Apple cider vinegar, sometimes referred to as ACV, is a type of vinegar made in a multi-step fermentation process that starts with apple juice. It can be enjoyed as a dressing or marinade, or consumed directly in supplement forms. A few years ago, ACV shots became a thing to allegedly help with weight loss, manage diabetes and treat infections. But of all the health trends I’ve commented on as a dietitian, including coconut oil and kimchi and kombucha, this one seems particularly innocuous, yet, still worthy of conversation.
First of all, the amount of good quality scientific evidence surrounding the use of apple cider vinegar is far from compelling. The idea, for example, that it might be great for your immune system or prevent cancer or be some weight loss panacea, are not supported by actual meaningful science.
A 2018 study demonstrated that ACV led to increased weight loss — however, the participants who used ACV also consumed 250 less calories per day, which is far more likely to explain the study findings than the vinegar itself.
When it comes to blood sugar levels, the evidence is slightly more intriguing. One study found that consuming apple cider vinegar with a meal may have some modest potential to reduce the effect it has on your insulin response. However, adding ACV to meals is not recognized by Diabetes Canada as a scientifically meaningful blood sugar management tool. Plus, it’s possible that large amounts of ACV may interact with certain medications (such as insulin and diuretics).
There have also been claims that apple cider vinegar can play a role in gut health, or eradicating “bad” bacteria, but again, there is no compelling scientific data to support this. If those are the kinds of benefits you are looking for, you may want to look into well-studied supplements like probiotics and psyllium fibre — or better yet, ask a dietitian about them.
What’s bad about apple cider vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar is very acidic, which means if you consume a lot of it, you may damage the enamel on your teeth, although this is less of a concern if it is combined with a meal. According to the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, too much ACV can also cause an upset stomach, throat irritation, lower potassium levels and worsen the symptoms of an ulcer.
Otherwise, there is little apparent risk to consuming ACV assuming you enjoy it and use it moderately.
While there is apparently little risk to consuming apple cider vinegar, and every possibility that moderate amounts could have some minor positive health benefit, current evidence is largely theoretical and/or anecdotal. So the bottom line? I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to consume apple cider vinegar, unless you truly enjoy it.
Andy is a registered dietitian and author who has operated a private practice in Toronto since 2015. He spends his free time eating, writing and talking about kale @AndyTheRD. He can be reached at AndyTheRD.com.