by Gillian Lim
TRUE or false: Drink a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar mixed into a cup of water every morning, and you’ll trim a few inches off your waist.
Doing a quick Google search on apple cider vinegar brings up about 10 million results. Filling up the first two pages alone are countless health pages citing its supposed health benefits, which range from clearing up your skin to detoxifying your body. It’s also supposed to whiten your teeth, kill bacteria, help you lose weight, and prevent cancer.
We spoke with two local nutritionists to ask them whether apple cider vinegar is truly beneficial to your health – including the supposed weight loss properties.
But first, what is apple cider vinegar?
What is it?
How apple cider vinegar is made isn’t as different from how rice vinegar is made; the only difference is the starting ingredient. In this case, it’s apples versus rice. Some other popular types of vinegar include mulberry vinegar, malt vinegar, white vinegar and red wine vinegar – all made from different starting ingredients, but all the vinegars contain acetic acid.
All vinegar is produced in a two-step process. Essentially, sugar from the starting ingredient is fermented to become alcohol. Then, the alcohol is further fermented to become acetic acid.
This means that apart from flavour, the apple cider vinegar sitting on your kitchen shelf might not actually be that different as compared to the white vinegar sitting right next to it – nutritionally, at least. And while we do know for sure that acetic acid is present in all vinegars, there could be other components in the vinegars that we don’t know about.
Does apple cider vinegar really help you to lose weight?
The upshot: No.
Or at least, there has yet to be large-scale human studies with definitive results.
We spoke to Ms Meave Graham, a clinical paediatric registered dietitian at Child Nutrition Singapore, and member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI), who said: “If you do an online search, you will be inundated with results showing websites making various health claims in relation to apple cider vinegar. However, these are false health claims which are not backed up by scientific research.”
She added that there is a handful of studies looking into effects of apple cider vinegar on blood glucose levels and on weight loss. However, the results of these studies are not highly significant and do not give enough evidence to back up these false health claims, and Ms Graham added that there is no good data to support the health claims.
Studies done in the past were mostly small case studies, and while these studies – which originated from animal test subjects – have moved onto human studies, it is still on a relatively small scale.
For example, a 2009 Japanese study showed that acetic acid suppressed the accumulation of body fats in high-fat-fed mice. The same group of researchers then continued onto human subjects; the 12-week long study, also conducted in 2009, investigated the effects of vinegar on 175 obese Japanese subjects.
At the end of 12 weeks, those fed a high daily dosage of vinegar lost about 1kg to 2kg. The study concluded that the daily intake of vinegar “might be useful” and can “perhaps be considered beneficial” in reducing obesity in Japanese subjects.
Ms Graham said that the amount of weight lost during that period was simply not enough. “I wouldn’t be very overwhelmed by their results. In terms of weight loss, there is no good scientific evidence to support the use of apple cider vinegar,” she said.
You can read the full study here.
Another human study, conducted more recently in 2014, wanted to see whether vinegar had any effect on molecules related to fats and sugars – particularly in relation to diabetic patients. The results showed “some evidence [supporting] the use of vinegar as a complementary treatment” in patients with abnormal sugar and fat levels, but still emphasised that “further large-scale long-term trials with impeccable methodology are warranted before definitive health claims can be made”.
Both studies mentioned above dealt with acetic acid – not apple cider vinegar in particular.
We spoke to Ms Bridget Marr, a registered dietitian and nutritionist at Singapore-based Nutritional Solutions, who said that there is no evidence that vinegar helps you lose weight.
So how does drinking apple cider vinegar help you? It helps to control blood sugar, apparently. Read on.
Apple cider vinegar and blood sugar
It lowers your blood sugar levels, according to some studies, or at least, stops it from rising too fast. It is also said to improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin, which is useful for diabetic or pre-diabetic patients.
For example, a 2004 study conducted by Dr Carol Johnston showed that drinking vinegar before a high-starch meal improves your body’s sensitivity to insulin. After the meal, the subjects also had less spikes in glucose and insulin levels.
Said Ms Marr: “There are some very small pilot studies which have demonstrated that consuming vinegar may help blood glucose control in people with type 2 diabetes”, adding that this was possibly by making starch slightly less digestible.
The 2004 study conducted by Dr Johnston found that vinegar seemed to slow down the rise in blood glucose (sugar) after a meal. This means you need less insulin to cope with that rise in blood glucose, she explained.
And while such results were beneficial to those with diabetes (since diabetes is a condition where the body can’t produce insulin, or does not produce enough, or where the insulin doesn’t work properly leading to raised blood glucose levels), Ms Marr said a slower rise in blood sugar levels is beneficial in otherwise healthy individuals.
However, she also added that much more research is needed before we can routinely recommend taking vinegar to help improve blood sugar control.
Ms Graham agreed, and highlighted Dr Johnston’s 2008 follow-up study, which found that drinking vinegar before a high-starch meal helps to make you feel fuller. But the study itself said that while vinegar is widely available, affordable, and appealing as a remedy, “whether vinegar is a useful adjunct therapy for individuals with diabetes or pre-diabetes has yet to be determined”.
But what about other health benefits, like preventing cancer or detoxifying your body?
“It’s hugely exaggerated,” said Ms Graham. “The only data of potential interest is in the field of diabetes. There are some small short-term studies, but not enough evidence from which to draw any firm conclusions or to base recommendations. In terms of health benefits, that’s the most interesting potential benefit, but there’s nothing else.”
“It’s another case of social media attributing false and exaggerated health claims to a food with no scientific basis to the claims. We need to not get distracted by this kind of hype, and keep the focus on healthy lifestyle included a varied and balanced diet,” she added.
The secret to weight loss? Eat less, move more.
Said Ms Graham: “Weight loss can be achieved by avoiding over-consumption of calorie and sugar rich processed food, consuming a balanced diet, based mainly on plant foods such as fruits, vegetables and wholegrain, and regular physical activity.”
The answer to that isn’t taking a shot of vinegar. “You need more fruits, vegetables, unprocessed foods, whole grain, in conjunction to physical activity,” she said.
Ms Marr agreed. If a patient were to ask her if drinking diluted apple cider vinegar was likely to benefit their health, she couldn’t agree. However, if they were already consuming it and wished to continue, there would be equally no reason to discontinue.
Said Ms Marr: “After all, vinegar is consumed regularly in salad dressings, marinades and pickles. There is no quick fix – a healthy diet with plenty of plant based fresh foods is the best option for weight loss.”
However, she also added that caution should be exercised as taking too much vinegar, especially undiluted vinegar, could irritate and possibly worsen heartburn.
If you like this article, Like the Middle Ground‘s Facebook Page as well!
For breaking news, you can talk to us via email.