Updated: 5/17/18 Apple cider vinegar is touted as a miraculous elixir that can cure indigestion, remove toxins and help you lose weight. A skeptical nutritionist decided to investigate the hype and was surprised to learn some of the claims are true — in particular, apple cider vinegar's beneficial effect on digestion and blood sugar.
Writing in the Washington Post, Ellie Krieger said she began her research dubious of vinegar's purported health benefits and was surprised that anyone still believed them.
"I was under the impression that notion had been debunked way back when phones still had cords," Krieger wrote.
But after reviewing research and interviewing another nutritionist who has been studying apple-cider vinegar for a decade, Krieger concluded that vinegar consumption can help to reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease and help people lose small amounts of weight.
The benefits come not from magical sprites living in apple trees, but from the acetic acid that is present in vinegar. Its properties help block the absorption of starch, which can reduce blood-glucose levels. Undigested starch also helps feed and nurture the good bacteria in our intestines. And yes, it can also help you lose weight — not so much that you need a new wardrobe, but enough that your clothes might not feel so tight.
"Vinegar is not a magic bullet for weight loss. I have seen very modest weight loss in my studies, of one to two pounds after 12 weeks," Carol Johnston, associate director of the nutrition program at Arizona State University, told Krieger.
Other researchers have found slightly more benefit. In one Japanese study, published in 2009, participants lost between two and four pounds in 12 weeks. And some people swear by an apple cider vinegar diet.
But before the manufacturers of apple-cider vinegar get too triumphant, the nutritionists point out that you can get benefits from any kind of vinegar, not just the raw, unfiltered vinegar promoted by many health enthusiasts. That's because it's the acetic acid that provides the bulk of the benefits, and it's in all kinds of vinegar, even white distilled or red-wine vinegar, Krieger writes.
So a dose of vinegar of any kind is something to consider before you consume a bagel or a starch-heavy meal. But it's important not to drink it straight from the bottle. Instead, dilute one or two tablespoons in water.
"It is a potent acid that can be dangerous if aspirated, may cause burns to the tender tissue of the mouth and esophagus, and can lead to tooth erosion," Krieger wrote. "And because vinegar could interact with medications, and its anti-glycemic effect may be dangerous to diabetics taking insulin, talk to your doctor before using it therapeutically if these are concerns for you."
And, just so you know, despite claims to the contrary, you don't get nutritional credit for eating an apple if you choose apple cider vinegar.
"There is not an appreciable amount of vitamins, minerals or pectin in apple cider vinegar, as is often advertised," Krieger reported. "If those are the qualities you are seeking, you’d be better off eating an apple."