The Best Vinegars for Diabetes

by David Mendosa Patient Advocate

Vinegar has so many uses, ranging from cooking and canning to cleaning. But it’s especially valuable if you have diabetes. The problem is to learn what type of vinegar to use for cooking, salad dressing, and blood glucose management. People have been using vinegar for at least 5,000 years, so we now have more types than we can count. For people with diabetes, these are the ones to know.

White wine vinegar in a bowl.
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Distilled white vinegar

This is the least expensive and most widely available type of vinegar. It has the most uses, too. Because distilled white vinegar is the most acidic, it has the strongest taste. While people use it more often as a folk remedy, cleaner, disinfectant, pesticide, and in their laundry than in cooking, its clean, crisp flavor works well in salads, marinades, and many recipes.

Bottle of apple cider vinegar and fresh apples.
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Apple cider vinegar

This type costs more than distilled white vinegar, but is the second most common vinegar in our kitchens — with good reason. Unfiltered apple cider vinegar has good flavor and may have many medicinal properties. This strong brown vinegar holds up well to any of the pungent greens that you might like in your salads. The apple cider vinegar I use the most is organic, raw, unfiltered, and unpasteurized.

Wine vinegar in a glass bowl.
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Wine vinegar

Many people prefer red or white wine vinegars, which are less acidic than distilled white or apple cider vinegars. These full-bodied vinegars are as good as apple cider vinegar for bringing out the flavor of the greens in your salad. Champagne and sherry are two of the best specialty wine vinegars. Any of these wine vinegars are good for making marinades or to liven up soup or chili.

Uncooked rice.
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Rice vinegar

This vinegar adds freshness, but with yet lower acidity than wine vinegar. Rice vinegar combines well with sesame oil. Most commonly used in Asian dishes, rice vinegar from Japan has a sweet, light flavor that you may appreciate in vinaigrette or a stir-fry. Chinese rice vinegar is somewhat sharper in taste. If you have diabetes, you may want to avoid seasoned rice vinegar because of its added sugar.

Balsamic vinegar and avocado salad.
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Balsamic vinegar

Real balsamic vinegar comes only from specific regions of Italy and doesn’t have any balsam, which is a fragrant resin. Balsamic vinegar means “curative vinegar.” Save this vinegar for special occasions, like drizzling over fresh strawberries. Of all the vinegars, it’s the highest in carbohydrates and calories, so limit what you use. One tablespoon of balsamic vinegar has 3 grams of carbohydrates. Real balsamic vinegar can also be frightfully expensive.

Man checking blood glucose level.
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Vinegar can reduce your blood glucose

Several studies that I wrote about years ago and another one in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that vinegar can improve your blood glucose level. This journal article also indicates that a little vinegar can make you feel fuller.

Young woman drinking coffee in the morning.
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Vinegar can help manage the ‘dawn phenomenon’

You may be able to reduce how high your blood glucose level goes in the morning before breakfast — something known as the "dawn phenomenon" — with a little vinegar.

Recipes that use vinegar.
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Many ways to cook with vinegar

Berkeley Wellness has dozens of great recipes for using vinegar in your favorite foods. I especially appreciate their recipes for Sweet & Sour Peanut Sauce that calls for rice vinegar or cider vinegar, Green Beans With Fresh Tomatoes and Basil that uses red wine vinegar, and How to Steam an Artichoke that includes specialty tarragon vinegar, made by infusing the tarragon herb into various types of vinegar.

Lemons and limes.
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Using a substitute for vinegar

If somehow you happen to run out of all of the types of vinegar, you may have a good substitute in your pantry or your yard. Most lemons or limes have a similar acidic level to that of vinegar, although each of these tart citrus fruits contain carbohydrates. They're also powerful enough that you only need half as much juice as vinegar.

Bottle of vinegar with rosemary and an onion.
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Vinegar can be a free food

Beyond the many great uses of all these types of vinegars, consider that except for the seasoned and balsamic types, vinegars have few if any carbohydrates or calories. This makes it one of our few free foods. It doesn’t go bad and needs no refrigeration. It’s a household item as versatile as duct tape or WD-40 and costs even less per ounce. Think of it as a staple of your diet.

David Mendosa
Meet Our Writer
David Mendosa

David Mendosa was a journalist who learned in 1994 that he had type 2 diabetes, which he wrote about exclusively. He died in May 2017 after a short illness unrelated to diabetes. He wrote thousands of diabetes articles, two books about it, created one of the first diabetes websites, and published a monthly newsletter, “Diabetes Update.” His very low-carbohydrate diet, A1C level of 5.3, and BMI of 19.8 kept his diabetes in remission without any drugs until his death.