Some call it a miracle cure. Nutritionist Carrie Dennett lays out the claims about the benefits of taking apple-cider vinegar, and whether there’s any truth to them.

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On Nutrition

Certain “miracle cures” tend to cycle in and out of vogue. Apple-cider vinegar is one of those so-called miracles. Almost once a week, someone tells me, “I heard I should take apple-cider vinegar.” The most commonly mentioned reasons are weight loss and blood-sugar control, but a quick web search unearths a number of related health claims about this folk remedy. Here are just a few:

THE CLAIM: It helps your body detox and maintain a healthy pH level.

THE FACTS: Your body has its own powerful mechanisms for dealing with toxins and maintaining pH. The best way to assist those mechanisms is to eat a diet that includes lots of vegetables and fruits, along with adequate protein to support liver function.

THE CLAIM: It prevents osteoporosis by increasing calcium absorption.

THE FACTS: Perhaps, if you are a female rat who has had her ovaries removed, because that’s the extent of the research on this hypothesis. Plus, the vinegar used in those studies wasn’t even apple-cider vinegar. In humans, excessive intake can actually contribute to osteoporosis, as well as low potassium levels.

THE CLAIM: It reduces the risk of cancer.

THE FACTS: The studies on this topic involve either rats and mice, or isolated cells in a test tube or petri dish. Interesting, but not applicable to humans at this time.

THE CLAIM: It lowers blood-sugar levels.

THE FACTS: This one has research involving actual humans to back it up. For example, one small 2010 study that included some adults with type 2 diabetes, and some without, found that consuming 2 teaspoons of vinegar in a meal that includes complex carbohydrates appeared to reduce the rise in blood sugar after the meal. The vinegar had no effect when the meal included simple carbs. Other studies show similar results, and it appears that the acid in the vinegar interferes with absorption of starches. This isn’t specific to apple-cider vinegar — it’s the acetic acid in vinegar that matters.

THE CLAIM: It enhances weight loss.

THE FACTS: The only research to support this is a 2009 study of Japanese adults with body mass indexes (BMIs) in the obese range. Those who drank a beverage containing 1 or 2 tablespoons of apple-cider vinegar each day for 12 weeks lost 2 to 4 pounds but gained it back after the study. There’s some evidence that consuming vinegar with a meal may increase satiety (the feeling of physical fullness after a meal), possibly by slowing the rate at which food leaves your stomach.

All of that said, I think that apple-cider vinegar is fabulous — for culinary reasons, although the blood-sugar lowering effect is interesting. I keep a variety of vinegars in my pantry — rice, coconut, red-wine, white-wine, sherry, balsamic, apple-cider — and when I want a vinegar that has a little less of a bite, I often reach for apple-cider vinegar. It’s my go-to when I’m making coleslaw or a fall salad that includes fruit.

A great way to include vinegar with your meals — along with those veggies you might need more of — is to use salad as a vehicle. It’s easy to make your own vinaigrette, and better for you than most pre-made dressings. The basic formula is one part vinegar to three or four parts oil. Olive oil is my go-to, but walnut oil is especially nice, too. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

And remember that just because something is natural doesn’t mean it’s risk free — burns to the esophagus or skin from overzealous vinegar use are not unheard of.