Balsamic vinegar and olive oil both contain antioxidants that may lower your risk of cardiovascular disease; otherwise, they have different nutritional strengths. Olive oil is a good source of vitamins K and E, as well as healthy unsaturated fats. Balsamic vinegar is low in calories and may help lower your blood sugar, according to the "European Journal of Clinical Nutrition."
Authentic balsamic vinegar is made from specific Italian grapes -- Trebbiano or Lambrusco -- that are aged for at least 12 years in wooden barrels. The resulting vinegar is dark, thick, slightly sweet and very expensive. Commercially prepared balsamic vinegars are quickly fermented, usually contain additional ingredients and don’t have the same rich, complex flavor. Olive oil production is regulated to ensure that extra-virgin olive oil is cold-pressed and made only from high-quality olives. Plain olive oil tastes bland by comparison because it’s made from low-quality olives and uses chemical solvents to extract the oil.
One tablespoon of olive oil has 119 calories and 13.5 grams of fat. About 73 percent of those fats are monounsaturated and another 10 percent are polyunsaturated. Both types lower your levels of cholesterol and help ease inflammation. The polyunsaturated fats include about 0.1 gram of omega-3 and 1.1 gram of omega-6 fatty acids.
One tablespoon of olive oil provides 1.9 milligrams, or 13 percent of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin E. This vitamin works as an antioxidant that protects fats by neutralizing free radicals before they damage fat cells. This job is critical because fatty acids support your immune system and safely carry cholesterol through your blood. Fats also form a protective barrier in your skin, where they’re especially vulnerable to free radicals produced from exposure to ultraviolet rays.
Balsamic vinegar only has 14 calories in 1 tablespoon. It may lower blood sugar after you eat, which helps prevent Type 2 diabetes, but also stops weight gain that results when extra sugar is stored as fat, according to the American Diabetes Association. Research from Medscape General Medicine suggests -- but does not yet prove -- that vinegar may help you eat less by making you feel full.
Balsamic vinegar and olive oil both contain plant-based antioxidants called polyphenols. Polyphenols in olive oil help prevent inflammation, lower blood pressure and may inhibit the formation of blood clots that cause hardening of the arteries, according to a study published in "Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology." The polyphenols in balsamic vinegar may serve a role similar to vitamin E, neutralizing free radicals before they harm fats that transport cholesterol, but more research is needed to support this role.
A vinaigrette of balsamic vinegar and olive oil is a natural over green beans, asparagus, broccoli and beets. Try making a stir-fry of mushroom, onions and broccoli seasoned with balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Experiment with different proportions of vinegar to oil, depending on how you use it. To marinade a roasted chicken, you may want more oil and less balsamic vinegar. Simmer a larger amount of balsamic vinegar until it’s reduced by about half, then add a little olive oil and use it to glaze carrots.
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Vinegar, Balsamic
- USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory: Oil, Olive, Salad or Cooking
- Tufts University: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- Harvard Health Publications: Fats Resource Center
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences: Biologic Activities of Phenolic Compounds Present in Virgin Olive Oil
- The Nibble: How Balsamic Vinegar is Made
- University of California Cooperative Extension: What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Linus Pauling Institute: Vitamin E and Skin Health
- Linus Pauling Institute: Nutrition and Immunity
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