensitive people are bothered by this fact. It tests for about 20 parts per million. It is usually safe to eat a gluten free diet. Some of the imitation balsamic vinegar contains simply wine vinegar along with some added ingredients like thickeners for stimulating the traditional balsamic vinegar. You should check the label to see what you have in the balsamic vinegar.
Balsamic vinegar and weight
The good news about balsamic vinegar is that it can help you lose weight. There are low amounts of calories present in balsamic vinegar and it is rich in acetic acid which is the ingredient extremely helpful in different weight loss programs. It has an aromatic and sweet flavor and can be used to put in dishes and to make sauces. There are about 43 calories present in balsamic vinegar which makes it a good substitute for high-fat dressings and is an excellent low-calorie food. The passage of food through the gastrointestinal tract is slowed down by the acetic acid present in balsamic vinegar. It will help you to stay full and prolong your feelings of satisfaction and keep the hunger away. The potassium present in balsamic vinegar can also reduces the appetite of a person. The sugar level of a person doesn’t become that much high when the balsamic vinegar is consumed with carbohydrate containing foods.
Protecting the body against free radicals
Polyphenols are present in balsamic vinegar which make it a powerful antioxidant. That’s why, it protects the body against different internal and external harmful factors that damage the tissue and cells. The formation of free radicals changes or destroys the cell membranes when the process of oxidation takes place in the human body. It can lead to DNA mutation, premature aging and cancer. The polyphenols present in balsamic vinegar are quite beneficial and destroy the free radicals and help the body fight against different kinds of diseases and improves the immune system of the body. The intake of balsamic vinegar can also prevent the signs of illness such as wrinkles. Balsamic vinegar is made from different grapes which contain a bioflavonoid called quercetin. Quercetin has anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties in it and improves and strengthens the immune system of the body.
Balsamic vinegar and gastritis symptoms
Polyphenols are present in balsamic vinegar. These polyphenols increase the activity and release of pepsins. Pepsins are quite effective digestive enzymes and helps in breaking the proteins and speed the metabolism and also increase the digestion. The acetic acid content in balsamic vinegar is quite high and helps in stimulating gastric and salivary juices and helps in breaking down foods into smaller and simpler forms and helps in better digestion of the food. Balsamic vinegar can produce less hydrochloric acid when used in proper and limited dosages. The acetic acid has the power to establish the proper pH levels in the body and helps the stomach to produce large quantities of hydrochloric acid. Small parts of balsamic vinegar are also used in the Modena region in Italy to relieve heartburn, neutralize acid reflux and help in digestion.
Medical uses of balsamic vinegar
Let us now look at the medical uses of balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar has a number of medical uses. Some of these benefits have been mentioned below:
Balsamic vinegar has been used for treating different kinds of ailments for centuries. It has antiviral, antifungal and antibacterial properties in it. Balsamic vinegar has been used for treating different infections and wounds.
Remedy for pain
Folk healers have suggested that balsamic vinegar is quite helpful in relieving the body pain. The energy of a person can also be increased by the intake of balsamic vinegar. It is also quite useful as a revitalizing tonic.
As an antioxidant
Balsamic vinegar is quite rich in antioxidant rich plant compounds. The different polyphenols present in balsamic vinegar make it a powerful antioxidant. The immune system of the body is also boosted due to balsamic vinegar. Different heart diseases and cancer can also be prevented by the intake of balsamic vinegar.
Effects on cardiovascular system
The research on the effects of balsamic vinegar is still going on but an early Japanese study has shown good results (4). It was reported in the study that there is a significant reduction in systolic blood pressure in the hypersensitive rats following the use of balsamic vinegar. The hypersensitive rats which were given the same diet mixed with water had no effect on their systolic blood pressure. More research on blood pressure and balsamic vinegar is still going on in Japan.
Atherosclerosis results in thickening and rupturing of arterial walls. Low density lipoproteins or LDLs are generally harmful for the body and help in transporting cholesterol in the bloodstream. The main cause of atherosclerosis is the building up of LDL in the blood vessels, which can leave the LDL quite vulnerable to oxidation. Oxidized LDLs are quite dangerous for the human body and can cause atherosclerosis. An abundance of polyphenols are present in balsamic vinegar which limit the transportation of LDLs and decreases the scavenger receptors (receptors which recognize LDLs and aid in their oxidation).
Balsamic vinegar is quite helpful against diabetes. A study was conducted in the Arizona State University in which the researchers found out that balsamic vinegar is quite helpful in reducing diabetes (5, 6). The study showed that vinegar is quite helpful in balancing the blood sugar levels. This in turn improves the ability of hormone insulin to transport the sugar into the cells where it is burned for producing energy. So, balsamic vinegar is the recommended diet for people with diabetes in order to control their blood sugar levels.
Balsamic vinegar during pregnancy
Now let us see whether balsamic vinegar is beneficial for pregnancy or not. Many pregnant women aren’t sure on using balsamic vinegar. There are certain harmful substances present in it but large quantity has to be consumed to harm the fetus.
Some traces of lead are present in balsamic vinegar. Women are therefore, concerned that it is harmful for the fetus and can harm both the woman and the baby. There are different signs which indicate that this sauce contains lead which may be harmful for the baby and may cause some fetal problems. But you should know that balsamic vinegar contains quite low amounts of lead and only high levels of lead can cause problems. A person consumes more lead from tap water than from balsamic vinegar.
Some women believe that drinking balsamic vinegar can cause labor (the process of delivering the child) during pregnancy. But the truth is that there is no scientific study which confirms that consuming balsamic vinegar can induce labor.
The intense flavor present in balsamic vinegar acts as a salt substitute which influences the sodium intake. Balsamic vinegar isn’t totally sodium free but has low sodium content. Swelling is caused in the body of a pregnant women but the swelling can be reduced by limiting the sodium intake. Experts recommend that about 1500 mg or less of sodium should be consumed by a pregnant woman every day. Balsamic vinegar is helpful in limiting sodium intake because it contains low sodium content compared to other sauces.
Iron is also needed by women during pregnancy. This extra amount of iron helps in making red blood cells for the body. There are 0.12 mg of iron present in balsamic vinegar. This isn’t much but still, it is quite beneficial for pregnant women.
So, we see that some of the common misconceptions about balsamic vinegar aren’t true like they aren’t poisonous and they don’t induce labor. Balsamic vinegar are quite beneficial for pregnant women due to their low sodium content and their iron content. So, pregnant women should definitely use balsamic vinegar.
Side effects of balsamic vinegar
Balsamic vinegar has only few side effects. The major ones are shown below:
- Balsamic vinegar is a bit acidic and it can cause damage to the teeth. The reason is that the pH of balsamic vinegar is around 4 and any food which has a pH lower than 4 can cause tooth erosion.
- There is some concern that balsamic vinegar contains lead in it. Research also supports that different levels of lead are present in balsamic vinegar (7). But the balsamic vinegar lead content is quite low. You would have to consume about 2 cups of balsamic vinegar every day to have enough lead in your body.
- Balsamic vinegar is quite low in calories. But still these low calories are more than those present in other types of vinegar.
Balsamic vinegar infographics
Here is a brief overview of health benefits and side effects of balsamic vinegar in an infographics. Feel free to share it with your friends if you found this information useful.
Now you have all information you need about benefits and side effects of balsamic vinegar and about its use in pregnancy. While balsamic vinegar is quite beneficial for us and can be consumed in moderation even in pregnancy. However you should never take anything for granted and while we tried to backup the article with scientific references you should always ask your physician whether you may or may not consume balsamic vinegar.
|Written by:||Michal Vilímovský (EN)|
|Education:||Medical student, 3rd Faculty of Medicine, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic|
|Article resources:||See numbered references within the article.|
|Published:||August 3, 2015 1:45 AM|
|Last updated:||August 5, 2015 9:30 PM|
|Next scheduled update:||August 5, 2017 9:30 PM|