All About Apple Cider Vinegar - Ask a Nutritionist

June 29, 2023

Chances are you've heard some of the many potential health benefits of apple cider vinegar. It's good for your digestion, it's the secret to weight loss, it helps heart burn. Are all these true? Tune in to this week's episode of Ask a Nutritionist with Brandy to learn all about how to use apple cider vinegar.

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Welcome to the “Ask a Nutritionist” podcast, brought to you by Nutritional Weight and Wellness. We are thrilled to have you join us today as we discuss the connection between what you eat and how you feel, and share practical real life solutions for healthier living through balanced nutrition. Now let's get started.

BRANDY: Good morning and welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition's new midweek segment called “Ask a Nutritionist”. My name is Brandy Buro, and I'm a Licensed and Registered Dietitian with Nutritional Weight and Wellness. So on today's show, I'll be answering a nutrition question that we received from our Dishing Up Nutrition listeners.

So the question today is “I'm curious to learn more about apple cider vinegar and its potential benefits to gut health and weight loss”. Well, I think this is a fabulous question because I have seen apple cider vinegar pop up in social media and different specialty drinks at the grocery store. So it's definitely trending, and I'm sure there's a lot of curiosity about this, not just this person, but from a lot of our listeners.

Apple cider vinegar can improve gut health

So let's talk about what some of these health claims are. So first off, I would say it is true that apple cider vinegar can benefit gut health. There's not a lot of published research around this topic, but in our clinical practice, we have had clients report some improvements with some of their digestion concerns after trying it. And I'll explain the theory behind why this can be useful for certain digestive issues.

ACV helps increase stomach acid to improve digestion

So a lot of the benefit with gut health and apple cider vinegar stems from its acidity. Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid and is acidic much like our stomach. And our stomach needs to maintain a certain level of acid or a pH in order to break down food and digest and absorb those nutrients properly. And our stomach acid tends to decline as we age. Certain things can impact our stomach acid, like medications, alcohol and processed foods. All of those things can lower your stomach acid and compromise your digestion. And that's when certain issues can bubble up when our stomach acid is too low. So if you think apple cider vinegar is acidic, it could actually help rebalance our stomach acid and help correct some of those concerns.

What issues can result from low stomach acid?

So what are some issues that you might run into if you have low stomach acid? Well I'll walk you through the mechanisms behind how low stomach acid can cause gut trouble. So if your stomach acid is too low, the natural enzymes that help us break down food are not activated. When you have low stomach acid, our ability to digest food is compromised, which can decrease the absorption of nutrients from food, especially protein, carbohydrates. And certain vitamins and minerals are not absorbed that well, like iron and B12 and calcium.

Something else that can happen if your stomach acid is too low is that certain bacteria may start to grow. When our stomach acid is high enough, harmful bacteria can't survive that environment. But if the acidity drops low enough, certain bacteria could replicate and they could cause some bloating. They could release some gas, and that could be one uncomfortable symptom you run into.

It could also trigger bloating because some of those carbs aren't getting digested, and those carbohydrates might start to get fermented by that bacteria, and that can produce some gas and that can produce even more bloating. So not a good situation. One thing leads to another where that bloating can actually cause a buildup of gas and cause pressure in the stomach, and that can actually force something called the esophageal sphincter to open. So the esophageal sphincter is a little valve between your stomach and your esophagus that normally keeps what's in your stomach from entering the esophagus and throat. So if that little flap is forced open, you might feel acid reflux or heartburn. So it sounds counterintuitive, but heartburn and acid reflux are actually due to too little stomach acid.

Acid lowering medications: harmful effects with long-term use

So if this issue persists long term, you might be turning to those acid lowering medications to get some relief. And now that we know low stomach acid is the culprit for reflux and heartburn, you think maybe these acid lowering medications are actually making this problem worse long term. And it's true. It, it makes it harder to correct the root of the issue and it could actually lead to more serious issues with your digestion and nutrient absorption further down in the digestive tract.

Summary of signs and symptoms of low stomach acid

So just to kind of summarize, apple cider vinegar could be beneficial for you if you have signs of low stomach acid. And we talked about a few symptoms to know whether or not this is something you could be dealing with. Heartburn and acid reflux are big ones, bloating and gas. But you may also notice pieces of undigested food in your stool because you're not breaking up that food completely in the gut.

And you might notice if you get some lab work done that you have low levels of vitamin B12 or iron because you're not absorbing those nutrients very efficiently. Something else you might notice is maybe you get very full quickly when you start eating a meal, going back to, you know, having a compromised digestion, not breaking those foods down very quickly. So if this sounds like you, I would, I would say that it's probably safe for most people to try a little apple cider vinegar with a meal. I think it's still a good idea to get some guidance from your, your dietitian or nutritionist.

ACV dosage recommendation

If this is something that you'd like to try, the recommendation is drinking one to two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar diluted in water with a meal. That can help rebalance the acidity of your stomach and aid that digestion process.

Points of caution with ACV

And while I would say it's safe for most people to give this a try, you should still use caution because apple cider vinegar is acidic. There is the chance that you could erode some of the enamel on your teeth if you're not careful. That's why it's very important to dilute that vinegar with water. And I would recommend using a straw so that you could hopefully bypass the teeth altogether.

Something else I'd like to mention is that for some people, apple cider vinegar could cause a little nausea. So if it makes you feel sick to your stomach, I would cancel that idea and find a different plan to help address some of your digestion issues. There are lots of other options to improve your gut health, and it is helpful to work with a registered dietitian or a licensed nutritionist to get that individualized guidance and support.

ACV may provide some probiotic benefit

One other note about apple cider vinegar and gut health, there's this thought that it could offer benefits similar to a probiotic. Because apple cider vinegar is a product of fermentation, there is some naturally occurring bacteria in apple cider vinegar. So you may actually see this in your apple cider vinegar as little strands. This is called the mother, and it is a combination of that yeast bacteria that's produced during the fermentation process. So it's possible that this could offer some benefits to gut health, but I didn't really find a lot of research on this topic. So it's really difficult to say definitively how much benefit apple cider vinegar offers in this area.

ACV can improve blood sugar control

So moving on to the second part of this question: “Can apple cider vinegar support weight loss”? And I would say yes, indirectly it can support weight loss. There are several studies showing that apple cider vinegar can improve blood sugar control. And if you've been listening to the show long enough, you are familiar with blood sugar control, and you may know that blood sugar or high blood sugar could lead to something called insulin resistance.

So insulin resistance does slow our metabolism and it can lead to weight gain or it can make weight loss very challenging. So if you have the ability to stabilize your blood sugar consistently throughout the day, prevent big spikes in your blood sugar, we have a better chance of successfully losing weight.

There was a review published in 2021 that analyzed several research studies that tested the impact of apple cider vinegar on blood sugar. And they found that in general, consuming one to two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar over the course of at least eight weeks did help reduce fasting glucose levels. So there's some, some strong evidence to support this idea, but it is important to note that within most of these studies participants were also following a specific diet. So I just wanted to point out that apple cider vinegar alone is not your magic weight loss elixir, but it could be one of many tools along with following a balanced eating plan that can support your weight loss goals.

So that is it for our question this week. Thank you so much for listening to “Ask a Nutritionist”. If you have a nutrition question you'd like us to answer, please join us on our Dishing Up Nutrition Facebook community. Just search Dishing Up Nutrition on Facebook and join.

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