Me and vinegar, we have a chequered past.
When I was living an anti-candida diet vinegar was the devil. Horrible, fermented stuff which could encourage the growth of my rabid candida overgrowth, or so the claims went.
But at the same time as I browsed the web for health information, I could see so many advocates for vinegar. And I’m not talking just sprinkling some on your chips at the seaside or a splash in your Asian cooking.
People were saying that drinking vinegar, and specifically Apple Cider Vinegar (catchily shortened to ACD), had significant health benefits.
As with everything in the world of health and nutrition, a strange sounding claim like drinking vinegar is worth investigating. And judging from the amount of people on social media saying how disgusting it is, it’s definitely good to know if the evidence makes it worthwhile.
Claim 1: Vinegar lowers blood sugar levels and helps fight diabetes
This claim has come about because of one 2013 study which noted that participants who ingested apple cider vinegar each day for 12 weeks had lower blood sugar.
However the group was already predisposed to type 2 diabetes, so it’s impossible to say whether this could be translated into the general population until more thorough research on a much wider test group is conducted.
In theory “vinegar is an acid that changes the pH of food, which can affect how quickly something is metabolized and absorbed” says Dr Scott Kahan of the National Centre for Weight and Wellness. So in principle maybe consuming something like vinegar could help you digest your food better, but that’s not proven.
BBC’s Trust Me, I’m A Doctor also ran a small experiment with a group of volunteers. Excitingly they found there was a 36% reduction in blood sugar levels when volunteers drank ACD before a meal. But that’s until you read on and see they also found there was no longer-term sustained improvement in blood sugar levels when the practice was continued over a period of 8 weeks.
Great, so drinking vinegar helps my blood sugar levels for about 90 minutes. Personally I want my benefit to last a bit longer than that.
Claim 2: Vinegar helps with weight loss
ACD is said to speed up metabolism and aid with weight loss, some saying it makes consumers feel fuller for longer.
However there is virtually no scientific literature to back this up, and those studies that have been undertaken are small, obscure and the claims are unsubstantiated.
What about it making you feel full? It’s theoretically possible, but it’s likely just a side effect of gastritis, or an inflammation of the stomach lining. Registered Dietitian (RD) Samantha Blamires explains:
“There is some evidence that ACD may increase satiety (feelings of fullness). The theory behind this is that ACD may reduce the glycaemic load of your meal i.e. the amount of carbohydrate in a portion of food and how quickly it raises your blood sugar. However despite this perceivable benefit, vinegars can irritate and damage tissues due to their acidic nature and therefore I would never advocate drinking vinegar as an aid to weight loss.”
Gross. I think I’d rather feel full by eating a proper meal than irritating my gut drinking vinegar, thanks.
Claim 3: Vinegar lowers cholesterol and lowers your risk of heart disease
Okay.. so it seems there IS some evidence for ACD lowering your cholesterol. But guess what? The best evidence has only been conducted in rats.
So yes, if you are a rat worrying about your cholesterol then put ACD on the top of your shopping list.
Thorough studies on humans? They haven’t been done yet.
And let’s be honest, there are plenty of other ways to lower your cholesterol that don’t involve holding your nose and drinking diluted vinegar every morning. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and doing regular exercise can help lower the level of cholesterol in your blood, says the NHS Live Well pages, with plenty of handy tips on how to do that safely. I searched for the word vinegar. Strangely it wasn’t there.
In conclusion vinegar could be beneficial in small quantities as part of a balanced diet, but we don’t have definitive evidence yet. So if you don’t fancy drinking vinegar (and let’s be honest, not many people do) but still believe there might be some benefits, then include small amounts in your diet in things like salad dressings instead of swigging it.
As with every other ‘superfood’ claim vinegar shouldn’t be seen as a miracle ingredient or a cure-all solution to illnesses. If you don’t want to drink it then I suggest you don’t bother, personally, I don’t think we’re missing out.