Vinegar has been ubiquitous in kitchens around the globe for eons. It’s a staple in fermented foods like pickles and kimchi, and it’s also found in Easter egg dyes and elementary school volcano experiments. Apple cider vinegar (ACV) specifically has seen some major hype in recent years, namely for its supposed potential to help with weight loss. Here’s a look into some of the possible benefits and drawbacks of this vinegar — which is made from apples, sugar, and yeast — and why some people have taken to the “apple cider vinegar diet.”
What Is the Apple Cider Vinegar Diet?
While there are several variations of the apple cider vinegar diet, the most popular protocol is to drink one to two teaspoons of ACV before or with meals. Some people choose to drink ACV straight (which is about as pleasant as taking a shot of alcohol… if not worse) while others dilute it in a glass of water, sometimes attempting to make it more palatable with ingredients like lemon and honey.
Why would people chose to follow this diet? Some proponents knock back shots of ACV hoping to shed pounds, while others contend it’s a miracle health elixir. We reached out to the experts and dug through research to get a handle on what’s what when it comes to ACV.
Does Apple Cider Vinegar Help With Weight Loss?
The short answer: We’re not really sure yet.
“Most evidence for the benefits of apple cider vinegar – including weight loss – are based on a few poorly designed studies,” says Melissa Majumdar, senior bariatric dietitian for the Brigham and Women’s Center for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.
One 2013 study found that drinking a supplement containing apple cider vinegar, alfalfa, wheatgrass, and fulvic acid led to weight loss and improvements in total cholesterol levels. But we should take those findings with a grain of salt because the participants consumed more than a dozen additional supplements during the study period, so it’s hard to tell how big of a role ACV played, if at all.
“There is not enough science to support most of the benefits ACV is touted for, let alone weight loss,” Majumdar says.
If anything, ACV is a low-calorie way to flavor food, with only three calories per table spoon. If you’re using ACV as an alternative to a higher-calorie flavorings (like high-fat dressings or sauces), that can ultimately help lead to weight loss.
Side Effects of the Apple Cider Vinegar Diet
Vinegar is considered safe when consumed in reasonable amounts, but the caveat here is that we don’t have a good handle on what’s considered “reasonable.” That’s why there are potentially some negative side effects of the ACV diet.
Because ACV has a pH of 4.2, research suggests people may experience acid reflux and delayed digestion. Some people may also experience reduced hunger and slight weight loss not necessarily because of scientific reasons, but because it can make you feel sick when consumed straight, says Andrea N. Giancoli, MPH, RD, registered dietitian and Openfit nutrition manager.
“The appetite suppressant activity seems to be from nausea,” she says, which would deter most people from then consuming food.
As for other potential positive side effects of ACV besides weight loss, the science isn’t very clear. Several studies point to ACV’s antimicrobial properties, meaning it could in theory help people with certain infections.
Additionally, a 2017 review study found vinegar could be a promising candidate to help manage blood sugar, but further research is needed to examine factors like long term effectiveness, safety, and the effects of different types of vinegar—not just the apple cider variety. Not to mention, many studies that analyze the effects of vinegar are conducted on mice.
How to Incorporate Apple Cider Vinegar into Your Day
Still interested in ACV’s potential? It’s probably in your best interest not to abide by the guidelines of the apple cider vinegar diet by drinking it with every single meal. “I think three times a day is excessive,” Giancoli says. While she cautions against drinking ACV, she says if you’re going to do it, dilute it with a full glass of water first.
Majumdar agrees: “I would not recommend people drink ACV by itself because of the high acid content and potential to wear away tooth enamel,” she says.
But there are plenty of other ways — and safer ways — to enjoy ACV besides drinking it. “The best way to consume it is over a salad with a lot of vegetables,” Giancoli says. “It’s a nice way to flavor food without a lot of calories.” Majumdar adds that you can add ACV to dressings, sauces, or dips in lieu of oil or fat.
Just make sure that when you buy ACV, you choose an organic, unfiltered variety (such as Bragg) that has the “mother” in it. This is a dark, cloudy, naturally-occurring substance that contains antioxidants and phytonutrients that may be responsible for many of ACV’s healthy benefits.
Apple Cider Vinegar doesn’t seem to be a cure all or a proven weight loss wonder. “It’s not a magic bullet by any stretch of the imagination,” Giancoli says. It can be great as a low-calorie way to flavor foods, but we still need a lot more research before we can decide if ACV is an effective tool for safe, sustainable weight loss.