Outside of my office, I display a selection of healthier products. I rotate them each month, but apple cider vinegar (ACV) has graced those shelve on more than one occasion. When it does, without fail, someone will survey the shelves, pick up the bottle, and ask me one of two things: 1) do I take a shot of it each morning? or 2) is this stuff really all it’s cracked up to be?
The Pros (or at least the claims)
Before we can establish if ACV deserves all the hype it has been getting, we should probably back up and establish what the hype is in the first place. For starters, when people refer to ACV, they are generally referring to the raw, unfiltered stuff, which is bit murky and contains more enzymes and beneficial bacteria; the label may also say that it includes the “Mother” (which is a good thing). Type “apple cider vinegar benefits” into Google (you will get nearly 13 million results!) and here are the various health conditions that it is said to help:
- bad breath
- cancer prevention
- cholesterol & heart health
- smelly feet
- sore throat
- teeth whitening
- weight loss
No wonder people are going nuts over it! Impressive health claims aside, ACV remains a pretty darn useful tool in a healthy kitchen. At only three calories per tablespoon, it’s an amazing, minimally processed way to add a punch of flavor to food without sugar, salt, or excessive fat. In your journey to better health, finding ingredients like ACV can be the difference between bland, boring food, and meals that you’re excited to eat. That’s not nothing!
It’s one thing to claim that ACV benefits all of those conditions; it’s quite another for it to actually work. If you’re thinking that ACV sounds too good to be true, you’re right. You can find a handful of studies, particularly ones that link vinegar in general (important! Not ACV specifically) with improved insulin sensitivity. This has direct implications for diabetes prevention and management, but also other conditions associated with the hormonal consequences of out-of-whack insulin: acne and weight loss in particular. However, these studies are way too small, as well as too few and far between, to draw any serious conclusions; and even if they were stronger, they still wouldn’t show that ACV is any healthier than other vinegars. Long story short: there isn’t a lot of research to support the over-the-top claims people are making. However, science may not be the be-all-and-end-all of apple cider vinegar effectiveness. Research on alternative and natural forms of medicine is poorly funded, so waiting for “proof” that ACV works is not particularly realistic. Really, it isn’t lack of evidence that is all that noteworthy here. If the only downside to taking a shot of ACV in the morning were that it may not make much of a difference, that’s not a very compelling argument not to do it. But it’s not the only downside. Here are the compelling arguments against ACV:
- Over time, it can cause serious dental erosion.
- It can decrease potassium levels in the body; this risk is particularly high when combined with certain medications.
- Without proper dilution, it can cause topical chemical burns and irritate the tissue lining the mouth, throat, and stomach.
Vinegar is strong stuff! It’s crucial to dilute it properly, and everyone’s sensitivity to its strength can vary. Either prolonged use or improper dilutions can cause serious harm. No matter what the internet tells you about ACV’s ability to “alkalize” the body, the fact is, it is an acid. It is corrosive. It has consequences when overused or misused.
The Bottom Line: Fit or Flop?
I have to give a big ole FLOP to the standard shot of ACV, even ones that are diluted with water. The amount of vinegar you would likely need to ingest to see significant improvements in your health would be more than enough to put you at risk for the consequences of consuming so much acid. There will always be people who want you to believe that there is a magic bullet to get you to where you want to be. I wish I could tell you it were true, that the only thing standing between you and your health goals is a tablespoon of vinegar every day. Unfortunately, true change is hard work, and nothing can replace a nutritious diet and active lifestyle. So go ahead, use that ACV, but try it in a salad dressing drizzled over a plateful of veggies, and leave the shot glasses for the college kids.