Apple cider vinegar has been used as a health tonic for thousands of years. Research shows it has many health benefits, such as lowering blood sugar levels. But can adding apple cider vinegar to your diet also help you lose weight?
Apple cider vinegar is made in a two-step fermentation process. First, apples are cut or crushed and combined with yeast to convert their sugar into alcohol. Second, bacteria are added to ferment the alcohol into acetic acid.
Traditional apple cider vinegar production typically takes about one month, but some manufacturers dramatically speed up the process so that it takes only a day.
Acetic acid is the main active component of apple cider vinegar. Also known as ethanoic acid, it is an organic compound with a sour taste and strong odor. The term acetic comes from acetum, the Latin word for vinegar.
About 5-6 percent of apple cider vinegar consists of acetic acid. It also contains water and trace amounts of other acids, such as malic acid. One tablespoon (15 ml) contains about three calories and virtually no carbs.
Acetic acid is a short-chain fatty acid that dissolves into acetate and hydrogen in the body.
Some animal research suggests that the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar may lead to weight loss in several ways:
Lowers blood sugar levels: In one rat study, acetic acid improved the ability of the liver and muscles to take up sugar from the blood.
Decreases insulin levels: In the same rat study, acetic acid also reduced the ratio of insulin to glucagon, which might favor fat burning.
Improves metabolism: Another study in rats exposed to acetic acid showed an increase in the enzyme AMPK, which increases fat burning and decreases fat and sugar production in the liver.
Reduces fat storage: Treating obese diabetic rats with acetic acid or acetate protected them from obesity and increased the expression of genes that reduced belly fat storage and liver fat.
Burns fat: A study in mice fed a high-fat diet found a significant increase in the genes responsible for fat burning, which led to less body fat buildup.
Suppresses appetite: Another study suggests acetate may suppress centers in the brain that control appetite, which can lead to reduced food intake.
Apple cider vinegar may promote fullness, which can decrease calorie intake. In one small study of 11 people, those who took vinegar with a high-carb meal had a 55 percent lower blood sugar response one hour after eating. They also ended up consuming 200–275 fewer calories for the rest of the day. In addition to the appetite-suppressing effects of acetic acid, vinegar has also been shown to slow down the rate at which food leaves your stomach.
In another small study, taking apple cider vinegar with a starchy meal significantly slowed stomach emptying. This led to increased feelings of fullness and lowered blood sugar and insulin levels.
On the other hand, some people may have a condition that makes this effect a bad thing. Gastroparesis, or delayed stomach emptying, is a common complication of type 1 diabetes. Timing insulin with food becomes problematic, since it is difficult to predict how long it will take for blood sugar to rise after a meal.
Since vinegar has been shown to further extend the time food stays in the stomach, taking it with meals could worsen gastroparesis.
Results from one human study indicate that apple cider vinegar has some pretty impressive effects on weight and body fat.
In this 12-week study, 144 obese Japanese adults consumed either 1 tablespoons (15 ml) of vinegar, 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of vinegar or a placebo drink every day.
They were told to restrict their alcohol intake, but otherwise continue their usual diet and activity throughout the study.
Those who consumed 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of vinegar per day had the following averages:
Weight loss: 2.6 lbs (1.2 kg).
Decrease in body fat percentage: 0.7 percent.
Decrease in waist circumference: 0.5 in (1.4 cm).
Decrease in triglycerides: 26 percent.
This is what changed in those consuming 2 tablespoon (30 ml) of vinegar per day:
Weight loss: 3.7 lbs (1.7 kg).
Decrease in body fat percentage: 0.9 percent.
Decrease in waist circumference: 0.75 in (1.9 cm).
Decrease in triglycerides: 26 percent.
The placebo group actually gained 0.9 lbs (0.4 kgs), and their waist circumference slightly increased.
According to this study, adding 1 or 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to your diet can help you lose weight. It can also reduce your body fat percentage, make you lose belly fat and decrease your blood triglycerides.
To date, this is the only human study that has investigated vinegar’s effects on weight loss. Although the study was fairly large and the results are very encouraging, additional studies are needed in different populations.
One study in mice that were fed a high-fat, high-calorie diet found that the high-dose vinegar group gained 10 percent less fat than the control group and 2 percent less fat than the low-dose vinegar group.
In addition to promoting weight and fat loss, apple cider has several other benefits:
Lowers blood sugar and insulin: When consumed with a high-carb meal, vinegar has been shown to significantly lower blood sugar and insulin levels after eating.
Improves insulin sensitivity: One study in people with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes found that adding vinegar at a high-carb meal improved insulin sensitivity by 34 percent.
Lowers fasting blood sugar: In another study of people with type 2 diabetes, the group that took apple cider vinegar with a high-protein evening snack had twice the decrease in fasting blood sugar as those in the placebo group.
Improves PCOS symptoms: In a small study of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) who took vinegar for 90–110 days, four out of seven women resumed ovulation, likely due to improved insulin sensitivity.
Decreases cholesterol levels: Studies in diabetic and normal rats and mice found that it increased HDL (the “good”) cholesterol. It also reduced LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides.
Lowers blood pressure: Animal studies suggest that vinegar may decrease blood pressure by inhibiting the enzyme responsible for constricting blood vessels.
Kills harmful bacteria and viruses: Vinegar has been shown to fight bacteria that can cause food poisoning, including E. coli. One study found that vinegar reduced numbers of certain bacteria by 90 percent and some viruses by 95 percent.
There are a few ways to include apple cider vinegar in your diet.
An easy method is to use it with olive oil as a salad dressing. This is particularly tasty with leafy greens, cucumbers and tomatoes.
It can also be used for pickling vegetables, or you can simply mix it into water and drink it.
The amount of apple cider vinegar used for weight loss is 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 ml) per day, mixed with water.
It is best to spread this out into 2-3 doses throughout the day, and it may be best to drink it before meals.
Taking more than this isn’t recommended because of potentially harmful effects at higher dosages. It’s also best to start off with 1 teaspoon (5 ml) and see how you tolerate it.
Do not take more than 1 tablespoon (15 ml) at a time, because taking too much at one sitting may cause nausea.
Although taking apple cider vinegar in tablet form may seem like a good idea, this doesn’t seem to be the case. In one instance, a woman suffered throat burns after an apple cider vinegar tablet became lodged in her esophagus.
At the end of the day, taking a moderate amount of apple cider vinegar appears to promote weight loss and provide a number of other health benefits.
Other types of vinegar may provide similar benefits, although those with lower acetic acid content might have less potent effects.
Franziska Spritzler has a BSc in nutrition and dietetics. She is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator with expertise in carbohydrate-restricted diets for diabetes and weight management. •