If you find it hard to keep up with all the diets out there purporting to foster weight loss, you’re not alone. For many, the apple cider vinegar diet will be a new one to add to the list.
This particular diet reached peak interest in 2017, when it was one of the most-searched diets on Google, according to Harvard Health. But the diet’s core ideas stretch back much further than that. Humans have believed that apple cider vinegar possesses healthful properties for hundreds of years — and in fact it does.
There is no established amount or timing with vinegar consumption, but it typically includes drinking 1 to 2 teaspoons before or with some or most meals. But can it help someone lose weight?
The Evidence Is Scant
Apples, of course, are very healthy, loaded with vitamins and fiber and all the other good stuff packed into fruits. One a day, we’ve been told since childhood, keeps the doctor away. So why wouldn’t apple cider vinegar also be healthy? The truth is that it is, but not in the ways proponents of the diet would have you believe.
Apple cider vinegar is, like all vinegars, produced when source materials — in this case, apples — are crushed to release liquids, and then those liquids are distilled and allowed to ferment.
During fermentation, the natural sugars turn into acetic acid, which is what some claim is behind weight loss and other health benefits. Harvard Health reports that apple cider vinegar has been thought to improve strength, to help the body detoxify, to work as an antibiotic and even to be an effective treatment for scurvy. Weight loss is a more recent claim. But there is little evidence to support that particular claim.
One small study, from 2009, looked at 175 subjects who drank 0, 1 or 2 tablespoons of plain vinegar each day for three months. It found that those who drank vinegar had modest weight loss of 2 to 4 pounds and lower triglyceride levels than those who drank no vinegar. A small 2018 study of just 39 subjects found that those who included apple cider vinegar in a low-calorie diet for 12 weeks lost a bit more weight than those whose low-calorie plan did not include the vinegar.
These small, short-term studies, and a few others involving animals, fall far short of proof. “In all, the scientific evidence that vinegar consumption (whether of the apple cider variety or not) is a reliable, long-term means of losing excess weight is not compelling,” according to Harvard Health.
What’s the Risk?
Is there any harm in trying apple cider vinegar to lose weight?
Yes, there can be. The high acidity in vinegar can break down tooth enamel and cause throat irritation if it is not diluted, as in, say, a salad dressing. It may also cause a drop in potassium levels and affect insulin levels. People taking diuretics for high blood pressure or other reasons (which can lower potassium) and those with diabetes should be very careful with vinegar consumption, and they should talk to their doctors about it first.
There is another potential consideration to take into account. “You’ll probably be sick to your stomach from drinking cider. You might lose weight that way,” says Wesley McWhorter, the director of the Nourish Program at the Dell Center for Healthy Living at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health.
The Bottom Line
“Despite the appeal to drink a few teaspoons of apple cider vinegar at meals to promote weight loss, there is limited evidence to support the idea apple cider vinegar, without other dietary changes, will result in weight loss,” says Kristen Smith, a registered dietitian, and the bariatric surgery coordinator for Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. “I have never recommended a client drink apple cider vinegar prior to a meal to promote weight loss and suspect I never will,” adds Smith, the author of a blog that promotes healthful eating for the entire family and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
That’s not to say that apple cider vinegar isn’t a good choice when cooking. “I have recommended clients use apple cider vinegar as a lower-calorie flavoring agent for salads or vegetables. It offers minimal calories and a bold, tart flavor,” Smith says.
“There is always a hint of truth to all of these diets. Vinegar is good for you. But that doesn’t mean if I consume it and the rest of my diet is (bad), I will be healthy, no,” says McWhorter, who is also a professional chef and teaches nutrition education through hands-on culinary medicine courses. “Don’t just chug it — that’s disgusting. No one should be miserable eating. You should enjoy it. I love apple cider vinegar in collard greens. It’s delicious, and you are getting the same thing as if you were chugging it.”
Just don’t expect it to help you lose weight on its own.
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