Food Fad Friday: Apple Cider Vinegar

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In recent years, apple cider vinegar has been heralded as a magic elixir that controls blood sugar levels, prevents heart disease, whitens teeth and slows the aging process. According to numerous blogs and natural remedy sites, it seems like there is nothing it can’t fix. While apple cider vinegar has been used to pickle and preserve foods for centuries and continues to be a great flavor option for sauces, dressings and marinades, we decided to see if these common internet claims are backed by any scientific evidence.

Apple cider vinegar and diabetes

According to a 2004 study, apple cider vinegar may help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar. The study showed that apple cider vinegar, when consumed alongside with starches like pasta, bread and potatoes, reduced the rise in blood sugar following the meal.  The researchers linked this increase in insulin sensitivity to a specific component of apple cider vinegar, acetic acid, which may block the absorption of starch. It’s important to note that the study only included ten people who had already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes or insulin sensitivity. With a tiny sample size and a very specific population, it’s impossible to use this study to make conclusion about the benefits of apple cider vinegar for the general population. Also, the study did not demonstrate that apple cider vinegar prevents or slows down the onset of diabetes. So, these findings definitely need to be taken with a grain of salt.

Apple cider vinegar and other chronic diseases

In terms of obesity and heart disease, there is little evidence that apple cider vinegar, or any other type, has a significant effect in humans. But for rats, the story may be a bit different. A few studies, published between 2001 and 2014, demonstrated that blood pressure and blood triglycerides were reduced in rats fed vinegar along with a high-cholesterol diet. These preliminary studies were only tested in rats, so there is little evidence that apple cider vinegar has the same effect in humans.

One study showed some promise that these results may also apply to humans. A 2009 study performed on obese Japanese adults investigated the role of vinegar on body weight, body fat mass and serum triglycerides. This study found that ingesting a daily drink of diluted vinegar resulted in small weight loss, which was two to four pounds over the course of 12 weeks.  Similarly, this single study on obese individuals is not enough to establish a link between apple cider vinegar and weight loss for the general public. Calorie restriction, a well-balanced diet and regular physical activity are still the best (and healthiest) roads to sustainable weight loss.

How should apple cider vinegar be used?

Even if there are some small potential health benefits of apple cider vinegar, it’s important to recognize that apple cider vinegar is still an acid.  Whether it is swallowed or rubbed on, vinegar, if not diluted properly, has the potential to burn and permanently damage the human body. Vinegar can be especially damaging to teeth since the high amount of acid it contains could erode the protective enamel.

Despite a lot of uncertainty about the benefits of apple cider vinegar, there is one thing that’s for sure. Vinegar can help preserve foods, especially fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers or peeled apples. Apple cider vinegar can be used to do this as well; however, it may cause more discoloration and change in taste than distilled white vinegar. It’s also a great option to use in salad dressings, sauces or spreads.

Although it seems trendy to take a sip of apple cider vinegar with each meal – especially since there are some limited studies showing its effects on insulin and weight gain– the best bet is to keep it on your plate, maybe combined with oil, spread over some fresh veggies for a healthy, tasty bite.

Julia Werth, a University of Maryland Dietetic Intern, contributed to this blog post.