Most of us are familiar with the brown malt vinegar that’s sprinkled on chips and white wine vinegar that’s used in vinaigrettes, pickles and chutneys, and even, cleaning.
But move over malt and white wine vinegar, because there’s a new vinegar on the block – apple cider vinegar.
You’ve probably heard some of the wonderful things about apple cider vinegar already, including how it has the potential to lower blood sugar, aid weight loss, soothe acne, help digestion, and even boost your immune system.1
In this article, we take a closer look at this hugely popular vinegar; lifting the lid on what it is, what the ‘mother’ reference is all about and, more importantly, some of the health benefits linked to adding it to your diet.
What Is Apple Cider Vinegar?
As we’ve just mentioned, apple cider vinegar is a type of vinegar. It’s produced during the apple cider fermentation process.
To make apple cider vinegar, chunks of cut up apples are mixed with water and then left to ferment. After a few weeks, the apple chunks are removed and the mixture continues to ferment for a few more weeks.
The natural sugars found in the apples actually turn the mix into a form of alcohol. While the mix is fermenting, healthy bacteria begin to form and eventually produce the vinegar’s star attraction, acetic acid. This is what’s responsible for many of ACV’s health benefits on my list below.
The ‘blob’ that I referred to in the beginning of this post is actually known as the ‘mother.’ This floaty structure contains some of the enzymes and friendly bacteria found in ACV.
What is apple cider vinegar with mother?
There are two different types of apple cider vinegar.
The types that’s been filtered – looks a little lighter and doesn’t tend to contain any bits.
Then there’s the unfiltered type that looks a lot darker and happens to have bits floating it in.
Now don’t be put off by those stringy, wispy floating bits because they’re the ‘mother’, which is said to be full of gut-friendly probiotics or, more specifically, acetic acid bacteria.
Some people prefer ACV with mother and some prefer it without, it’s entirely up to you.
But what you may find is, the mother variety tends to cost a bit more than the motherless versions.
8 health benefits of apple cider vinegar
1. Blood Sugar Levels
In addition to helping your heart, apple cider vinegar has some solid evidence to support the fact that it helps lower blood glucose levels.
A study also conducted out of Arizona State and led by Carol S. Johnson, examined the effects of ACV on glucose.
This time, 8 insulin sensitive, 11 insulin resistant, and 10 subjects with type 2 diabetes were studied. These individuals were not taking any medications prior to or during this trial.
Participants were given either a placebo drink or a drink mixed with ACV, water, and sugar. After about two minutes, everyone was given a white bagel with butter and a glass of orange juice.
Fasting glucose levels were measured at 30 and 60 minute post-meal intervals.
Those who ingested the vinegar saw an increase in insulin sensitivity in comparison with the placebo group, and highlight that post meal insulin sensitivity is especially improved in insulin resistant subjects, and also has a mild effect for type 2 diabetics.
What these studies suggest is that ACV can help to regulate blood sugar levels.
2. Hunger Control
In a study in the US National Library of Medicine, 12 volunteers were studied and given one of three levels of vinegar: 18, 23, or 28 mmol of acetic acid. Subjects were then fed about 50 g of carbohydrates via some white bread. The control group ate the white bread without the addition of vinegar.
Thanks to the acetic acid found in the vinegar, the blood samples taken about 120 minutes post-meal showed that higher amounts of the acetic acid resulted in lower blood glucose and insulin levels.
In addition to lowering blood sugar, subjects given the higher amounts of vinegar also reported higher rates of satiety (feeling full).
3. Kills bacteria
Another interesting property of ACV is its antimicrobial power.
Researchers Entani & colleagues concluded that vinegar may help kill off Escherichia coli, or E coli. According to the results, a mix of vinegar and sodium chloride in hot temperatures resulted in an effective prevention method of bacterial food poisoning.
4. Improving heart health
Your risk of cardiovascular diseases (such as heart disease and stroke) could be reduced over time if you regularly consume apple cider vinegar.
Apple cider vinegar lowers triglycerides, which cause fatty plaque along your arteries to build up.
In a small-scale study, scientists found apple cider vinegar modestly lowered cholesterol in people whose levels were not unhealthily high.
Interestingly, malt vinegar didn’t have the same effect – researchers believe this means acetic acid isn’t causing the effect but rather a compound in apple cider vinegar called pectin, a type of fibre.13
Pectin is present in apples and vinegar and can help neutralise bad cholesterol, which reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases.14
One study found a significantly lower risk for heart disease among people who consumed oil-and-vinegar salad dressings frequently (5-6 times or more per week) compared with those who rarely consumed them.15
Another study from the Journal of Functional Foods found that apples reduced total blood cholesterol while raising levels of good (HDL) cholesterol in overweight or obese people.
5. Supports your immune system
Prevention is better than cure, so protecting your immune system means you’re more likely to ward off diseases and infections.
And here’s where the healthy bacteria in raw cider vinegar come into play.
Studies have found that healthy bacteria can help you recover sooner if you do get sick. Meanwhile, ACV’s antibacterial properties can reportedly fight off pathogens in our body, such as E-coli, staphylococcus aureus and candida albicans.
6. Condition of your hair
If you have dry, brittle hair or an itchy scalp, replacing your usual shampoo with a bottle of unfiltered cider vinegar could give you more manageable tresses.
Research found that using high alkaline shampoos leads to hair breakage and dryness, so apple cider vinegar for hair could be a good idea.
The acetic acid in the mother is thought to help lower our hair’s pH to combat that dry, frizzy feel.
The pH level of our scalp and hair is acidic at around 4.5 to 5.5.
Normal hair products are alkaline, which can contribute to our hair becoming brittle and dry.
Water can have the same impact too because it’s pH neutral.
But because apple cider vinegar is acidic, it can help restore hair’s pH balance if you pour it on your hair after shampooing.
7. Helps improve digestion
Like other fermented foods, unpasteurised apple cider vinegar contains healthy bacteria – the gut-friendly bacteria that helps keep your digestive system working properly.
Cider vinegar could provide relief for those with stomach problems like indigestion or heartburn.
This is because it neutralises stomach acid whilst acetic acid fights harmful bacteria.
Apple cider vinegar has also been shown to have antiviral and anti-yeast and antifungal benefits, which are all helpful in supporting microbiome and overall immune balance.
Side effects of apple cider vinegar
When drinking apple cider vinegar, side effects might be the last thing on your mind. After all, it’s just vinegar! However, there are a few potential side effects to be aware of. Because ACV is so acidic, it’s something you don’t want to go crazy on.
On the whole, people can drink or use apple cider vinegar with minimal side effects and the most common side effects are linked to how strong it is due to its acetic acid content. It may:
- Cause chemical burns – it has been known to burn the skin when used to remove warts.
- Lead to tooth damage – due to its ability to erode tooth enamel, which can then lead to cavities, over time.
- Lead to throat irritation and allergic reactions – as well as reduced potassium levels, hypoglycemia.
- Nausea and indigestion – when drank undiluted, it could make you feel sick or cause acid reflux.
- Low potassium levels – when taken for a long time in large quantities
- Injure the digestive tract (throat, oesophagus and stomach) – if consumed undiluted and in large quantities.
- May interfere with some diabetic medications. – due to apple cider vinegar’s potential blood sugar-lowering properties, it’s advisable to check with your GP if you’re thinking of taking it as a diabetic.
- May be unsuitable for people with chronic kidney disease – your kidneys may have trouble processing the excess acid, so speak to your doctor first.
As for medication interactions, there have been concerns that ACV can alter diuretics and insulin medications.
Like anything you add to your diet, just monitor how you feel. If you notice anything different and you’ve recently added something like ACV, then you know it doesn’t agree with you. Most people won’t experience any side effects but it’s always good to mention.
Other common uses of apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is just as delicious drizzled on your Friday night fish and chips. But beyond the usual, here are some wonderful ways to get the most out of it:
As an alternative to salt
Trying to cut down on your sodium intake? Swap salt for a dash of apple cider vinegar to enhance the flavour of your usual meals.
As a salad dressing
Whisk together olive oil, apple cider vinegar and honey with lemon juice to trickle over crisp salad leaves.
As apple cider vinegar gummies or other supplements
If you want to enjoy all the benefits of apple cider vinegar for your body but don’t want to eat or drink it, don’t worry, there are plenty of supplements around including apple cider vinegar gummies and apple cider vinegar tablets you can try.
As a daily drink
Stir two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar into a large glass of water before bedtime.
But remember, always dilute it before drinking. On its own, vinegar’s acidic nature means it can be harsh on your throat and damage your teeth.
Making it into an apple cider drink is usually the best way.
How much apple cider vinegar should you drink a day?
Most studies are based on a small dose of up to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar per day. For this reason, adults should not exceed 2 tablespoons per day as the effects haven’t been properly studied.
If you find that starting on 2 daily tablespoons makes you nauseous, you can start small with ½ tablespoon per day, then work your way up to 2 tablespoons.
Should I drink apple cider vinegar straight?
No. You shouldn’t drink apple cider vinegar straight.
This is one of the most important things to consider when taking apple cider vinegar for health. Apple cider vinegar is highly acidic substance containing around 5% – 6% acetic acid.18
Drinking it neat (undiluted) can cause damage to the enamel of your teeth. That’s the hard, protective coating our teeth have which, once worn away, doesn’t grow back.
It can also burn the oesophagus if regularly consumed undiluted, as the delicate skin here is not designed for strongly acidic substances (unlike the tougher stomach lining).
This is why, when we vomit, the strong stomach acids leave a burning sensation on our throat tissues.
Always dilute your apple cider vinegar in water, around 250ml for two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. You can also add it to herbal teas and smoothies to further disguise the taste.
Remember, you can add apple cider vinegar to salad dressings, sauces, vinaigrettes, and marinades.
Some people drink drinks containing apple cider vinegar through a straw to minimise the liquid’s contact with teeth.
Always rinse your mouth with water after drinking apple cider vinegar to ensure there isn’t any residue lingering in your mouth, which could pose a threat to your tooth enamel.
While it’s ok to consume apple cider vinegar every day, it’s important to drink it diluted to protect your teeth and skin from enamel corrosion and, in some instances, chemical burning, as well as digestive injuries and allergic reactions.