There’s no doubt that apple cider vinegar has earned a spot in the pantry — after all, it’s a natural diet staple that isn’t processed or highly caloric. But, unfortunately, apple cider vinegar’s health halo has led some people to believe that it’s a magical elixir for instant weight loss. Vinegar has long been touted as a powerhouse ingredient for many aspects of our routine (from meals to cleaning the home) because it produces acetic acid during its fermentation process, which has been linked to reduced fat production and lower blood sugar in limited research. Over the years, dieters have turned to a digital-fueled interest in the “apple cider vinegar diet,” peddled by Instagram users and other online communities as a way to keep full between meals. Most search results for “apple cider vinegar diet” suggest that drinking 1-2 teaspoons of the sour, tangy liquid can improve your metabolism. But the science isn’t so clear on this practice, despite vinegar’s holistic health benefits.
Stefani Sassos, MS, RD, CDN, a registered dietitian in the Good Housekeeping Institute, explains that weight loss benefits of apple cider vinegar are often conflated with actual weight loss derived from eating an otherwise healthy, balanced diet in the first place. If you’re planning on incorporating apple cider vinegar into your diet, Sassos shares how you can be using it to your advantage among an otherwise healthy meal plan.
Can apple cider vinegar help you lose weight?
There are a few pieces of research that suggests this natural variety of vinegar can aid weight loss. A study published in the Journal of Functional Foods followed nearly 40 adults who cut 250 calories each day for 12 weeks; half the group enjoyed a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar at lunch and dinner, while others did not. Those who drank the vinegar lost an average of 8.8 pounds while the other group only lost five. Similar results were recorded in another piece published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, where half of the 144 adults in the study were asked to drink one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar each day, and those who drank two lost close to 4 pounds in 12 weeks.
But Sassos says the first study’s results could hinge upon the fact that dieters were already cutting calories, which may have been paired with an exercise regimen. The second study was based on Japanese standards of obesity, which are more modest than American standards modeled after BMI of 30 or more, and many people gloss over the weight loss period itself. Sassos points out that it’s between 2 and 4 pounds over the three-month period, or just a third of a pound per week, which may be attributed to other lifestyle changes.
The best way to adapt apple cider vinegar into your dietary routine is to first adopt a healthy diet in the first place. Try adopting a flexitarian lifestyle overall, or the Mediterrenean diet if you’re hoping to achieve more aggressive weight loss goals. The more vegetables you can add to your meals, the better, Sassos says, and apple cider vinegar can help you keep these meals exciting. “Apple cider vinegar can make a great addition to certain salad dressings if you’re tired of balsamic or red wine vinegar,” she says.
If you decide to drink it before a meal, Sassos says it’s critical that you dilute it with water or another liquid first, and keep your consumption to one meal and a modest minimum. Since there are only three calories in a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, it’s not going to derail any of your meals. While it’s harmless for most, certain conditions can be exacerbated by increased apple cider vinegar consumption.
Does apple cider vinegar improve digestion?
There is some evidence that apple cider vinegar can potentially aid your digestion if you eat a starchy meal. The acidic nature of the vinegar might slow down the digestion process of substantial starches, like potatoes or wheat, Carol Johnston, Ph.D., R.D., the associate director of the nutrition program at Arizona State University, told Men’s Health. But Johnson says there isn’t a clear amount you should be drinking to counteract the digestion of starches.
Another holistic benefit of apple cider vinegar in your diet may be linked to controlling blood sugar counts, and this has been researched more thoroughly. A study published in 2004 in the Journal of the American Association of Diabetes found that just 20 grams of apple cider vinegar before a bagel and butter lowered blood sugar levels significantly within 30 minutes of the meal itself. Sassos says studies like this one may suggest that having apple cider vinegar before a starchy meal could potentially help you avoid craving sweet snacks later on, due to an influence on blood sugar levels. But the study itself concluded that it couldn’t replace any diet plans for pre-diabetics, nor is it a safe replacement to traditional treatments for anyone currently diagnosed with diabetes.
Finally, Sassos says some health experts may consider apple cider vinegar as a prebiotic, since apple cider contains high amounts of pectin, which is a type of starch that occurs naturally in the cell walls of fruits and vegetables. Since apple cider vinegar is made from apple cider that’s been fermented, some people assume that the dietary benefits of pectin carry over into the vinegar itself, but Sassos clarifies that the fermentation process greatly reduces the amount of pectin found in apple cider vinegar naturally. It’s unlikely to be beneficial at all to gut health, Sassos says.
Can you drink apple cider vinegar every day?
There’s a few things you should know before you decide to add apple cider vinegar into your diet regularly. Sassos says people who are experiencing chronic heartburn, acid reflux, or fighting a stomach ulcer should not drink apple cider vinegar if it can be avoided. The acidic nature of the vinegar can worsen symptoms and could potentially damage the esophagus more, Sassos says.
Furthermore, like any other highly acidic food, pure apple cider vinegar can cause quite a bit of damage to your teeth enamel if you drink it on a daily basis. Diluting it is essential, Sassos says.
The Bottom Line: Despite all of its holistic health benefits and low caloric impact, apple cider vinegar isn’t strong enough on its own to make you lose weight without substantial lifestyle changes. The apple cider vinegar diet, which consists of drinking vinegar before meals, isn’t as beneficial as eating your way through a balanced diet on its own.