What of it: a series where we look at health food topics and find out what it’s about, evidence behind the claims, and if + how it can practically fit into your diet+ lifestyle.
Apple cider vinegar: what of it? I noticed my dad started drinking this every morning last time I went back home to visit. It reminded me that I used to do the same thing every morning, but had gotten out of the habit. Mainly because I borderline gagged every time I tried to get the shot of vinegar down each morning.
If I was going to start taking it again, I wanted to make sure it was worth starting up the habit – and I wanted to find out if/why/how it works. Here is an overview of what you need to know about this suspicious coloured vinegar:
The first thing I found when looking into apple cider vinegar is the massive amount of health claims associated with it…and the frustrating lack of studies or evidence to back up any of the claims. Some claims were a bit far-fetched and presented apple cider vinegar as a ‘cure all’ – which is always a sign to proceed with caution. As amazing as it would be to have a single product to fix all our health problems, it just doesn’t work that way.
It took a while of digging to find some studies, but studies around natural ‘remedies’ etc are sometimes scarce – and doesn’t necessarily mean there are no benefits at all. These are the most common claims regarding apple cider vinegar (and sometimes just generic vinegar) & what I found:
#1 MAY LOWER BLOOD GLUCOSE LEVELS + INSULIN AFTER MEALS
This is an area that I was able to find some research about – the claim that having vinegar before meals was able to lower the rise in blood glucose and/or insulin after meals.
This small study showed improved insulin sensitivity in insulin resistant individuals after having 20 mL of apple cider vinegar, 2 minutes before a high carbohydrate meal. Another small study showed consuming acetic acid (in vinegar) reduced blood glucose levels by 34% after consuming 50g carbohydrate. Taking 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bedtime for type 2 diabetics also reduced fasting blood glucose levels by 4% in this small pilot study. This study showed lower glucose and insulin responses after healthy subjects consumed vinegar before a white bread-based meal.
How might it work? It’s just theories at this time, but some propose that drinking apple cider vinegar may inhibit some digestive enzymes involved in carbohydrate breakdown, slowing the breakdown of carbs into simple sugars – therefore slowing the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream and slowing the increase of blood glucose (so there is also less demand for insulin production). Another theory is that acetic acid slows gastric emptying, therefore slowing the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream in the small intestine.
#2 AIDS DIGESTION
Apple cider vinegar is high in acetic acid, which is said to improve absorption of nutrients in the foods we eat. Having apple cider vinegar 15-20 minutes before meals may also stimulate the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in your stomach, which can especially aid digestion if you aren’t producing enough HCl. I couldn’t find any studies on this claim, but it is one you can try for yourself and note any improvements in digestion, especially after eating ‘problem’ foods or meals.
#3 ALKALIZES THE BODY
This one is a little controversial. The body’s blood pH is pretty tightly controlled by the body without having to manipulate the foods we eat – these are two good articles on alkaline diets and body pH: here and here. So if you’re drinking the vinegar just to ‘alkalise’ the body – it might not be worth the vinegar burn (some people say it ‘tastes delicious’ – I don’t understand…).
#4 AIDS WEIGHT LOSS
Weight loss claims always helps to sell a product, hey? The ‘benefits’ of apple cider vinegar for weight loss may be linked to its effect on blood glucose control and insulin levels. Some studies show that vinegar increases satiety, helping to decrease overall food intake – check this study out.
I could argue, from personal experience, that since drinking apple cider vinegar made me want to throw up, it significantly reduced my hunger, therefore making me less likely to eat afterwards…but I don’t think that counts as a valid mechanism for reduced satiety.
There has to be caution when just relying on one food or ingredient to help reduce weight. Even if apple cider vinegar does help reduce hunger and control blood glucose levels, it’s not going to whack a chocolate bar out of our hands. I know that would be beneficial to some of us, but it’s not in vinegar’s job description. I would probably pay good money for vinegar if it was.
While apple cider vinegar doesn’t cure all life’s health problems, there are some potential benefits. I don’t like discounting people’s experiences from their own experiments with a product – there are many mechanisms we can’t explain through certain studies, and natural products get little research coverage anyway. That being said, there is always the potential that something will seem beneficial because you believe it will – but even if thats the case, at least the person ‘feels’ better. The mind is a powerful thing. If you’re wanting to try it out, here are some final tips:
#1 GET THE GOOD STUFF
If you’re going to try out apple cider vinegar, make sure you get the type that looks the most disgusting – the cloudy murky stuff with a big blob in it – called the ‘mother’. The mother is the good stuff – bringing the probiotics/good bacteria. So go for apple cider vinegar that is unfiltered/ organic – steer clear of that vinegar that looks too perfect. Don’t trust it.
#2 HOW TO TAKE IT
Normal doses range from 1 teaspoon to 2 tablespoons each day. If you’re brave enough to drink it, don’t take it straight – it’s very acidic (obviously) and may cause some damage to your tooth enamel if you’re taking it long term. Dilute it in a glass of water (and honey if you need help getting it down…) instead of taking it like a shot rinse your mouth out with water afterwards to protect your teeth from damage.
If you can’t handle drinking it, vinegar makes a great salad dressing – add it generously to your salads instead. Take it before meals if you want to use it for digestion or blood glucose control. You could even start meals with a small salad using the vinegar as a dressing – it will boost your veg intake for the day too (bonus points).
I hope that this post has helped you get your head around apple cider vinegar and has encouraged you to question health claims that may seem a bit far fetched – while not being so skeptical to believe that foods have no role in health. Nutrition is so important & this is only one of the many foods/liquids that have been created for us to fuel ourselves in the best way possible.
Brighenti, F, Castellani, G, Benini, L, Casiraghi, MC, Leopardi, E, Crovetti, R, Testolin, G 1995, ‘Effect of neutralised and native vinegar on blood glucose and acetate responses to a mixed meal in healthy subjects’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 49, no.4, pp. 242-7.
Johnston, CS, Kim, CM, Buller, AJ 2004, ‘Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high-carbohydrate meal in subjects with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes’, Diabetes Care, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 281-2.
Ostman, E, Granfeldt, Y, Persson, L, Bjorck, I 2005, ‘Vinegar supplementation lowers glucose and insulin responses and increase satiety after a bread meal in healthy subjects’, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 59, no. 9, pp. 983-8.
White, AM, Johnston, CS 2007, ‘Vinegar ingestion at bedtime moderates waking glucose concentrations in adults with well-controlled type 2 diabetes’, Diabetes Care, vol. 30, no. 11, pp. 2814-5.