What Are Drinking Vinegars - and Why Are So Many People Sipping on Them Right Now?
Everyone has that relative who swears by a certain home remedy. Perhaps it’s chicken soup, known to some as Jewish Penicillin. Maybe, like Kostas from the 2002 comedy "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," you know someone who swears by Windex as a cure to all ills. Or here’s one you may have heard about recently: apple cider vinegar.
Aficionados attribute a number of health benefits to apple cider vinegar. Generally, these include cures or prevention measures for heart disease, obesity and even cancer. Those who ingest the liquid, usually diluted in water, believe its medicinal properties come from the vinegar’s rich array of vitamins, minerals, fiber, enzymes and soluble fibres such as pectin.
Let’s begin with what we know about apple cider vinegar. Making apple cider vinegar begins with exposing crushed apples—or apple cider—to yeast, which ferments the sugar, turning it to alcohol. From there, bacteria is added to further ferment the alcohol and turn it into acetic acid, the active compound in vinegar. Typically, unfiltered apple cider vinegar will also contain “mother,” the name given to “strands of proteins, enzymes and friendly bacteria that give the product a murky, cobweb-like appearance,” explains Authority Nutrition.
Today people have even begun to mix the vinegar with other ingredients to create a drinkable version. Among the health reasons for this trend, says nutritional practitioner Chloe Elgar, quoted in Well and Good, “it aids digestion, is great for circulation, and has vitamin C from the apples.” That’s not to mention, continued Elgar, that it “really helps people with acid reflux because it regulates stomach acid and helps the body further break down proteins and fats.” Elgar added that drinking vinegar may even help clear out people’s lungs, “because you naturally get acid from vinegars, which helps any buildup of mucus.”
But what does actual scientific evidence have to say on the matter?
A study done in Japan has suggested apple cider vinegar may aid in weight loss. Over the course of 12 weeks, 175 obese but otherwise healthy individuals consumed either vinegar or water while eating similar diets and keeping food journals. At the end of the trial, results showed that those who drunk vinegar lost slightly more weight—approximately 1-2 pounds. Researchers hypothesized that the results could have been due to the vinegar switching on certain genes that assist with the breaking down of fats.
“It may have some benefits in terms of weight loss and weight management, but it is definitely not a quick fix,” Chicago dietitian Debbie Davis told WebMD, adding that it's still no replacement for good old exercise and portion control.
Other health benefits that have been associated with apple cider vinegar include helping with diabetes and blood sugar control. In part this has been attributed to the anti-glycemic effects of the vinegar, which helps to block the digestion of starch thereby preventing raised blood sugar.
But as Michael Dansinger, director of Tufts University’s diabetes lifestyle coaching program, warns on WebMD, this by no means makes apple cider vinegar a cure.
"Trying to use vinegar to treat diabetes is like trying to bail out a flooded basement with a teaspoon,” said Dansinger, who added that drinking vinegar, even if diluted in water, “increases acid in your system, which puts a strain on your kidneys and bones.” Dansinger instead suggests focusing on your overall diet when it comes to weight and nutritional matters.
As things stand, there is still a distinct lack of supporting scientific evidence to back up most of apple cider vinegar’s health claims. What is certain is that the vinegar contains large amounts of acetic acid. What we know about acetic acid is that it helps the body to absorb important minerals from food that may otherwise remain unlocked through digestion.
Gayle Alleman, a registered dietician, writes in How Stuff Works that this particular feature of apple cider vinegar may help women who “have a hard time getting all the calcium their bodies need to keep bones strong and prevent the debilitating, bone-thinning disease osteoporosis.” In particular, Alleman writes, people suffering from lactose intolerance may benefit greatly from the extra calcium absorbed through other foods.
Although it may not be the cure-all some claim it is, apple cider vinegar enjoyed in small doses certainly can’t hurt. Drink it as a pre-packaged beverage, or simply add the vinegar to some water or cooked vegetables to get extra nutrition out of your meals. But whatever you do, don’t start sounding like your crazy relative.