Is Balsamic Vinegar Keto?

Balsamic vinegar offers a bold flavor to a variety of dishes.  This complexity and versatility has made balsamic vinegar the preferred choice of many people to spritz on a salad or lend flavor to a marinade.  However, is balsamic Keto friendly and can you continue to enjoy it while on Keto?  

The short answer is, it depends.  The following article will outline when balsamic vinegar is allowed on Keto, and when it is not so that you can make the best choices for your diet and continue to see success with your Keto. 

Overview of the Keto diet

The Keto diet is an ultra-low carb diet that focuses on the inclusion of healthy fats alongside a moderate amount of protein.  This is not an arbitrary rule to stop you from eating bread and pasta.  The Keto diet restricts your carbs in order to get your body to switch from using glucose as its primary fuel source to using ketones.  

Glucose is created from the carbohydrates that your body eats and it’s an easy come, easy go form of energy.  Your body burns through glucose very quickly which leaves you feeling hungry and drained a few hours after eating.  It also makes it harder to stabilize your blood sugar levels because they spike after a high carb meal and plummet a few hours later.

Ketones on the other hand are created from your stored fat cells and they offer a more stable form of energy.  Since they take longer to burn through and they’re readily available it allows your body to run longer without you getting hungry.  Ketones also allow you to burn away stubborn body fat that you might have a difficult time losing through exercise alone.

In order to achieve ketosis, you have to eat a few enough carbs for your body to recognize that it’s not getting enough carbohydrates to fuel everything that it needs to.  For most people this means keeping your net carbs to 20-25g a day or less.  

Net carbs are the carbs that your body can digest.  Anytime you see sugar alcohols or fibre listed under the total carbohydrates on a nutrition label you know that you can subtract these because your body can’t digest them.  Whatever is leftove

What is balsamic vinegar?

Balsamic vinegar is a popular condiment and cooking aid that’s made from a combination of grape must, red wine vinegar and caramel coloring.  It has a very complex and unique flavor that is hard to replicate with other vinegars. Balsamic vinegar is a very popular choice for a salad dressing because it lends a bold punch of flavor to any salad.  It’s also often used in marinades and glazes.

Grape must is grape juice that’s been cooked for a long time.  Although a lot of the sugars and carbs that were part of the original grapes are boiled away in the cooking process, some carbs remain.  There are no carbs in red wine vinegar but there are in the caramel coloring that is used to lend a hint of sweetness and color to the vinegar.  The caramel coloring is basically just added sugar.

Traditionally balsamic vinegar was made from 100% grape must.  The grapes were boiled down to a concentrate along with the stems, seeds and skin of the grapes. The concentrate is then fermented and aged for a period of 12-25 years inside of wooden barrels.  This type of balsamic vinegar is made only in Italy and it’s highly regulated and can cost upwards of $100 per bottle!

The balsamic vinegar that you’re likely to grab off of your store shelf is made slightly differently.  Although it’s probably still made in Italy, chances are it has had red wine vinegar and caramel coloring added to it in order to speed up the aging process and stretch the ingredients further.  This allows it to be offered at a cheaper price to you.

Health Benefits of Balsamic Vinegar

Balsamic vinegar offers a variety of health benefits.  There are some sources who say that it can help clear up your complexion and fix skin issues due to the presence of antimicrobial compounds, antioxidants and acetic acid (although I wouldn’t recommend putting it directly on your skin because it can stain). 

Balsamic vinegar has also been linked to a stabilization of your blood sugar levels when you eat it with a meal.  The study showed that when balsamic vinegar was added to a meal the levels of glucose in the blood didn’t spike and remained stable for up to 5 hours after the completion of the meal. 

Although studies have only been done on rats, it seems as though balsamic vinegar might be helpful in lowering your cholesterol levels by blocking the creation of toxic cells that can increase your cholesterol.  It’s also been shown to improve your digestion because of the acetic acid it’s made up of.  Acetic acid is full of probiotics and probiotics help improve your digestion and keep the level of healthy bacteria in your digestive track alive and well.

Is balsamic vinegar Keto-friendly?

With all of these health benefits it’s no wonder you want to add balsamic vinegar to your Keto diet.  However, you should be cautious before you begin dousing your spinach salad in this tasty vinegar.  Out of all of the vinegar’s, balsamic vinegar is the only one that contains carbohydrates.

There are no sugar alcohols or fibre present so what you see is what you get and the total carbs in balsamic vinegar are also the net carbs.  Some popular brands of balsamic vinegar can have as little as 2g of net carbs in a serving; however, there are others that can contain upwards of 6g of net carbs so the brand that you chose matters.   If you were to pick up a bottle of traditional balsamic vinegar (often labeled tradizionale balsamico) you’d be paying over $100 and you’d be dousing your system with a whopping 10g of net carbs in a single tablespoon! 

The average bottle of balsamic vinegar has 4g of carbs and sugar per tablespoon.  While this may not seem like enough to prohibit you from having some you should keep in mind that the 4g of carbs in balsamic vinegar is 1/5th of your total daily net carb limit.  If you’ve been doing Keto for a while you no doubt know how precious those net carbs are and how quickly they can add up from other sources such as your vegetables and fruit. 

Although you’d think that white balsamic vinegar would be better than its colored counterpart because it’s missing the artificial coloring that contributes to the carbs it’s not.  White balsamic vinegar actually has 5g of carbs in a single tablespoon which is 1 more than regular balsamic vinegar.

It’s up to you and your personal Keto meal plan as to whether you feel that balsamic vinegar is worth the grams of carbohydrates that it contains.  It is possible to find some bottles with as little as 1g of net carbs on store shelves if you hunt around which would make it a lot easier to fit this tasty vinegar in. 

Balsamic glaze

What about balsamic glaze?  Where does that fit into your Keto carb budget?  Balsamic glaze is made by creating a reduction of balsamic vinegar. When you slowly simmer the vinegar over the stove on low heat until some of the water has evaporated, you’re left with a balsamic glaze.  Unfortunately, this method won’t reduce the number of carbs.  In fact, when you buy store bought balsamic glazes, you’re often going to be dealing with added sugars which increases the carb count so it’s best to leave this one out of your Keto.

Balsamic vinaigrette and Keto

If you’re looking for the bold flavor of balsamic vinegar but the carbs are just too high for you to fit in then balsamic vinaigrette might be a better option for you.  Balsamic vinaigrette has fewer carbs than balsamic vinegar because it’s a mixture of oils and vinegars.  

As I mentioned above, other vinegars have no carbs and neither do most oils so when you mix oil and vinegar with balsamic vinegar you end up with a watered down amount of carbs in a tablespoon which stretches your carb budget further. On average, a tablespoon of balsamic vinaigrette has 1.5g of net carbs compared to the 4g of carbs in balsamic vinegar 

Alternatives to balsamic vinegar

If you’re looking for an alternative to balsamic vinegar, then balsamic vinaigrette is probably your best option.  Since it’s made from balsamic vinegar you get the same flavor profile.  However, if you want a simpler option that you can just pick up off of the store shelf you could try sherry vinegar, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar.  These vinegars have similar health benefits to balsamic vinegar; although, they do have different flavors. 

Conclusion

Balsamic vinegar is a tasty condiment that can add a complex flavor to your salads or dishes along with a boost of benefits to your health.  However, a lot of the vinegars that you pick up off the store shelf will be too high in net carbs to be a practical part of your Keto.  Try to find one that’s lower in carbs and if all else fails switch to a balsamic vinaigrette that has fewer carbs with the same bold flavor. 

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