Using apple cider vinegar in a diet regimen typically calls for you to drink one or two teaspoons in a cup of water before meals. Others advocate for “shots” of straight vinegar. It sounds so unappealing. Surely it must be healthy if people are doing it, right?

What is apple cider vinegar?
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is essentially apple juice that has been fermented to make apple cider, then fermented further by acetobacter to produce acetic acid. The fact it's fermented is part of its apparent credentials, because fermented foods are often probiotics. But unless you are buying “raw,” organic or unpasteurised ACV, which contains the “mother of vinegar”, you aren’t getting any actual probiotics.

What does science say?
Unfortunately, there is not much evidence that ACV contributes to weight loss. Any effect on appetite likely comes from filling your stomach with water before eating, therefore making you feel fuller quicker, which can be achieved without the vinegar. Or if you are drinking a shot of vinegar, it’s easy to see how the associated nausea would quickly put you off your food.

“Detoxing” is not and will never be something you can do with pills and tablets. It’s a natural process that happens in your organs. If you are worried about toxins, you are better off reducing your bad habits than trying to eliminate them with a miracle product. Sorry.

There are some studies on ACV consumption lowering blood sugar, but these studies are small and mostly focused on people with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. And these effects are likely due to the acetic acid, which is in all types of vinegar, not just ACV. There are also some studies suggesting vinegar consumption improved the lipid profile in the blood of rats, but these are large doses and in model systems.

The risks
Shooting straight vinegar is painful because it's acidic. Over time, this causes damage to your teeth, and irritation and inflammation in your esophagus and stomach. As with all quick fix diets, it can also lull you into a false sense of security, but drinking vinegar can’t cancel out a poor diet.

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So should you do it?
If you are drinking ACV, you’re probably torturing yourself for little gain. If you are worried about your blood sugar, you are better off looking at your sugar intake, rather than your vinegar intake. If you’re drinking it as an ACV honey beverage, you are adding sugar and probably canceling out any possible effect.

If you really want to have ACV in your diet, you could use it in salad dressing. This has the added benefit of potentially replacing an oil-based dressing, and increasing your vegetable consumption. But, ACV is still not a standalone tool for weight loss or improving diet quality.

Dr Emma Beckett is Broadsheet’s nutrition columnist. A molecular nutritionist with a Ph.D. in Food Science, she is a post-doctoral fellow in the School of Medicine and Public Health and the University of Newcastle. In a world of mixed messages she can be found busting nutrition myths and empowering people to critically assess nutrition information. She tweets at @synapse101.