Dietitians Explain Whether Apple Cider Vinegar Actually Works for Weight Loss

·6 min read
Photo credit: YelenaYemchuk - Getty Images
Photo credit: YelenaYemchuk - Getty Images


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In a perfect world, losing weight when you want to would be a simple process. In reality, it’s complicated and usually requires that you change up what you eat (more on our best diets for weight loss here), how you think about food, and your exercise plan. So, it’s understandable to be intrigued if you happen to come across claims that there’s a connection between apple cider vinegar and weight loss.

Many holistic health experts and Instagram influencers swear by the stuff, but whether ACV will really help you squeeze into a smaller pair of jeans isn’t so straightforward. Here’s what experts and the research actually says about apple cider vinegar for weight loss.

The science behind apple cider vinegar for weight loss

Let's get one thing clear up front: There’s only a small amount of evidence directly tying ACV to weight loss in humans. One study in the Journal of Functional Foods, which followed 39 adults, found that participants who consumed a tablespoon of ACV at lunch and dinner, while cutting 250 calories per day, lost 8.8 pounds in 12 weeks. On the other hand, those who cut the same number of calories but didn’t consume ACV lost only 5 pounds.

In another study in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 144 adults with obesity were randomly assigned to drink either a placebo or one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, those who drank two tablespoons had lost close to 4 pounds, while those who drank one tablespoon lost 2.5 pounds. (Those who drank the placebo actually gained a little bit of weight.) However, those findings alone don’t prove that ACV is a magic fat melter. “These studies were done on very small populations,” says Erin Palinksi-Wade, R.D., C.D.E., L.D.N. “But the consistent results indicate that ACV may be a beneficial tool in reducing body weight.”

On top of that, ACV seems to have properties that could potentially support your weight-loss efforts. For instance, a 2013 study from the Journal of Functional Foods suggests that drinking apple cider vinegar before eating is linked to smaller blood sugar spikes. Another 2010 study from the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism shows that having two teaspoons of ACV during meal time could help reduce sugar crashes and keep blood sugar levels stabilized. Why this happens isn't totally clear, but nutrition researchers like Carol Johnston, Ph.D., who has studied ACV at Arizona State University for years, suspects that compounds in the vinegar interfere with the absorption of some starches.

That matters because blood sugar highs and lows tend to lead to cravings for sugary snacks. “So if apple cider vinegar can help control blood sugar, this could help manage cravings and portion control, potentially leading to fewer calories consumed,” explains Amy Goodson, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., L.D.

What's more, a 2014 study from the Journal of Food Science suggests that vinegars, such as apple cider vinegar, can help reduce the effects of diabetes and prevent cardiovascular disease due to its antioxidant activity. Apple cider vinegar has high levels of a polyphenol called chlorogenic acid, which could help improve heart health by inhibiting the oxidation of bad LDL cholesterol.

It’s also possible that ACV might directly make you want to eat less. One study by Johnston in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that participants who drank the fermented liquid before a meal consumed up to 275 fewer calories throughout the rest of the day. But again, the reasons behind that are murky. ACV could boast compounds that actually suppress your appetite. But drinking it could also just be so unpleasant that you end up getting turned off from food for the rest of the day.

Ultimately, all the research on ACV and weight loss is from small studies—and it’s really hard to draw conclusions from those, says Jessica Cording, R.D., author of The Little Book of Game-Changers

“We really don't have any conclusive data on this,” she says. “There’s some interesting data on blood sugar control, but these are all small studies.”

Cording also points out that one study tied apple cider vinegar to weight loss due to it being an appetite suppressant “but that was because people found that drinking apple cider vinegar made them nauseous,” she says.

What is apple cider vinegar, again?

Apple cider vinegar (aka ACV) is a fermented liquid made from apple juice, Cording says. To make it, you ferment the sugar from apples, creating acetic acid—the main ingredient in vinegar.

"Bacteria and yeast are added to the liquid to start the alcoholic fermentation process, which converts the sugars to alcohol,” says Vanessa Rissetto, M.S., R.D., C.D.N. “In a second fermentation step, the alcohol is converted into vinegar bacteria."

Taste-wise, apple cider vinegar has a strong, tart flavor with a hint of apples.

So should you try drinking apple cider vinegar for weight loss?

Drinking ACV alone isn’t going to help you shed excess pounds, but it could support the efforts that we know work for weight loss (like eating a healthy diet and exercising more). And it won’t likely hurt you, according to Goodson and Palinski-Wade—as long as you don’t overdo it.

Like all vinegars, ACV’s high acidity can irritate your throat and strip tooth enamel, Johnston says. Plus, "the acidity could bother you if you experience reflux," adds Rissetto. Stick with a tablespoon no more than twice daily, and always dilute it in eight ounces of water, recommends Palinski-Wade. “ACV should never be consumed straight,” she warns.

“Definitely go slow with this one,” Cording says. “I don’t recommend doing a shot or anything—that will really hurt your esophagus.”

Ultimately, Cording says, “whenever someone tells me that they want to be taking apple cider vinegar in liquid form or supplement form for weight loss, I usually try to steer them in another direction.”

How to add apple cider vinegar to your diet for weight loss

Wondering about the best time to take apple cider vinegar? You can drink a tablespoon of ACV diluted in eight ounces of water up to twice a day—ideally, before or with a meal. That’ll increase the chances that the ACV will boost your satiety and help keep your blood sugar steady, Palinski-Wade says.

If you can’t stomach the idea of drinking vinegar, think about working it into your meals instead. Try drizzling ACV and olive oil over a salad or steamed veggies, Palinski-Wade. Or add a tablespoon of ACV to a smoothie.

If you use ACV to replace more calorie-dense salad dressings and marinades, and you had enough of them in the past, it could help you lose weight by cutting calories, Cording points out.

To maximize the health benefits, choose an ACV that’s labeled raw and unfiltered. “Unfiltered versions contain proteins, enzymes, and healthy bacteria from the vinegar starter or mother,” Palinski-Wade says. Try Bragg Organic Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar or Spectrum Organic Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar.

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