Apple cider vinegar has long been a popular natural health remedy among celebrities, including Katy Perry, Victoria Beckham, and Jennifer Aniston. In May, Kim Kardashian West sparked renewed interest in the vinegar when she took to her Instagram stories to share a video of a bottle of Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar and the Bragg book Apple Cider Vinegar: Miracle Health System. "So my grandma sent me this book," Kardashian said to her millions of followers. "And this is her little health trick, so I'm going to start drinking it."
The Bragg book promotes its product as being able to help "control weight and banish obesity," but does it actually deliver on its word? Here's what you should know first before buying bottles of apple cider vinegar in hopes that it will help shed the pounds.
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar is made from crushed apples that have been "combined with yeast in order to convert the fructose into alcohol," explains Debbie S. Fetter, PhD, an assistant professor of teaching nutrition at UC Davis. "Then bacteria is added to ferment the alcohol into a compound called acetic acid, and that's primarily the main active ingredient in apple cider vinegar."
While apple cider vinegar may be recognized as some type of weight-loss elixir these days, vinegar has been used for thousands of years for both medicinal and culinary reasons.
"Historically it's been used as a way to preserve food, and that's probably in part because studies show that it does inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria," adds Malina Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and creator of the Wholitarian Lifestyle.
What Is an Apple Cider Vinegar Diet?
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It isn't clear what defines an apple cider vinegar diet, but for the most part it’s about incorporating the vinegar as part of your everyday eating pattern.
Melissa Wdowik, PhD, RDN, FAND, says clients have typically told her that they'll drink apple cider vinegar with their meals, whether it's drinking two tablespoons of vinegar by itself or mixing it with water. "I'm not a fan of an apple cider vinegar diet, but if I have a client who really wants to do it, I recommend that they take that two tablespoons and mix it in 1/4 cup of water," says Wdowik, since this helps with the acidity.
If people are adamant about having apple cider vinegar but don’t want to drink the product, there are even apple cider vinegar supplement capsules available now. As with any supplement or vitamin, it's best to consult with your doctor first.
Does It Work for Weight Loss?
“Weight loss for a lot of people can feel like a conundrum sometimes. The thought that taking one or two tablespoons of vinegar per day can make the pounds melt off is very attractive,” notes Malkani. However, “there’s not enough evidence to back up its efficacy as an answer to weight loss.”
Wdowik agrees there’s not enough research to support claims of significant weight loss. While there are some studies in humans (most have focused on animals, specifically rodents), she points out that there aren’t enough in human studies to make a conclusion. “The studies that do exist in humans are very small. They’ll have anywhere from 10 to 20 subjects, and typically you want hundreds, if not thousands, of human subjects,” Wdowik clarifies.
The studies in rats suggest that the acetic acid, which is found in vinegar, plays a role in “promoting weight loss by helping to regulate blood sugar level, lower cholesterol, improve digestion, and provide probiotics, which are the good bacteria to the gut,” says Fetter. However, despite what these studies suggest in rats, Fetter cautions that our digestive system and processes are different from rodents.
In the limited research on humans, Wdowik mentions that the subjects in the study who lost weight experienced weight loss because they lost the desire to eat again, so they felt and remained full. "What they also found is that when subjects did feel full after having apple cider vinegar, a lot of times it was due to nausea. So they drank it, and they didn't feel like eating anymore because they were nauseous," says Wdowik. In addition, the studies typically reduced the amount of calorie intake, so apple cider vinegar may not have been the only thing to lead to weight loss.
Malkani maintains, "There may be a small benefit with regard to weight loss, but without paying attention to the totality of the diet and all of the different lifestyle habits, such as activity, sleep, and diet, adding a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per day is not going to make a significant difference in weight loss."
Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar
"There are some studies that found acetic acid improved insulin sensitivity in both healthy participants and participants with diabetes," says Fetter, before reiterating that these studies usually included only a small number of participants and "the mechanisms by which apple cider vinegar reduces glucose levels are still unclear."
One study that included 11 subjects with type 2 diabetes found that "acetic acid increased insulin-stimulated glucose uptake in the skeletal muscles," adds Fetter.
Research also shows that apple cider vinegar may help lower LDL cholesterol, which is considered the bad cholesterol, says Wdowik. "Most of that again has been done on animal studies," asserts Wdowik. "They've done it in small groups of human studies and found a slight decrease in LDL cholesterol."
Although apple cider vinegar may show some health benefits, Fetter believes "larger-scale research is needed before recommending apple cider vinegar as a complementary treatment."
Disadvantages of Apple Cider Vinegar
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Apple cider vinegar is acidic, so there's a possibility that it can lead to tooth enamel erosion.
"If you are someone that likes to take a couple of tablespoons straight, I would recommend rinsing your mouth afterward to prevent any damage to your tooth enamel," urges Malkani.
Other issues with consuming too much apple cider vinegar may include nausea or heartburn. Wdowik adds, "When you swallow it, it can cause ulcers or little injuries in the esophagus because it's so acidic."
Fetter points out that apple cider vinegar can also "interact with some medications and supplements, including diuretics and insulins, potentially." Consult with your physician first to make sure apple cider vinegar doesn't cause any issues with your medicines.
How to Safely Integrate Into Your Diet?
If you prefer to take a swig of apple cider vinegar, Malkani finds that taking one to two tablespoons per day is a reasonable amount to consume. Anything more may lead to the downsides previously mentioned.
Rather than drinking apple cider vinegar, Malkani recommends incorporating it into your meals. "It's much better to make a salad dressing with it," Malkani advises. "If making a really great apple cider vinegar dressing encourages you to have more salads, then, by all means, I think that's a huge plus."
Fetter concurs that making the vinegar into a salad dressing or marinade is a more sustainable way to include it in your diet.
"This way you're not giving yourself this big dose by consuming a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar at once," says Fetter. "By breaking it up and putting it in with other food items, it can help with the acidity, so it's not as harsh when consuming it."