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Is Balsamic Vinegar Keto Friendly? (net carbs & alternatives)

Is Balsamic Vinegar Keto Friendly? (net carbs & alternatives)

I love all forms of balsamic vinegar. The keto diet is notoriously strict on sugars and carbs, and balsamic vinegar can be pretty sweet, so is balsamic vinegar keto-friendly?

Balsamic vinegar can be keto-friendly if used sparingly as it contains 4 grams of carbs and sugar, on average, per tablespoon. As most keto diets limit daily carb intake to 50 grams it is ideal to limit balsamic vinegar to 1-2 tablespoons maximum. Also, make sure to avoid any balsamic vinegar with added sugar.

But this isn’t exactly a yes or no question.

So in this article, we’re exploring the world of keto and looking at exactly how balsamic vinegar factors into that. We’ll examine the sugars and carbs in balsamic vinegar, get into sugar alcohols, and even talk about balsamic glaze and whether that’s different.

More importantly, I’ll give you some alternatives to balsamic vinegar that DO work on keto!

That way you can make an informed decision and maybe enjoy some delicious balsamic vinegar without wrecking your diet.

What is the Keto diet and how does balsamic vinegar factor in?

A ketogenic diet achieves its success by getting your body to go into a state that’s called ketosis.

Once your body is established on the diet and your body has adjusted, most experts agree that it’s OK to be a little less militant in carbs completely off the dinner plate.

However, when you’re first starting out on keto, it’s pretty important to be very careful about hidden carbs and follow your diet pretty strictly as otherwise, you might not ever really achieve ketosis.

Like Adkins before it, the Keto diet is high fat and low carb.

When you shed the carbs from your diet, your body enters a state of ketosis where it starts to burn stored fats for energy instead of the carbs you would normally be eating.

The low carb levels in your body lower your body’s glucose levels forcing your body to find alternate forms of energy. So it begins to burn your stored fats.

As that happens your body naturally loses body fat.

Normal inexpensive balsamic vinegar tends to have 4 grams of carbs per 1 tablespoon and 4 grams of sugars per tablespoon and, of course, no fat.

So right out of the gate, we know that balsamic vinegar, while perhaps not high in carbs, doesn’t quite meet the test of low carb, high fat associated with keto.

Here’s a handy chart showing the most common types of vinegar and how they stack up.

However, always check your bottle’s label as some vinegar, especially wine vinegar is diluted differently. While most red and white wine vinegar are carb and sugar-free, there is some vinegar where that’s not the case.

Type of Vinegar Carbs per 1 TBS Sugars per 1 TBS
Balsamic Vinegar 4 grams 4 grams
Red Wine Vinegar 0 grams 0 grams
White Wine Vinegar 0 grams 0 grams
Apple Cider Vinegar 0 grams 0 grams
White Vinegar 0 grams 0 grams

However, it’s also worth pointing out that traditional balsamic vinegar, often labeled tradizionale balsamico (the kind that usually over $100/bottle), since it has not been blended with red wine vinegar or diluted, is often much higher in carbs.

Because the producers are generally small producers in Italy that don’t feel the need to pay for nutritional labeling, it’s a bit hard to find exact numbers.

But it looks like 1 TBS of tradizionale balsamico contains about 10 grams of carbs and sugars rather than the 4 found in regular inexpensive balsamic.

Is balsamic vinegar bad for Keto?

Balsamic vinegar is not bad for keto unless more than 2 tablespoons are consumed per day. Balsamic vinegar, on average, contains 4 grams of carbs per tablespoon, and the average keto diet limits daily carb intake to 50 grams.

To answer this question, we need to understand how balsamic vinegar is made and how that differs from other forms of vinegar.

But even that question isn’t totally simple as there are many types of balsamic vinegar and while some bottles are 3 bucks, others are $150. So if you’re confused and want to learn more, I have an article that is the Ultimate Guide to Balsamic Vinegar (click to read on my site) that answers every question you might have.

But for our purposes, I’ll assume we’re talking about inexpensive store-bought balsamic vinegar.

That 3 dollar bottle of balsamic vinegar you have is a mixture of grape must, red wine vinegar, and often, caramel coloring (sugar) which is used both to darken it and add sweetness which reduces tartness.

Grape must is simply cooked grape juice which, of course, means some carbs.

Red wine vinegar, however, contains no carbs. If your balsamic has caramel color added, then that, of course, adds carbs too. However, since caramel color is considered more of a food additive than an ingredient, it’s often not listed on ingredient lists.

Like balsamic vinegar, the keto diet can be confusing too since there are 4 different variations of it.

Here are each of the 4 and how balsamic vinegar might fare with it:

Type of Keto Diet Net Daily Carbs Allowed Balsamic Vinegar OK?
Standard Keto Diet (SKD) 20-50 grams Probably not
Targeted Keto Diet (TKD) 25-50 grams Maybe in small amounts pre-workout
Cyclical Keto Diet (CKD) 20-50 grams during no carb period Yes, during carb period
High-Protein Keto Diet (HPKD) 20-50 grams Probably not

Is vinegar OK for Keto?

As a general rule apple cider vinegar, sherry vinegar, or red and white wine vinegar are excellent for the keto diet. But balsamic vinegar is higher in carbs and should be limited to 1-2 tablespoons per day.

As I showed in the table above, balsamic vinegar is generally the only vinegar containing sugars or carbs.

The reason for that is that even with something like wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar, which certainly had carbs and sugars in the original food source, the fermentation process eliminates the sugar.

Essentially, adding yeast turns the sugars in the apple juice into alcohol and then the entire product gets diluted with water.

Now some people on the internet claim that taking a little apple cider vinegar right before a big carb meal helps reduce the glucose response that kicks a body out of ketosis.

Still, others claim that taking apple cider vinegar helps reduce hunger pains that might lead to binging on carbs and blowing the diet.

In looking for research to support any of that, I did find a recent study by the National Institutes of Health which found that “many recent scientific investigations have documented that vinegar ingestion reduces the glucose response to a carbohydrate load in healthy adults and in individuals with diabetes.”

AND since apple cider vinegar doesn’t contain any sugars or carbs, and if you’re buying the Bragg’s Organic Raw & Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar (click to check current prices on Amazon), which has a lot of other health benefits, I certainly think there could be a lot of benefits to adding a tablespoon to your diet once or twice a day.

Is balsamic vinegar high in carbs?

Yes, balsamic vinegar is moderately high in carbs, containing 4 grams of carbs and sugar per tablespoon. Most people on a keto diet limit their total daily carb intake to 50 grams, requiring balsamic vinegar to be limited to 1-2 tablespoons per day maximum.

But, I suppose high depends on your definition.

Compared to bread, which comes in around 14 grams per slice of white bread compared to 4 grams per tablespoon of carbs in balsamic vinegar.

When you also think about the fact that just a tablespoon or 3 of balsamic vinegar is enough to dress a salad for 4 people along with some EVOO, it’s really fairly low in carbs.

But compared to all other vinegar, balsamic vinegar is, indeed, high in carbs.

However, you also tend to use fairly small quantities of any vinegar, so consider the amount you will use and how it factors into the overall amount of carbs, fats, and protein your meal contains.

Let’s look at an average carb intake over the course of a day, following a keto diet, knowing that 20-50 grams are the total amount of carbs we should be consuming:

  • Breakfast – 4 Cream Cheese Pancakes with butter & any sugar-free syrup (avoid artificial sweeteners), coffee with heavy cream (& no-carb sweetener like stevia, if desired), s slices bacon or sugar-free breakfast sausage – Net carbs = about 7 grams
  • Lunch – 1 cup Tuna salad (tuna, mayo, salt & pepper) with romaine lettuce – Net carbs = about 4 grams
  • Dinner – 1 cup chili (beef or turkey, salsa & spices), sour cream & cheddar cheese. Top with fried pork rinds (but skip the diced onions which can add as much as 10 grams of carbs) – Net carbs = about 5 grams

Add some avocado (6 grams of carbs for 4 oz) and string cheese (about 1 gram per string, twice daily) for snacks throughout the day and you’ll end up right around 24 grams of carbs for your day.

So from that point of view, if you felt OK going up to 50 grams of carbs, you could definitely add a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar into your foods.

How many carbs are in white balsamic vinegar?

1 Tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar contains 5 grams of carbs (and 4 grams of sugars). So it’s actually higher in carbs than regular balsamic vinegar.

White balsamic vinegar is just like regular balsamic vinegar with 2 big differences.

For starters, regular balsamic vinegar starts with grape must that is simmered a long time until it becomes caramelized; thick, and reduced. The caramelization process automatically darkens the color.

Then the reduced must is aged in wood barrels for years. That too also helps to darken the color.

White balsamic vinegar, by comparison, is not cooked as long, nor aged as long, and so it doesn’t get anywhere near as dark as regular balsamic vinegar.

Calling it “white” however, isn’t really accurate. It’s more of a yellow color.

Unfortunately, if you were hoping the lack of color somehow meant a reduction in carbs and sugars, you would be wrong.

As I mentioned, 1 Tablespoon of white balsamic vinegar actually contains 5 grams of carbs (and 4 grams of sugars). So it’s actually higher than regular balsamic vinegar.

How many net carbs are in balsamic vinegar?

There are 4 grams of net carbs per tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. “Net” carbs refer to the total grams of carbohydrates minus the sugar alcohols. Since balsamic vinegar doesn’t contain fiber, most nutritional labels don’t show whether it contains sugar alcohols, so we have to assume it’s 0.

We got into that specific formula in the passage just above.

That being said, in my research, it did not appear that balsamic vinegar contains any sugar alcohols. It certainly doesn’t contain the alcohol ethanol which is what gives spirits their intoxicating effects.

So the carbs shown on the nutritional label would indeed by the net carbs, which is 4 grams per tablespoon.

Do sugar alcohols count as carbs on keto?

Those on the keto diet should avoid products with a high number of sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols tend to be in almost all foods labeled “sugar-free”  or “carb-free.” But that can be misleading as it doesn’t mean they have no carbs and they can affect blood sugar.

Sugar alcohols are also sometimes called “the polyols”. They are technically a type of sweet carbohydrate, created by the combination of both sugar and alcohol molecules.

That being said, they don’t actually contain alcohol as it appears in alcoholic beverages, so it’s totally fine for kids or people who don’t drink.

So generally speaking, if you’re on the keto diet, they typically recommend avoiding anything containing a large number of sugar alcohols.

Examples of sugar alcohol include:

  • Erythritol
  • Xylitol
  • Glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine)
  • Maltitol
  • Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates
  • Sorbitol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • Mannitol

Of those on this list, though, erythritol and xylitol are approved for the keto diet because it has no impact on blood sugar levels.

So if you need to buy a good alternative to sugar for your cooking and baking, xylitol or erythritol works, but stevia is probably an even better choice.

How to factor net carbs from sugar alcohols

Say the food you’re eating has 30 grams of carbs, 16 grams of fiber, and 16 grams of sugar alcohols. To factor the net carbs, you would halve the number of sugar alcohols and add it to the fiber. Then subtract that from the total carbs.

Thus, reducing the sugar alcohols from 16 down to 8 and then adding it to the 16 grams of fiber gets us 24.

Subtracting 24 from 30 leaves us with 6 grams of net carbs.

Can I eat balsamic glaze on keto?

1-2 tablespoons of balsamic glaze are fine per day on keto as long as there is no added sugar or honey. It will still contain the same 4 grams of carbs per tablespoon typically found in balsamic vinegar which is why limiting the amount is necessary.

What is balsamic glaze?

Balsamic glaze is basically a balsamic reduction made by gently heating balsamic vinegar to evaporate some of the excess water in it. The end result is a darker, thicker, and more flavorful version of balsamic vinegar.

Many glazes contain extra sugar added in the cooking process. The good news is that as sweet as balsamic vinegar already is, no added sugar is really necessary.

That being said if you are buying balsamic glaze at the store, you should check the ingredients to see if any sugar was added.

We know that the total daily allowed carbs on most versions of the keto diet are 50 grams. So giving 4 of those for just a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar is probably not a great idea.

So it stands to reason that balsamic glaze is probably not the best use of your carbs either.

I did, however, find a keto-friendly balsamic glaze recipe so if you just have to indulge a little, check out this recipe from the Keto Kitchen.

Is there a lot of sugar in balsamic vinegar?

Most brands of balsamic vinegar don’t have added sugar. But some do contain caramel color (which is basically sugar) and all balsamic vinegar starts with grape juice which will naturally be high in sugar.

But since balsamic vinegar starts with grape must (sometimes called saba, which is just cooked grape juice) it stands to reason that there is a fair amount of naturally occurring sugars in it.

As we’ve covered, a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar contains 4 grams of sugar.

But most of us wouldn’t use just 1 tablespoon. I make a salad for my lunch each week and often make my own dressing. I bet when I make it, I probably use 4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar which would end up being 16 grams of sugar and 16 carbs.

And to even further illustrate it, a bottle of cheap balsamic vinegar is typically 16.9 oz.

That almost 17 oz equates to 33.8 tablespoons. In other words, a normal-sized bottle of balsamic vinegar contains a whopping 135 grams of sugar and 135 grams of carbs.

Are there carbs in balsamic vinaigrette?

Balsamic vinaigrette has about 1.5 grams of carbs per tablespoon. Since it is a blend of balsamic vinegar, water, other types of vinegar, and olive (or other) oils, the carbs get significantly reduced from the 4 grams of carbs per TBS found in plain balsamic vinegar.

I would think with all we’ve covered, you’ve probably guessed that there are, indeed, carbs in balsamic vinaigrette.

There are a lot of brands and a lot of subtle variations of ingredients and nutritional info. But Newman’s Own Light Balsamic Vinaigrette only contains 1 gram of carbs per 1 tablespoon.

Newman’s regular balsamic vinaigrette (both the organic and non-organic versions) contains slightly more, coming in at 1.5 grams of carbs per tablespoon.

So compared to regular balsamic vinegar, balsamic vinaigrette could be a good way to go. That way you can add that distinct, tangy flavor to your foods with fewer carbs.

Like balsamic vinegar, the world of olive oil can get confusing too!

After all, there are rumors of most olive oils being “fake”. We also hear about harsh chemicals being used to extract the oil. And stories of cheap oils being mixed with real olive oil to make a cheaper product.

So if you love olive oil as much as I do, take a moment and review my Ultimate Guide to Olive Oil (click to read on my site).

It’s an extremely comprehensive guide designed to answer all your questions about olive oil!

What are the best keto-friendly alternatives for balsamic vinegar?

The best keto-friendly alternatives for balsamic vinegar are sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar. Both contain 0 carbs but have similar flavor profiles to balsamic vinegar.

Below, I’ll get into some detail on both.

Balsamic vinegar, by definition, has one of the highest sugar counts of any vinegar out there. So naturally, that makes it challenging to use if you are on a strict keto diet.

But if you love that flavor, there are some kinds of vinegar you can use that can do a decent job of substituting without the high sugar count. Those types of vinegar include:

Sherry Vinegar

Sherry vinegar is a wine vinegar made in the Cadiz province of Spain.

Most importantly though, sherry vinegar has 0 carbs and 0 sugars, making it IDEAL for keto.

As with balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar is strictly regulated by Spain. That being said, with sherry vinegar, while there are some variations, you don’t see the incredibly wide price and quality ranges as you do with balsamic.

Red Wine Vinegar

As with sherry vinegar, and really any wine vinegar, red wine vinegar has no carbs or sugars.

So again, this is a perfect substitute for balsamic vinegar when you’re doing keto. That being said, I put it 2nd because once you try sherry vinegar, you’ll probably agree that it’s much more flavorful.

Final thoughts

In this article, we took a detailed look into the world of the keto diet, specifically as it relates to everyone’s favorite vinegar; balsamic vinegar.

We explored how much sugars and carbs are in balsamic vinegar and even sugar alcohol content.

Ultimately, we answered the question of whether balsamic vinegar was keto-friendly with a resounding maybe.

If you’re doing keto, what’s your favorite thing to eat?

Aside from salads and vinegar, many on the keto diet wonder about breakfast items.

We know eggs and sausage or bacon are OK, but what about some yummy yogurt?

I answer that question and eliminate the mystery in a recent article. Luckily, for you yogurt lovers, some yogurts are OK on the keto diet. But some will wreck your ketosis and could take days or weeks to recover.

Just click that link to see the best ones to get!

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