Wouldn’t it be terrific if there were a simple ingredient you could add to your meals that would act like an anchor, keeping blood sugar from rising too high? As it turns out, there is. It’s acetic acid, the sour-tasting compound that gives that characteristic tang to vinegar, pickles, and sourdough bread.
The effect can be quite dramatic. In one small study, people who ate a buttered 3-ounce (85-g) bagel and orange juice—a high-GL breakfast— saw their blood sugar shoot up in the next hour. But when they also drank about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (with artificial sweetener added to improve the taste), their blood sugar levels after the meal were 50 percent lower! A similar 50 percent reduction in blood sugar happened when they had the vinegar along with a chicken-and-rice meal.
How does acetic acid make it happen? Scientists aren’t sure, but they do know that it interferes with the enzymes that break apart the chemical bonds in starches and the kinds of sugars found in table sugar and milk. This means it takes your body longer to break down those foods into blood sugar. Other researchers believe acetic acid keeps foods in the stomach longer so they aren’t digested as quickly. Acetic acid may also speed up the rate at which glucose is moved out of the bloodstream and into muscle cells for storage. No matter how it works, it does, and taking advantage of it is as easy as adding vinegar to salads and other foods and having a pickle with your sandwich at lunchtime. Lemon juice also has “pucker power” and seems to help control blood sugar.