Let’s talk about a substance that has some seriously bold claims behind it: Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV). To listen to proponents,apple cider vinegar“can cure arthritis, guard against osteoporosis, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, prevent cancer, destroy infection, assist in digestion and weight control, maintain memory, and protect the mind from aging.” Now that’s bold! But do the claims hold up under scrutiny?
ACV In Folklore There are quite a few mentions of ACV used throughout history as a medicinal tonic. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, is said to have had two remedies: honey and apple cider vinegar. Supposedly, samurais used it for strength and power, always a good idea when killing is your profession. And US Civil War soldiers used it to treat ailments like pneumonia and scurvy, along with gastric upset.
What Is It? Well…it’s vinegar, made from apple cider, which is made from (all together now, class) apples. As such, it is a product of the fermentation of apple cider. In the early stages of fermentation, yeasts ferment the sugars in the source (apples, grapes, potatoes, grains, etc) to create alcohol (i.e.,beer, wine, and distilled spirits). As fermentation continues, acetobactor bacteria turn the alcohol into acetic acid, the main acid in any vinegar. Each particular type of vinegar also contains other acids.
Nutrition In A Bottle? Proponents of ACV proclaim that it is a storehouse of nutrients, not all that difficult to imagine since it’s made from apples. Unfortunately, those claims don’t hold up. While an apple is a good source of vitamins, the amount of ACV consumed at any given time is pretty minuscule. One tablespoon is a pretty large dose, typically 1-2 teaspoons is recommended. Therefore, ACV would have to be a very concentrated apple to have any measurable levels of nutrients.
Nutritional analysis has shown that it contains no amino acids, little in the way of vitamins and minerals, and not enough fiber to shake a stick at. The high levels of calcium it is supposed to contain? How about 1mg per tablespoon? I wouldn’t give up the multivitamin just yet. However, it does appears that acetic acid can help break down foods so that the minerals in them are more easily absorbed, much like what happens when bones are boiled in water with vinegar.
But Studies Have Shown… On the other hand, at least one study has shown thatvinegar can improve insulin sensitivityin non-insulin resistant, insulin resistant, and Type II diabetic individuals when consumed before a meal. The Type II patients saw a 19% increase in post-meal insulin sensitivity and a 17% decrease in post-meal glycemia. The insulin resistant folks saw an even more marked improvement: post-meal glycemia reduction of 64% and a 35% increase in post-meal insulin sensitivity.
Studies in rats have shown thatvinegar can lower both cholesterol and blood pressure. As for cancer, one study showed a decreased risk of esophageal cancer. Unfortunately, another showed an increased risk for bladder cancer. I’d say the jury’s still out on that claim. But another benefit of vinegar consumption is that studies have shown it to increase satiety resulting in less food eaten.
From this brief synopsis, it looks like ACV may or may not help with most health issues, but has the potential of aiding in weight loss and insulin sensitivity. I’ve also heard anecdotally that ACV taken before a meal is beneficial for those with acid reflux. It seems that ACV stimulates the production of stomach acid, improving digestion. Since acid reflux is actually an issue of not enough stomach acid, rather than too much as the makers of Pepcid would have you believe, this makes sense. Basically, ACV is unlikely to hurt you and may have some beneficial effects. For the price of $4 for a bottle of organic ACV that’ll last for a month or more, it’s a pretty cheap supplement/placebo.
Putting It To Work If you decide to use apple cider vinegar as a digestive aid, there are three rules:
Dilute it. It is very acidic and can literally burn the throat, on top of being rather unsavory. Just a few ounces of water is enough.
Don’t take the ACV pills. There’s no guarantee that they contain any ACV and there are reports of chemical burns to the throat from the tablets.
Get it with “The Mother,” or mother of vinegar, still present. This is a substance made of cellulose and the fermentation bacteria.
There are also ways to use ACV in the culinary world, including:
As the vinegar part of your “oil and vinegar” dressing.
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