The Truth About Apple Cider Vinegar

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Apple cider vinegar's (ACV) reputation as a miracle cure certainly isn't new — supposedly even the Ancient Greeks were into the stuff. Today, though, the internet has resurrected this ancient remedy and glorified it to the max. A quick Google search would have you believe ACV is a magical cure-all that can help with tummy troubles, blood pressure, and even diabetes. So, we decided to do some digging to see how ACV really can — and cannot — help you. "Apple cider vinegar has long been part of folk remedies," explains Kim Larson, RDN and spokesperson for The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics to R29 in an email. "[But] there is very little research on it to show it cures the ailments that it is touted to cure." The claim that has the most (read: any) research behind it is that ACV might help control blood sugar spikes. Much of the hype around this claim can be traced back to a 2004 Diabetes Care study in which participants (with and without Type 2 diabetes) were given ACV diluted with water and sugar or a placebo drink. After eating a carb-heavy meal, participants who had gotten ACV showed 20-40% greater insulin sensitivity, meaning their bodies were better able to keep their blood glucose levels stable. "It’s in no way a substitute for medication," Larson says, but if you have Type 2 diabetes and are interested in incorporating this into your diet, check in with your doctor or an RDN. He or she may suggest drinking a few tablespoons of ACV diluted in water per day or taking vinegar tablets. But you might have to check your blood glucose levels more often, so please consult your doc before taking on that regimen.

Others may claim that drinking ACV settles their tummies. But, unfortunately, there's no research suggesting ACV will help with any digestive issue. Instead, research shows that drinking it might actually make you feel more nauseated. Okay, so what do we do with all of the other various, increasingly absurd claims about heart disease, cancer, and "detoxing"? "These are simply old wives' tales that get perpetuated," says Larson. "There’s no one food that will bring health or prevent disease; the best way to improve health is by eating a healthy diet and getting physical activity into your life every day!" On the flip side, drinking too much ACV may actually be dangerous. "[It's] a powerful acid that can erode teeth and irritate and burn tissues in the mouth and esophagus," Larson says. She says to never drink it undiluted (so please no ACV shots). On top of the acidity concerns, regularly drinking ACV may also cause more serious health issues, including at least one strange case of dangerously low potassium levels that led to hospitalization.

However, like all vinegars, ACV does contain prebiotic compounds, which can encourage the growth of good intestinal bacteria. And, when mixed with other things, these can add some excellent flavor to otherwise bland dishes. Larson says her favorite is to mix ACV into dressings or even just sprinkle balsamic vinegar on top of a good caprese salad. So, if you love your ACV, you don't have to go without it — it just isn't quite the elixir we were led to believe.

More from Diet & Nutrition

R29 Original Series