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Fads, whether they’re in food or fashion, usually have a very short life span. But there’s one diet craze that just doesn’t seem to go away. Apple cider vinegar has been touted as a weight loss remedy for as long as I can remember.
When I was first studying nutrition in college (and this was 30 years ago), the use of weight loss vinegar was in full swing. I distinctly remember the rather twisted bit of logic that was offered up in vinegar’s defense. It was said that since vinegar and oil don’t really mix, that vinegar and body fat shouldn’t mix, either. The leap from salad dressing to slimming was never explained, but millions were swept up by the virtues of apple cider vinegar. And if Internet posts are to be believed, the apple cider vinegar fad still has millions of adherents today.
So I got to wondering about the longevity of the vinegar craze, since diet fads are, by definition, short-lived. Why would the apple cider vinegar thing been so enduring, unless it might actually do something?
Imagine my surprise when I actually found a handful of scientific studies on the subject that have, in fact, shown that a dose of cider vinegar with a meal may actually help people to feel full.
In one Swedish study done five years ago, study subjects said that their food cravings were reduced for a few hours after they ate white bread with 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar—something plain bread failed to do. But the study was small—just 12 people. And there wasn’t a ‘placebo’ group for comparison, meaning that no one ate bread with something that looked, smelled and tasted like vinegar but wasn’t.
In another small study published just this year, the study subjects ate their meals with a colored and highly sweetened vinegar brew that they were unable to distinguish from a placebo drink, which was also tart, colored, very sweet and vinegar-free. When consumed with a meal, two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar—about the amount you’d get from a typical serving of salad with vinaigrette dressing—reduced the rise in blood sugar by about 20 percent when compared to the effects of the meal eaten with the look-alike drink.
It’s been speculated that apple cider vinegar either slows the rate at which the stomach empties after a meal, or it interferes with the activity of digestive enzymes in the stomach. Either of these could explain why meals would be more satisfying when vinegar is included. Slower digestion means slower absorption of carbohydrates, which would slow the rise in blood sugar after a carb-heavy meal. And that supports apple cider vinegar’s popular use as a home remedy for diabetes that goes back hundreds of years.
As intriguing as these studies are, they’re small and preliminary. Keep in mind that there are many dietary players in the game of weight loss. The health benefits of a good diet come from of the complex interplay between all of the nutrients it provides. Even if cider vinegar really does help to fill you up, it’s not nearly as nutritious or filling as the healthy salad greens and fresh vegetables you’re dousing with it.