Known for its tangy, bitter taste, apple cider vinegar is constantly touted for its health benefits, like curing your acne, getting rid of your dandruff, and even soothing your sunburns. Some researcheven suggests that drinking apple cider vinegar can help you lose weight. That’s why the ingredient has been making its way into everything you eat and drink, like tea, smoothies, and salad dressing.
But can a shot of vinegar really burn fat if you have more than five pounds to lose?
There is some evidence that the acetic acid in apple cider vinegar can be good for your weight, since it targets your body fat, explains Carol Johnston, Ph.D., R.D., associate director of the nutrition program at Arizona State University, who has done research on the subject.
Acetic acid is produced through the fermentation process and contributes to vinegar’s pronounced flavor and odor. While it’s technically toxic when taken in large doses, apple cider vinegar only contains 5 to 6 percent acetic acid, according to the National Poison Control Center.
When you consume small amounts of this acid through apple cider vinegar, it turns on your fat metabolism, explains Johnston, meaning it will help your body use fat as a form of energy rather than storing it.
In fact, according to one study, when obese rats were fed high-fat diets, they lost a significant amount of body fat once acetic acid was added to their food. In another study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry, people lost an average of four pounds in 12 weeks after consuming one to two tablespoons of diluted apple cider vinegar daily.
The acetic acid in vinegar can be beneficial in other ways, too, since it works to control your appetite, says Johnston. However, there’s really only a noticeable effect when its paired with a diet full of starchy foods.
For instance, when you eat a bagel and that starch gets into your stomach, the acid travels from there into your small intestine, she explains. Once you start to digest it, the string of glucose from the bagel is broken and released, which slows down the digestion of starch. This has the potential to help you lose weight because slow digestion keeps you feeling fuller longer, helping you eat less calories overall throughout the day.
The major caveat: It usually takes three to five months to see just a few pounds come off, if any, she says. That’s because you can lose quite a few inches off your waistline and not see any changes on the scale, since fat doesn’t weigh much compared to lean mass, says Johnston.
But the question remains: should you incorporate apple cider vinegar into your diet? It’s worth a shot, provided you’re not looking for instant results, says Johnston.
If you eat a lot of whole foods with a high starch content, like potatoes or rice, you can try making apple cider vinegar a daily precursor to your meals. In this case, Johnston recommends one to two tablespoons mixed with eight ounces of water before every meal. Since acetic acid is a poison, anymore than that could be problematic, she warns, since it can damage your esophagus and erode your tooth enamel.
To fully reap its benefits, you should look for an apple cider vinegar that appears somewhat dark and cloudy (like this one from Bragg or this one from White House), according to Luisito Cercaci, the vice president of Quality and Research development at Pompeian, a Baltimore-based apple cider vinegar company. Vinegar with this appearance contains a number of good-for-you enzymes, fibers, minerals, and antioxidants, he says.
But if your meals are rich in foods that don’t contain much starch, like fruit and meat, apple cider vinegar really won’t do anything for your waistline. (Looking for a concrete meal plan that will help you burn fat? Check out the Metashred Diet from Men’s Health, it’s packed with healthy recipes that will help you reach your fitness goals.)
For some people, the taste alone can also be hard to swallow. So if you have more than five or so pounds to lose, you’re likely better off making more significant changes to your diet and exercise routine. Most diets should lead to weight loss within a couple of months, obesity specialist Spencer Nadolsky, D.O, told Men’s Health recently. If your diet is actually working, you should be able to lose 2 percent of your weight in the first month or 3 percent by the second month.
Relying on apple cider vinegar alone won’t lead to those results, so if you’re ready to take a more direct approach to fat loss, check out these 61 ways to lose weight instead.