If you’re looking for a magic elixir that will help you lose weight, the online forums extolling the benefits of apple cider vinegar might have you sold. And with drinks like Switchel, a mix of apple cider vinegar and maple syrup, making waves all over the web, the debate over the merits of ACV is certainly heating up.
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While whipping up apple cider vinegar-based salad dressing is one thing, the benefits of drinking it straight from the bottle can be questionable at best. And there are real risks, too. “A lot of cleanses focus on juices or beverages, so it’s possible that apple cider vinegar is getting looped in as part of this trend,” says Lisa Cimperman, RDN, LD, a clinical dietician at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. But unlike downing green juice, drinking too much apple cider vinegar could actually be harmful to your health.
The Sketchy Claims Surrounding Apple Cider Vinegar
Lauded as a way to improve everything from weight loss to indigestion, apple cider vinegar has even been said to help people control diabetes. “But the fact is that we don’t have the research to uphold any of these claims,” Cimperman says.
In fact, apple cider vinegar might make some health conditions worse — particularly if consumed in excess. “People tend to think more is always better but if individuals were to take in large amounts of apple cider vinegar, it could cause severe negative health consequences,” Cimperman says. “For example…[consumed] in tablet form, there have been reports of it burning an individual’s esophagus because it is highly acidic.”
Claims of “Drink this, lose weight!” generally sound too good to be true for a reason.
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That acidity might also be bad news for people suffering from acid reflux, or heartburn. “It can potentially irritate the esophagus as it’s going down, and not only that, then there’s more acid [in your stomach] to potentially reflux back out,” Cimperman says. If you’re looking for digestive relief, Cimperman recommends sticking to a diet rich in fiber and probiotics, instead.
When it comes to controlling diabetes, leave that to your doctors, please! Many people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes also have a condition called gastroparesis, which can prevent the stomach from properly emptying. This can make it more difficult to manage blood glucose. “If someone with gastroparesis were to take apple cider vinegar, it could make that condition even worse,” Cimperman says.
What About Apple Cider Vinegar for Weight Loss?
Claims of “Drink this, lose weight!” generally sound too good to be true for a reason. One recent study of 14 people showed that those who drank a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed with 8 ounces of water before a meal had lower blood glucose levels. This may be because vinegar interfered with the body’s digestion of starch. “By blocking digestion of starch, that would result in a calorie reduction of your meal,” Cimperman says. “So that’s possibly where [those weight claims] came from, but it’s hard for me to say.” Other minor studies have shown similar benefits, but Cimperman says weight loss claims, “often grow out of a very small study that gets blown out of proportion.”
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In other words, don’t bank on apple cider vinegar when clean eating and good old-fashioned exercise will do. If you’re set on incorporating apple cider vinegar in your diet, do it in moderation. “My advice would be to do no more than one to two teaspoons and mix it in water or some other beverage to dilute the acidity. You never want to take it just straight,” Cimperman says. Even better: Mix it with olive oil and use it to top your salads as a low-calorie alternative to your usual ranch dressing. Or, try these eight delicious apple cider recipes that incorporate it in creative ways. It’ll be tastier than chugging it, that’s for sure.
Originally posted July 2015. Updated September 2015.