The Apple Cider Vinegar Diet: What Is It, Does It Work?

That means an apple cider vinegar diet – already extremely popular among those who believe in regular body cleanses – would be a great and painless way to shed those excess pounds. Right?

Not so fast, Bucky.

It’s true that acetic acid has some health benefits. It’s true that apple cider vinegar, used in small amounts, can be a beneficial ingredient in salad dressings or recipes. And it’s true that mixing a little of the vinegar with water, and drinking it before eating, may help you feel full.

But the “amazing weight loss benefits” of an apple cider vinegar diet have been way oversold – and drinking too much of the vinegar can actually have some unpleasant side effects.

Let’s separate the truth from wishful thinking.

Apple Cider Vinegar in a cu

What Is Apple Cider Vinegar, Anyway?

Many people who tout the benefits of an ACV diet aren’t even sure where the vinegar comes from. Some believe it’s the product of apple cider which has been allowed to ferment. Others believe it’s simply a mix of cider (or apple juice) and white vinegar.

Neither is true. ACV isn’t just the natural product of several ingredients being mixed together. It has to be created through a deliberate fermentation process, and that process can take as long a month.

To make “authentic” apple cider vinegar, crushed apples are put into a container with yeast in order to create “apple alcohol.” Then bacteria are added to the liquid, so it will ferment and become vinegar loaded with acetic acid.

(There are ways you can do this at home using sugar and apple scraps, but it won’t have all of the health benefits and the fermentation will take even longer.)

Vinegar vs. Apple Cider Vinegar

Is apple cider vinegar any different than the regular white stuff?

You can tell one difference right away: ACV has a reddish-brown color and should be somewhat murky, while white vinegar is (surprise!) a clear white. Of course, they’re both sour since they contain similar levels of acetic acid, but apple cider vinegar has a more pleasing taste with hints of wood and apples. And while vinegar doesn’t contribute much in the way of health or nutritional benefits, ACV certainly does.

That makes white vinegar terrific as a cleaning agent, but ACV much better for use in cooking or baking. There’s one very important caveat to be aware of, however. Even though ACV tastes better, it’s still extremely acidic and can damage your body if you drink it straight out of the bottle. Apple cider vinegar, just like white vinegar, should always be diluted unless it’s being used according to the directions in a recipe.

If you see an article or product touting a “miracle” diet that has you drinking undiluted ACV – look somewhere else.

The Proven Health Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar

Vinegar has been thought to have medicinal and healing properties for millennia, starting with the ancient Greeks. Over the years it’s been used to treat ailments as varied as wounds, scurvy, infections and even dandruff.

So why have so many people become excited about ACV diets just recently? It’s because of the many benefits of acetic acid documented in 21st century testing, as well as anecdotal evidence provided by those who’ve added apple cider vinegar to their daily diet.

Blood Sugar

A 2005 animal study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that acetic acid was able to help the body’s muscles and liver “soak up” excess blood sugar [1], another study indicated that drinking apple cider vinegar (with water) before bed led to lower blood glucose levels in the morning [2], and a third showed that drinking it before a meal helped keep sugars and insulin levels lower and well-controlled [3].

The implication is that ACV can help break down starches and other complex carbs, keeping blood sugar levels lower. Balanced blood sugar, as you may know, makes it easier for the body to burn fat and not muscle.

Fat Burning

While we’re on the subject of fat burning, there’s some good news there as well. There are specific genes which are responsible for instructing the body to burn stored fat, and animal studies show that acetic acid helps those genes function more effectively [4]. In other words, the acid helps the body to burn fat instead of storing it. Another study even suggests more specifically that acetic acid can actually help prevent obesity, at least in lab animals [5].

Heart Health

It’s not just blood sugar and fat burning which respond to ACV. There are studies showing that, at least in animals, ACV may help prevent the constriction of blood vessels which leads to high blood pressure [6], and can lower “bad” cholesterol and triglyceride levels while boosting “good” cholesterol [7]. Both high blood pressure and high cholesterol have been linked to the possible development of heart disease.

Other Benefits

There is also research showing a link between the consumption of acetic acid or apple cider vinegar and improvement with a number of other medical conditions. They include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCS), viral and bacterial infections like E.coli, and even skin problems like eczema and acne.

The studies which interest us most, naturally, are the ones which would argue in favor of an apple cider vinegar diet or cleanse. Let’s look at those – and some other evidence – a little more deeply.

Can Apple Cider Vinegar Help You Lose Weight?

We’ve already mentioned several studies that suggest ACV can help with fat burning and keep blood sugar in check, two important elements in weight loss. As the infomercials say: “But wait, there’s more.”

The most encouraging study was done in Japan in 2009 and published in the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry [8]. It involved nearly 150 human participants; one-third were given a drink containing one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar, one-third got two tablespoons of ACV, and the final third received a “placebo” drink with no ACV in it.

The Results

Was the weight and belly fat loss simply because of the fat burning and blood sugar properties of apple cider vinegar? Not necessarily.

There’s another (admittedly small) study showing that drinking apple cider vinegar before meals (again, mixed with water) makes you feel fuller; that means you end up eating less, so you consume fewer calories.

At the same time, different research shows that when people consume ACV, their stomachs process carbs more slowly. The benefit there is that since your stomach empties more slowly, you feel full for longer periods of time and aren’t tempted to snack. In addition, slower stomach emptying helps lower insulin and blood sugar levels.

So that’s the good news. Unfortunately, there’s some not-so-great news to go with it.

Drawbacks to Using ACV For Weight Loss

If you read the previous section closely, you noticed one important fact about the Japanese study that connected greater weight loss with consuming more apple cider vinegar: the total numbers were for a 12-week test period.

If you remember, the best results showed an average a weight loss of less than three pounds over three months – less than a pound per month. That’s probably not what anyone would call a “successful diet plan.” And the Japanese study is the most concrete scientific evidence of the results an ACV diet might produce. Any more optimistic projection on the weight loss possible when using apple cider vinegar is only anecdotal.

There are other considerations to think about before starting an apple cider vinegar diet, too.

First, drinking too much ACV can cause side effects.

That’s not all. There have been several reported cases of skin burns from topical use of apple cider vinegar, and at least one case of burns caused by an ACV tablet stuck in a woman’s throat. It’s also believed that bone loss and low potassium levels can be caused by overconsumption of ACV. Needless to say, the more you dilute the vinegar, the less likely it is that any of those issues will occur.

Finally, the “delayed stomach emptying” we discussed earlier can be dangerous to many of those who have type-1 diabetes. A common complication of that disease is gastroparesis, which is characterized by – you guessed it – delayed stomach emptying. ACV can cause a problematic worsening in gastroparesis in those who already have it. (This isn’t an issue for those with type 2 diabetes.)

Should You Follow an Apple Cider Vinegar Diet?

That’s a difficult question to answer, mostly because there’s really no such thing as an ACV “diet” – at least in the same way that there’s a Keto Diet or a Mediterranean Diet.

What people call an “ACV diet” usually means that they’ve added a glass of water and apple cider vinegar to their daily routine, whether it’s before each meal or before bedtime. Others may simply mean that they’ve added apple cider vinegar to their regular cooking repertoire, mixing it with olive oil to make salad dressing, using it in marinades, or adding a tablespoon of ACV to their healthy juice or smoothies.

In any event, they aren’t necessarily adhering to a low-carb and high-fat diet, a high-protein diet, or even a common sense diet with lots of fruits and veggies. They’re just consuming some vinegar and hoping it will work magic. The truth about any “ACV diet” is that it must be accompanied by a smart eating plan (and ideally, exercise) in order to show meaningful results. Don’t forget, study results showed that vinegar by itself only led to a loss of one pound per month.

So, what should you do? First, don’t believe the hype about apple cider vinegar; find a diet that makes sense for your lifestyle and that you’ll be able to follow. Then, if you choose, add ACV into the mix: a maximum of two tablespoons per day is safe, and there are many apple cider vinegar uses and recipes to choose from. Just be sure that if you’re planning to drink the vinegar, you’ve diluted it with lots of water or other liquids, in order to avoid the damage it might do to your teeth or body.

One other note: the health benefits of apple cider vinegar are mostly due to the bacteria it contains, and they’re no longer available when the vinegar is heavily filtered and pasteurized. Always purchase unfiltered ACV in order to receive all of the product’s health benefits; you can tell pretty easily if the vinegar is unfiltered, because it will be cloudy rather than clear in the bottle.

(If you’re thinking that the bacteria would also make apple cider vinegar a probiotic, sorry to disappoint you. Stomach acid and digestive enzymes kill the vinegar’s bacteria before they can have a probiotic effect.)

One final question you may have, either from noticing our earlier reference to an “ACV detox” or from media stories about detox regimens: “How do you do an ACV detox?” Sorry to disappoint you, but that’s just another way to refer to the inclusion of apple cider vinegar in your diet by the methods we’ve already discussed.

Of course, there’s no reason you can’t drink a little ACV (mixed with water) every day, and then brag to your friends about your cool body detox program. Some might even be impressed.

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