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Can the apple cider vinegar diet really help you lose weight?

This is what you should know about the popular vinegar, sold in pills and liquid, and its side effects.
Vinegar contains close to zero calories (as opposed to, say, creamy bottled salad dressings) and has lots of flavor.
Vinegar contains close to zero calories (as opposed to, say, creamy bottled salad dressings) and has lots of flavor.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

It would be nice to simply take a shot of some liquid before every meal and — voila! — said liquid would magically help with weight loss. Unfortunately, no such liquid exists — and that includes apple cider vinegar.

Vinegar is a product of fermentation that has been linked to everything from treating illnesses to cleaning furniture to detoxing. Apple cider vinegar produces acetic acid during fermentation, which is often touted as a health cure-all with numerous benefits, including weight loss.

What is the apple cider vinegar diet?

The “apple cider vinegar diet,” which basically entails having 1-2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar before every meal, has become popular because of the idea that it improves metabolism or helps people feel full.

Most of these claims, however, are not backed up by research. Vinegar is not a miracle liquid, it can’t take away the “work” that goes into losing weight.

On the flip side, adding a splash of vinegar to meals probably won’t hurt, either. Here’s the scoop.

What does the science say about apple cider vinegar and weight loss?

Most of the recent, reliable research on apple cider vinegar has looked at how acetic acid affects blood sugar levels. For people who have or were at risk for type 2 diabetes, one study in 2007 showed drinking apple cider vinegar before bed was linked to lower "fasting" glucose in the morning and another in 2013 showed drinking it before meals lowered blood sugar.

People who were healthy and did not have known blood sugar issues also appeared to show lower blood glucose levels when they drank apple cider vinegar before meals, according to another study in 2009. However, this only applied when the meal consisted of complex carbohydrates (the starchy kind of carbs found in vegetables, whole grains, potatoes, and beans, as opposed to simple carbs, which are basically just sugars, like refined table sugar and corn syrup).

What does all this research mean?

The studies suggest vinegar can help break down carbohydrates, specifically starches. Over time, that may contribute to weight loss in some people. It’s a stretch to say drinking 1 to 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar before a meal can cause weight loss, though. It's also important to note that apple cider vinegar, in large quantities, can be harmful to tooth enamel and may affect insulin or potassium levels, according to Harvard Medical School, which people on medication should monitor.

What’s the bottom line?

Enjoy apple cider vinegar — along with other vinegars, too! Toss them with veggies on salad, for example. The fiber and water volume of the veggies will be filling and hydrating, which naturally aids digestion and weight maintenance. Plus, vinegar contains close to zero calories (as opposed to, say, creamy bottled salad dressings) and has lots of flavor.

Adding vinegar to the daily routine is certainly not going to hurt and if it gets people to eat more veggies, even better. Another bonus? Vinegar can be used instead of salt to add flavor, which will help keep belly bloat at bay.