The surprising truth about vinegar

From personal and clinical experience I know that a little apple cider vinegar added to food helps with digestion and that if culinary herbs are added to the vinegar this increases the digestive potency and makes the vinegar more flavoursome. To give you an example: If you have difficulty digesting raw cabbage, try slicing the cabbage finely, shaking over a little herbal or plain vinegar, leaving it stand for about 30-60 minutes and then adding the other salad vegetables. When used in this way, the vinegar begins to predigest the cabbage. However, you can’t do this with all foods and some require cooking to make them digestible and palatable. Plants in the cabbage family are very healthy but in a few people they cause severe bloating.

There are many different types of vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is commonly used and is linked to many folk remedies and a few books have been written about its therapeutic value. Good quality apple cider vinegar contains ‘mother’, (webby material) so don’t think that this is a harmful contaminant. Balsamic vinegar is the most expensive and the tastiest but there is little research or therapeutic information. Other types used in cooking and preserving include rice, wine, and malt vinegars.


A digestive herbal vinegar recipe

3-4 teaspoons of powdered or crushed herbs such as ginger, turmeric, mustard, fenugreek, caraway, coriander, cumin
1-2 teabags of a herb such as chamomile, peppermint, lemon balm
1 handful of fresh herbs choosing from thyme, sage, basil, tarragon, rosemary, oregano, verbena, lemon grass. (Large leaves should be cut.)
Put the herbs into a spare bottle, cover with a dietary vinegar, label and date, shake, leave standing on its side for a few days and then use. The vinegar acts as a preservative and draws the components out of the herbs, and it should keep for at least six months. Once the fluid is used, the herbs are ‘exhausted’ and you need to make a fresh batch. The constituents are optional and you can use various culinerary herbs and spices, plus add in chilli and garlic if you wish.


You might wonder how anyone could write a book on vinegar telling you that it has 308 uses, is a remedy for over 30 health problems and will give you a longer, healthier, happier life. This is, of course, greatly exaggerated and may refer to studies on isolated compounds or the nutrient content of apples rather than a few teaspoons of vinegar.

We know that vinegar has a long history of use and evidence has been found in dwellings to show that during the time of the Roman Empire people made homemade vinegar from wild applies and cherries and used it for various medicinal purposes. If you know the nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill you will recall that when Jack “fell down and broke his crown” vinegar and brown paper was used to fix it. When I first started work as a naturopath, if people had sprains or swollen joints (without broken skin) we would give them a bottle of apple cider vinegar and a roll of brown paper. At home, the patients would pour the vinegar over a piece of brown paper and then rest with the damp, folded paper over the swollen area. Try it for yourself.


Scientific studies

  • When mice were given small quantities of dietary vinegar their bones become stronger, and their duodenum crypts (folds) deepened – presumably providing a larger surface area for absorption. The researchers thought that the vinegar improved calcium absorption by making the calcium more soluble, and that the acetic acid in the vinegar had a nutritive effect. (Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, 63; 905-10: 1999). I now suggest to my osteoporotic patients that they add about 1-2 teaspoons of vinegar to their food once or twice daily as an additional treatment.
  • Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high carbohydrate meal such as white rice. (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 57; 743-53: 2003). This means that vinegar makes the insulin work better and the dose would be the same as for osteoporosis prevention above. You are probably familiar with pre-diabetic disorders such as insulin resistance syndrome, hyperinsulinism and syndrome X and you have heard that diabetes is increasing. In addition to changing the diet predominantly to foods that have a low glycaemic index, why not add a few teaspoons of dietary vinegar to one or two meals daily.
  • Ten per cent vinegar in water is quite useful as a wash for removing bacteria from food such as fruit and vegetables. This will not get rid of all the dangers but can significantly reduce E.coli and some other potentially harmful bacteria. A number of studies have confirmed this. You’ve probably noticed how some shoppers painstakingly handle the fresh food in shops but, like me, you are too polite to ask if they have an infection or to enquire about their hand washing!
  • A combination of mustard and acetic acid limits the growth of E. coli and Listeria. (Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 69; 2959-63: 2003). Dietary vinegar contains about 5 per cent acetic acid, plus other acids. To help prevent food poisoning, add some mustard to your herbal vinegar.

Side effects and cautions

My experience is that people with reflux (heartburn) may not tolerate vinegar, although most can handle a little on food. I do not recommend you have vinegar in water on an empty stomach because you don’t need acid in an empty stomach and the vinegar drink tastes awful. A little may be therapeutic but do not have more than two teaspoons per meal.

After taking antibiotics women frequently develop vaginal candida (thrush) or vaginal inflammation and natural therapists used to recommend diluted apple cider vinegar as a douche. Although vinegar has some anti-infection properties I don’t think acid douches are a good way to overcome the problem and suggest you see a qualified practitioner for advice.


The surprising truth about vinegar

By: The WellBeing Team

Not just an old wives’ tale, vinegar has medicinal qualities that will have swollen joints and disgruntled digestive systems feeling better in no time.


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Tried this recipe? Mention @wellbeing_magazine or tag #wbrecipe!

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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