by Craig Weatherby
Are you fighting to keep unhealthful, unsightly fat off your belly? Join the crowd!
Vinegar enjoys an ancient reputation as a healthful food, and new research suggests that pickled foods and vinegary dressings may help fight abdominal bulge.
The secret to the fat-fighting potential of vinegar lies in its defining natural constituent... a tart, tangy chemical called acetic acid.
The body stores excess dietary calories as body fat, and most of that fat ends up one of two places.
Fat can be stored either as subcutaneous fat, located just under the skin. Or it can be deposited as unhealthier, harder-to-lose abdominal (visceral) fat which, by definition, is fat found around the body’s central organs.
An excess of abdominal fat is known medically as central obesity, and is commonly called belly fat.
Aside from being socially and romantically undesirable—fairly or not—there’s a strong correlation between central obesity and an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
In fact, central obesity is one of the physiological factors that constitute metabolic syndrome, which often leads to diabetes.
The genetic connection between vinegar and body fat
It’s been known for some time that activation of genetic switches called PPARs induces the body to store excess calories as subcutaneous fat instead of depositing them as unhealthier abdominal fat.
The acronym PPARs stands for “peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors”, and these switches help regulate the expression of genes associated with metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.
Long-time readers of Vital Choices may recall past articles about the beneficial effects of omega-3s on PPARs with regard to development and progression of diabetes (See “Fish Oil Trims Diabetics’ Belly and Blood Fat”).
Three years ago, researchers at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, published a study in which they fed rodents carboxylic acid (COOH), which is the chemical “parent” of acetic acid (CH3-COOH).
As they reported, “In rats treated with the full PPAR-gamma agonist [activator] COOH for 3 weeks, subcutaneous fat mass was doubled and that of visceral fat was reduced by 30% relative to untreated rats.”
And the Laval team found that feeding rodents this close chemical cousin to acetic acid also stimulated fat burning (thermogenesis) in abdominal (visceral) fat:
“The agonist [acetic acid] increased… fatty acid oxidation and thermogenesis much more strongly in visceral fat than in subcutaneous fat... These findings demonstrate that PPAR-gamma agonism [activation] redistributes fat… and energy expenditure is greatly increased in visceral fat, with consequent reduction in fat accumulation” (Laplante M et al. 2006).
Their findings indicated that carboxylic acid—and perhaps related compounds like vinegar’s acetic acid—is an ally in the fight to shift body fat to a healthier location, and preferentially burn body fat sited in its least healthful location.
New findings support the fat-fighting value of vinegar
Last month, researchers at Japan’s Mizkan Group published findings that more directly support the promise of vinegar’s acetic acid as a potent ally in the fight to prevent central obesity (Kondo T et al 2009).
In short, they found that dietary acetic acid helps prevent obesity in mice fed a high-fat diet, both by the PPAR mechanism reported from Quebec in 2006, and via other means as well.
The Japanese team reports that acetic acid “up-regulates” the expression of genes that induce oxidation (burning) of fatty acid in the liver… an effect called thermogenesis that suppresses the accumulation of body fat.
As they said, “Significant increases were observed in the expressions of genes for PPAR-alpha and for fatty-acid-oxidation- and thermogenesis-related proteins… in the liver… In conclusion, AcOH [acetic acid] suppresses accumulation of body fat and liver lipids…” (Kondo T et al 2009).
Specifically, the new study showed that mice fed a high-fat diet with added acetic acid developed about 10 percent less body fat than mice fed a high-fat diet absent the characteristic vinegar compound.
Importantly, the new research provides the first hard evidence that, like carboxylic acid, acetic acid fights body fat build up by switching on genes that in turn activate fat-burning enzymes.
What can you do with this information?
For starters, you can munch on pickles (cucumbers marinated in vinegar) and add vinegar-pickled veggies like beets and cauliflower to salads and sandwiches.
Salad dressings made with vinegar are another avenue, although the amount of oil in most vinaigrettes would overcome any fat-fighting benefit.
Balsamic vinegar is a particularly healthful, delicious way to get more acetic acid into your diet, without added fat.
Use balsamic vinegar as a sauce ingredient when cooking, as in today's recipe for Grilled Halibut with Fresh Tomato-Basil Relish.
Or drizzle it sparingly over breads, salads, and cheeses… even sorbet! Our deep, dark, 100% organic balsamic vinegar is made in Spain from concentrated organic grapes and organic red wine.
Here are a few other suggestions:
- Use cider vinegar as a substitute for fresh lemon juice in recipes.
- Pour cider vinegar over roasting lamb. Adding honey and sliced onions to the roasting pan will produce a sweet, tangy sauce when the vinegar mixes with them.
- Sushi rice: Japanese use rice vinegar as an essential ingredient for sushi rice.
- Use cider or white wine vinegar to flavor collard greens, green beans, or cabbage.
Kimchi usually features crisp green vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, bell peppers, garlic, onions, chili peppers, radishes, and the like.
These foods have few calories but lots of fiber, vitamins (especially A and C), beneficial polyphenol antioxidants, and minerals such as calcium and iron.
The distinctive flavor of kimchi depends on the level of acetic acid (more is better), which will vary according to the ingredients used, the fermentation temperature (cooler is better) and period, and the level of salt (less is better).
Kimchi fermented with less salt at a low temperature has more acetic acid and a better flavor, according to connoisseurs. And, like yogurt, kimchi contains lactic acid generated by beneficial probiotic bacteria.
- Kondo T, Kishi M, Fushimi T, Kaga T. Acetic Acid Upregulates the Expression of Genes for Fatty Acid Oxidation Enzymes in Liver To Suppress Body Fat Accumulation. J Agric Food Chem. 2009 May 26. [Epub ahead of print] DOI: 10.1021/jf900470c
- Laplante M, Festuccia WT, Soucy G, Gélinas Y, Lalonde J, Berger JP, Deshaies Y. Mechanisms of the depot specificity of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma action on adipose tissue metabolism. Diabetes. 2006 Oct;55(10):2771-8.