You’ve no doubt seen plenty of stories on social media touting apple cider vinegar (ACV) as a fat-melting elixir that can help you lose weight. But…does it actually work?
Sure, some holistic health experts (and maybe the lady down the street) swear by the stuff. But whether ACV will really help you squeeze into a smaller jeans size isn’t quite so straightforward. Here’s what the science actually says, and whether the tart liquid deserves to be a part of your weight loss regimen.
The science behind apple cider vinegar for weight loss
Let’s get one thing clear up front: There’s only a small amount of evidence directly tying ACV to weight loss in humans. One study in the Journal of Functional Foods, which followed 39 adults, found that participants who consumed a tablespoon of ACV at lunch and dinner while cutting 250 calories per day lost 8.8 pounds in 12 weeks. On the other hand, those who cut the same number of calories but didn’t consume ACV lost only 5 pounds.
In another study in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, 144 obese adults were randomly assigned to drink either a placebo or one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar daily for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, those who drank two tablespoons had lost close to 4 pounds, while those who drank one tablespoon lost 2.5 pounds. (Those who drank the placebo actually gained a little bit of weight.)
Those findings alone don’t prove that ACV is a magic fat melter. “These studies were done on very small populations,” says registered dietician Erin Palinksi-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN. “But the consistent results indicate that ACV may be a beneficial tool in reducing body weight.”
What’s more clear? ACV seems to have properties that could potentially support your weight loss efforts. A few studies—like this one and this one—have found that drinking apple cider vinegar before eating is linked to smaller post-meal blood sugar spikes. Why this happens isn’t totally clear, but nutrition researchers like Carol Johnston, PhD, who has studied ACV at Arizona State University for years, suspects that compounds in the vinegar interfere with the absorption of some starches.
That matters because blood sugar highs and lows tend to lead to cravings for sugary snacks. “So if apple cider vinegar can help control blood sugar, this could help manage cravings and portion control, potentially leading to fewer calories consumed,” explains registered dietitian Amy Goodson, MS, RD, CSSD, LD.
It’s also possible that ACV might directly make you want to eat less. One study by Johnston in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that participants who drank the stuff before a meal consumed up to 275 fewer calories throughout the rest of the day. But again, the reasons behind that are murky. ACV could boast compounds that actually suppress your appetite. But drinking it could also just be so unpleasant that you end up getting turned off from food for the rest of the day.
So should you try drinking apple cider vinegar to lose weight?
Drinking ACV alone isn’t going to help you reach your goal weight, but there’s a small chance it could support the efforts that we know work for weight loss, like eating a healthy diet and exercising more.
And it won’t likely hurt you, say Goodson and Palinski-Wade—as long as you don’t overdo it. Like all vinegars, ACV’s high acidity can irritate your throat and strip the enamel from your teeth, Johnston says. Stick with a tablespoon no more than twice daily, and always dilute it in eight ounces of water, recommends Palinski-Wade. “ACV should never be consumed straight,” she warns.
How to add apple cider vinegar to your diet for weight loss
Wondering about the best time to take apple cider vinegar? You can drink a tablespoon of ACV diluted in eight ounces of water up to twice a day—ideally, before or with a meal. That’ll increase the chances that the ACV will boost your satiety and help keep your blood sugar steady, Palinski-Wade says. If you can’t stomach the idea of drinking vinegar, think about working it into your meals instead. Try drizzling ACV and olive oil over a salad or steamed veggies, Palinski-Wade suggests. Or add a tablespoon of ACV to a smoothie.
As for the best apple cider to drink? You want to choose an ACV that’s labeled raw and unfiltered. “Unfiltered versions contain proteins, enzymes, and healthy bacteria from the vinegar starter or mother,” Palinski-Wade says.