Is Apple Cider Vinegar Worth the Hype? An Expert Breaks It Down
Before you down an entire bottle and deem it a 'detox,' read on.
If you follow health trends on the internet, you've probably heard about a few seemingly perfect superfoods—an array of magical pixie dusts that will be the antidote to all your woes (anyone else still riding the coconut oil bandwagon?). However, even if exaggerated, many of these touted products do have real health benefits. The trick is separating the truth from the snake oil, which can be hard to do with so much information out there, much of which comes from questionable sources.
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is another example of a product that has humble roots as a trend in natural health circles, but has quickly gone mainstream. With claims ranging from weight loss to improved blood sugar control, the tart elixir made from fermented apples has become a pantry and medicine cabinet staple for many. For those who are interested, there is no shortage of ways you can use ACV, from making a health tonic by diluting the vinegar with water, to brightening up a salad dressing, to integrated it into your skincare and hair care routine. But is this magical potion too good to be true? We asked Rebecca Ditkoff, MPH, RD, a registered dietitian in New York City and founder of Nutrition by RD, to give us the scoop on the health benefits, drawbacks, and things to know about apple cider vinegar.
Apple Cider Vinegar Benefits
There are several health benefits that have been associated with consuming apple cider vinegar, such as improved gut health, regulating blood sugar, lowering cholesterol, and minimizing feelings of hunger. However, as Ditkoff reminds us, purported health claims don't always equate into scientifically backed truth.
"Overall, there has not been a significant amount of research done on the effects of ACV," she says. Most of the studies done on weight loss and cholesterol were not conducted on humans, meaning that their positive results may not translate into reality for you. There are a few small studies that have been done on humans linking apple cider vinegar consumption with weight loss and blood sugar control, but it's not enough to prove ACV as a surefire way to manage weight quite yet.
One popularly touted side effect of including ACV in your diet is improved gut health. This benefit mainly comes from the presence of acetic acid, which is formed when the sugar in apples ferments. Because of this fermentation process, apple cider is grouped into the probiotics category, but it's ability to truly improve your digestive health is questionable. You'd be better off eating fermented foods that have a higher probiotic count, like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, or kefir, according to Ditkoff. She also makes an important distinction: "Not all ACV on the shelves are created equal. If you want to receive probiotics, then you'll want to look into purchasing raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar with the mother."
"Apple Cider Vinegar Detox"
One rumor circulating that Ditkoff and other dietitians would like to debunk once and for all, is that apple cider vinegar, or any other substance, acts as a detoxification agent in the body. "Our bodies do an excellent job of detoxing on their own. 'Detoxing' is precisely what our liver, kidneys and intestines are for," she says. "These organs work together to eliminate toxins and waste from our body, while also helping your body absorb the beneficial nutrients from whatever you eat." So don't bother chugging ACV in the hopes that it will help you recover from a wild weekend—just drink more water and help your body do what it does best.
Other Apple Cider Vinegar Uses
Apple Cider Vinegar Is Great for Cooking (Duh).
Apple cider vinegar wears many hats, but its original and most obvious use is in cooking. Mix it into marinades and vinaigrettes, like this delicious whole-grain mustard, bacon, and shallot dressing. Tart apple cider vinegar also pairs perfectly with the sweetness of light brown sugar and the kick from whole-grain mustard seeds in this all-purpose Cider-Mustard Glaze. Brush it on chicken or pork, or toss it with roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes or carrots.
Apple cider vinegar is also a tasty tart-sweet base for pickled vegetables, like Dill Pickles, and can be added to homemade jams and jellies to balance the sweet with a little sour. Don't believe us? Wait until you try this Quick Strawberry-Cider Jam.
Apple Cider Vinegar Can Clarify Hair
Talk about an affordable alternative to pricey clarifying shampoos—this stuff can help rid your hair of unpleasant product and oil buildup. "An apple cider vinegar-based rinse is touted by trichologists and hairstylists everywhere for helping restore life to your hair in a matter of minutes," explains Real Simple associate editor Hana Hong. Start by diluting a half tablespoon of ACV for every 8 ounces of water and increasing it over time based on your scalp's reaction to avoid stripping your hair or irritating your scalp. See here for everything you need to know about using apple cider vinegar for hair.
It May Help Alleviate Dry, Dull Skin
"Many claim ACV can help [alleviate] eczema and acne, fade fine lines, and make skin appear brighter and more youthful," says Raechele Cochran Gathers, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of MDhairmixtress.com. "People use it as a toner for the skin and to help treat acne prone areas." However, Dr. Gathers cautions that, despite the number of people who've fallen in love with it, these claims are purely anecdotal. "There is actually no good scientific study to prove the skin-healing claims of ACV," she says. "Before jumping to ACV, I'd recommend getting evaluated by your dermatologist first."
Apple Cider Vinegar Is an Effective Cleaning Agent
Vinegar is an all-natural cleaning agent, and can be used on everything from from wood floors and shower heads to soap scum, candle wax, carpet stains, and more (find a full list of cleaning vinegar uses here). Though white or actual cleaning vinegar is more effective for household use, apple cider vinegar works in a pinch.
When Is Apple Cider Vinegar Bad for You?
The main thing to watch out for when increasing the amount of ACV in your diet is the acidity. Like most vinegars, ACV is highly acidic, which Ditkoff warns can wreak havoc on both your tooth enamel and stomach lining. If you've heard about the trend of taking straight shots of ACV before meals, stay away. Ditkoff recommends diluting 1 to 2 tablespoons with 8 ounces of water, and always consuming vinegar with food so that the acid doesn't cause irritation on your empty stomach. You could also try the drinking vinegars from Trader Joe's, which include honey and additional flavorings to make the drink a bit more palatable.
The bottom line here is that increasing your consumption of apple cider vinegar can't hurt you as long as you do so in a gradual and reasonable (read: diluted) way. It's an excellent ingredient to incorporate into your cooking if you don't already, and lack of concrete proof doesn't make it dangerous or that it couldn't possibly make you feel a little healthier. Just don't rely on ACV as your be-all-end-all health solution. Like with most things, moderation reigns supreme.