What Is the Apple Cider Vinegar Diet?

apple cider vinegar for weight loss

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At Verywell, we believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a healthy lifestyle. Successful eating plans need to be individualized and take the whole person into consideration. Prior to starting a new diet plan, consult with your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian, especially if you have an underlying health condition.

The apple cider vinegar diet has gained a foothold in recent years as one of the most popular methods to lose weight. In fact, the U.S. News & World Report indicates that it among the top 10 most Googled diets in 2017.

There are countless variations of the apple cider vinegar diet, but it isn't a "diet" in the traditional sense. You are not likely to find a list of food restrictions, recommended meal plans, or timing guidelines, nor is there a credentialed nutrition expert or authoritative resource (such as a book or a website) associated with the plan.

Instead, you'll find YouTube videos, blogs, and other anecdotal stories about how using apple cider vinegar can produce weight loss results. To follow the program, you simply consume an apple cider vinegar drink a few times each day.

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is made from fermented apple juice. When consumed in very small amounts it provides no substantial calories or nutrients. The tangy sour taste comes from acetic acid and citric acid (by-products of the fermentation process).

ACV has a long history of use in alternative medicine—some say as far back as 5,000 years. Some reports suggest that Hippocrates used apple cider vinegar as a healing elixir, an antibiotic, and for general health around 400 BC. There are even reports of U.S. Civil War soldiers using apple cider vinegar to disinfect wounds.

The purported benefits of apple cider vinegar are wide-ranging. Some believe the liquid can regulate blood pressure, lower cholesterol, improve skin health, control blood sugar, and provide other health advantages. Unfortunately, there is no strong scientific evidence to support these claims.

Proponents of apple cider vinegar as a weight loss aid say that it can promote rapid weight loss, reduce bloating, and increase bowel movements. While some research has investigated the relationship between ACV and weight loss, the results have not been impressive. And some studies indicate that apple cider vinegar may cause harm when consumed in large amounts.

What Experts Say

"According to science, drinking apple cider vinegar has not been shown to help with weight loss. In fact, it can actually erode your teeth due to the higher acidity, as well as cause nausea."

Kelly Plowe, MS, RD

What Can You Eat?

On the apple cider vinegar diet, there are no compliant or non-compliant foods. Many find this program appealing because you can continue to follow your typical eating pattern and food choices. There is no calorie counting, portion control, or time-restriction for meals.

The only requirement on this diet is the consumption of an apple cider vinegar drink several times each day.

What You Need to Know

There are different variations to the apple cider vinegar diet. Some people add ingredients to the drink to make it more palatable. For example, you might try adding mint, ginger, cayenne, or frozen fruit to add flavor. Some proponents use sparkling water instead of tap water to make the drink more enjoyable.

Many different recipes for ACV drinks can be found online. Most often, the recipe includes at least one tablespoon of vinegar, one tablespoon of lemon juice, and one half to one cup of water. Apple cider vinegar pills are also used by some fans of the diet. And some forgo the drink recipe and drink straight spoonfuls of ACV.

Research investigating the ACV diet has used similar ratios of the beverage in their investigations for both weight loss and weight management. For example, in two separate studies, test subjects consumed 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar divided into two doses of 1 tablespoon each. These studies, however, were limited in both size and rigor.

Apple cider vinegar can be purchased in any market or grocery store. However, some bloggers recommend that you buy apple cider vinegar that claims to contain the "mother," which may be harder to find depending on where you live. The mother has been described by researchers as "nontoxic slime composed of yeast and acetic acid bacteria" and can develop during extended fermentation. It may also develop in opened apple cider vinegar if it is stored for a long time.

The mother makes the vinegar looks cloudy. For that reason, many store-bought commercial ACV brands do not contain these bacteria. But some people believe that the mother is necessary in order to receive the health benefits of ACV. However, the health effects of the mother are unsubstantiated by research.

What to Eat
  • ACV drink 2–3 times per day

  • All other foods

What Not to Eat
  • N/A

When you follow the apple cider vinegar diet, you consume the tangy beverage several times during the day. Most variations of the diet recommend that you drink one beverage in the morning after waking and once at night before bed. Other variations of the diet suggest that you consume one cup of the drink before each meal.

There are no restrictions on what you eat while following the ACV diet. However, it's a good idea to focus on eating healthily and consuming nutritious, whole foods whenever possible. That can mean limiting your intake of processed foods and added sugar, which may lead to weight loss. However, that may have little to do with apple cider vinegar consumption.

The duration of the ACV diet is not specifically defined, but many proponents suggest that drinking the beverage can be a long-term plan for weight loss and maintenance. However, the safety of this plan has not been verified by research.

Pros and Cons

Pros
  • Easy to follow

  • Ingredients are inexpensive

  • Requires no change to eating plan

Cons
  • Doesn't encourage healthy eating habits

  • Limited scientific evidence

  • Long-term consumption may cause harm

As with any diet, the apple cider vinegar diet has its drawbacks. Review the pros and cons to inform your decision about adding ACV drinks to your eating plan.

Pros

There are no food restrictions on the apple cider vinegar diet, no complicated meal plans, and calorie counting is not required. Simply add the vinegar drink to your daily routine. The program is inexpensive and regular ACV is typically easy to find (unless you're looking for the "mother").

Additionally, making certain ingredient swaps for ACV can be a healthier choice for your meals. For example, dressing your salad with a small amount of apple cider vinegar instead of a creamy dressing will help to cut calories and fat. And some nutrition experts suggest using vinegar instead of salt to flavor foods can help cut the amount of sodium in a diet.

Cons

One of the biggest drawbacks of the ACV diet is that healthy habits are not encouraged. There are no guidelines on calorie intake, portion size, or healthy foods to eat. For example, an apple cider vinegar diet that is also high in processed foods is unhealthy and could lead to weight gain and other health issues. For those who are looking to lose weight, some nutritional guidance can be helpful.

The science supporting apple cider vinegar for weight loss can be confusing. There is some research that suggests drinking ACV can lead to weight loss and other benefits. But almost all studies include ACV combined with some kind of dietary restriction, which is not reflective of the plans that are often promoted online.

Long-term use of apple cider vinegar may have negative health consequences, especially when it is consumed in large amounts.

Is the Apple Cider Vinegar Diet a Healthy Choice for You?

Other weight loss programs suggest that a special drink can help you lose weight. Like the apple cider vinegar diet, most of these programs do not encourage any other change to your eating plan other than consuming the suggested beverage.

For instance, Flat Tummy Tea is a popular hot beverage marketed to young women who want to lose weight in their midsection. But like the ACV diet, there is no scientific evidence that this tea is effective for fat loss and experts have expressed safety concerns, especially with long-term use.

Another popular weight loss drink, ballerina tea, is a beverage made from a combination of Chinese herbal ingredients. Bloggers and some beauty writers promote the benefits of ballerina tea, but these claims are not based on any scientific fact.

Green tea has been used in alternative medicine for a wide range of health benefits, including weight loss. But according to the National Institutes of Health, there is no strong evidence to show that is effective for weight loss.

To lose weight, federal dietary guidelines are a good place to start to help you decide what to eat and how much. The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises consuming a variety of nutrient-dense foods and minimizing empty calories for a healthy, balanced diet.

The recommendations are designed to help you get the important vitamins and minerals you need for healthy cells; carbohydrates for energy; and fiber, protein, and healthy fats to help you feel full and satisfied. Build your meals and snacks around these healthy foods:

  • Vegetables and dark, leafy greens (kale, spinach, broccoli, Swiss chard, green beans) 
  • Fruits (apples, berries, melon)
  • Grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)
  • Lean meats (chicken breast, fish, turkey breast)
  • Beans and legumes (all beans, lentils, peas)
  • Nuts and seeds (walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds)
  • Dairy (reduced-fat milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Oils (olive oil, avocado oil) 

To effectively lose weight, create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you burn each day. The USDA indicates that your estimated daily calorie needs vary based on age, sex, and activity level. Use this calculator to determine the right number of calories to meet your weight loss goals.

You are more likely to see weight loss results if you monitor your daily calorie intake and follow a diet that includes nutrient-rich foods and adheres to USDA guidelines.

Health Benefits

Potential Weight Loss

A widely cited study published in 2018 in the Journal of Functional Foods touts the benefits of ACV. Researchers compared overweight and obese individuals who consumed either a reduced-calorie diet or a reduced-calorie diet along with an apple cider vinegar drink. The authors concluded that the diet including ACV helped study participants reduce belly fat, overall weight, body mass index (BMI), triglyceride levels, cholesterol, and appetite.

But a closer look at the data reveals there wasn't a major difference between the two groups. For instance, the low-calorie diet with ACV group lost an average of about 8.8 pounds during the 12-week study. The group that followed the diet alone lost an average of 5 pounds. The difference in BMI between the two groups was just over half a point. While it can be helpful to lose a little more weight than a little less weight, these results don't quite measure up to the substantial weight loss claims made by proponents of the ACV diet.

Similarly, a Japanese study published in 2009 in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry was the first to show the potential weight loss effects of drinking ACV when 155 subjects who were considered obese consumed a drink with either 1 or 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or a placebo drink with lactate to mimic the taste of vinegar.

After 12 weeks, the subjects who the consumed ACV drinks had a slight reduction in body weight compared to those who drank the placebo. The group that took 1 tablespoon of ACV lost an average of 2 pounds and those who took 2 tablespoons lost about 4 pounds. While this study shows promise for ACV consumption and weight loss, the results were somewhat insignificant.

In 2013, another study linked an ACV beverage to weight loss, however, it was small in scale and the participants were also following a prescribed 21-day low-calorie diet.

Blood Sugar Management

There is some research that shows the potential for apple cider vinegar to improve glycemic control, especially in those with diabetes. A 2017 review published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice concluded that vinegar may be effective in regulating glucose and insulin levels following meals. However, some experts caution that more research is still needed to confirm this benefit.

Improved Skin Health

Many proponents of ACV have cited improved skin health and texture. Anecdotal reports indicate that when applied topically, ACV can help clear up acne. However, these claims are not verified by science, and applying apple cider vinegar directly to the skin may cause irritation.

Health Risks

Tooth Erosion

There have been reports of tooth erosion after long-term ACV consumption. Enamel erosion increases the risk of cavities, gum sensitivity, and tooth breakage or discoloration.

Esophagus Damage

Consuming large amounts of ACV in liquid and tablet form can cause harm to the throat and digestive tract. Research has shown that consuming undiluted vinegar can cause corrosive damage to the esophagus, stomach, and intestine, leading to coughing, reflux, indigestion, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and dark stools (a sign of gastrointestinal bleeding).

Drug Interactions

Some health experts have cautioned that ACV consumption may cause dangerous interactions with diuretics and with medications for heart conditions or diabetes.

People taking certain medications and those with gastrointestinal conditions such as gastroparesis, ulcers, hiatal hernia, GERD may want to avoid apple cider vinegar.

A Word From Verywell

It's tempting to believe that drinking a potent beverage can magically burn fat, reduce bloating, and lead to weight loss, especially if it is endorsed by a popular blogger, celebrity, or product manufacturer. But all too often, many of these claims are simply not supported by science.

Experts continue to advise that the healthiest way to lose weight is to eat a nutritious diet that includes moderate portions of enjoyable but healthy foods. Exercise can also play an important role in increasing metabolism and reaching a healthy weight. While apple cider vinegar can be used in the kitchen as an ingredient or condiment, it is not likely to create any noticeable weight loss results.

Remember, following a long-term or short-term diet may not be necessary for you and many diets out there simply don’t work, especially long-term. While we do not endorse fad diet trends or unsustainable weight loss methods, we present the facts so you can make an informed decision that works best for your nutritional needs, genetic blueprint, budget, and goals.

If your goal is weight loss, remember that losing weight isn’t necessarily the same as being your healthiest self, and there are many other ways to pursue health. Exercise, sleep, and other lifestyle factors also play a major role in your overall health. The best diet is always the one that is balanced and fits your lifestyle.

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Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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