From coconut oil to honey, olive oil to sake, going au naturel has noticeably shifted from niche to mainstream – so much so, that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see which pantry picks are really worth the hype. One that's currently having its moment in the spotlight is a humble bottle of apple cider vinegar, with everyone from Liz Hurley to Victoria Beckham sharing their love for the sour health hero (you may have seen them lovingly referring to it as 'ACV'). Here’s why…
The health benefits of apple cider vinegar
Faff and frills-free, it’s the grocery list essential that wellness insiders swear by - and one of its most celebrated attributes is its ability to help aid weight loss.
“Despite the lack of scientific evidence, women have been using apple cider vinegar (ACV) for centuries in their battle with the bulge,” says nutritional therapist Petronella Ravenshear . “There was little research into why or how ACV might help with weight loss until a study was published in June last year. This study, on rats not humans, clearly showed that the rats who were given ACV ate less and lost more weight than the others. The rats were split into two groups - both were fed a high fat fast-food type, but one group was also given ACV. The rats on the high fat diet who also had ACV chose to eat less than the others and they also lost weight.
“Not only that, but their blood sugar and cholesterol levels came down and so did the fats in their blood. Pretty exciting. Other researchers have also found that ACV blocks starch digestion to a degree – also a good thing in terms of the effect that it has on blood sugar and potentially on weight loss.”
Balancing blood sugar
The link between apple cider vinegar and weight loss was also discussed at great length in Michael Mosley’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor series on the BBC. Teaming up with Dr James Brown from Aston University, their findings were encouraging about ACV’s overall health benefits. While this particular study didn’t show evidence of it contributing towards a difference on the scales, they did find that it was particularly effective in helping people struggling with their blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Healthy participants were asked to eat two bagels after having fasted overnight, with their blood sugar levels measured before and after eating. Those who had drunk a diluted shot of apple cider vinegar before eating the two bagels, were found to have experienced a dramatic reduction in blood sugar - a massive 36% over 90 minutes.
Sizeable reductions were also seen in the cholesterol and triglyceride levels (a type of fat) of those who exhibited normal cholesterol levels at the beginning of the study.
But wait, there’s more. Its health benefits also extend to other parts of the body when drunk and when applied topically as well. “There’s more to ACV than its potential to lower blood sugar, fats and cholesterol and to reduce the appetite - it is also a natural anti-fungal,” says Petronella. “Some report that it helps with candida and thrush when taken internally in warm water, and it can be rubbed straight into problems areas of the skin as well. Others swear that it really helps to quell sugar cravings too.”
With plenty of apple cider vinegar options to choose from nowadays, which ones should we invest in? “The best ACV is raw and unfiltered, and it’s cloudy not clear,” says Petronella. She recommends Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar , £6.99 for 473ml (also a favourite of Victoria Beckham's).
"It comes ‘with the mother’ because this contains probiotics which are good for the immune and digestive systems. Try taking a tablespoon mixed into a mug of warm water with meals for best results. It’s available in health food shops mixed with honey, but try and get used to the taste of it without the extra sweetness – it’s unlikely to help with sugar cravings if it’s sweet.”
The beauty benefits of apple cider vinegar
With the demand for natural beauty products growing, it's no wonder that ACV has found a place on kitchen counters and bathroom shelves alike.
A pH balancer
“Apple cider vinegar has been used in hair care as a rinse and a detangler, and in skincare as a toner,” says Imelda Burke , founder of Content Beauty & Wellbeing and leading expert in modern natural beauty. “The secret to this kitchen staple as a beauty product is due to its pH. The light layer of oils on the skin is referred to as the acid mantle. If this slightly acidic balance becomes disrupted and becomes too alkaline, as is the case with overly foamy and harsh cleansers, the skin can become dry. Same too with the hair - too alkaline and the hair becomes dry and frizzy,” she explains. “Using apple cider vinegar gently balances both back to a slightly acidic pH, which they prefer.” She adds, “It also helps remove any build-up of silicones if you are switching to natural hair care.”
Effective for more targeted problem solving, Imelda recommends ACV as an effective blemish buster. “Some people swear by apple cider vinegar’s ability to clear spots. This may be due to the gently antimicrobial action it has or in the balancing action it has on the skin. A disrupted acid mantle can also result in spot prone skin when the friendly (and protective) bacteria on the surface of the skin are disrupted.”
How’s best to use it from a skincare perspective? “Dilute it,” says Imelda. “You can use it neat to dab on a spot but for everything else, dilute it before use. A mixture of 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water works well for a toner and for a hair rinse, dilute ½ tablespoon in 1 cup of cold water.”
Mix it up
Despite its multi-tasking prowess, one quality that can be quite off-putting is its scent. However, this can be quickly remedied. “You can easily reduce the vinegary scent with a few drops of essential oils,” recommends Imelda. “For the scalp, I like mixing in oils like rosemary, peppermint (both stimulating for the scalp) and some citrus for a fresh scent.
“For the skin, add based on skin type - a touch of tea tree if spot-prone, frankincense has great anti-ageing properties and chamomile is ideal for sensitive skin. Sandalwood and myrrh are also good for dry skin.” Neal’s Yard essential oils are among our favourites for their range of sweet-smelling add-ons, with Pravera counted as one of Imelda’s top picks too for their amazing quality.
In terms of what you should look for in an ACV that’s skin suitable, Imelda recommends using an organic option. “I’m a big fan of organics, so I would always opt for one that is certified organic to ensure it hasn’t been pasteurised,” she explains.
“Sometimes referred to as ‘raw’ they should be unfiltered and contain the ‘mother’ which is made up of strands of proteins, enzymes and friendly bacteria that give the product a cloudy appearance that signifies that it still contains the active components. Pasteurisation is thought to destroy these and therefore the health-enhancing properties of the vinegar.”
How to take apple cider vinegar
Wonder elixir it may be, but apple cider vinegar’s taste leaves a lot to be desired (hats off to the celebs who down it first thing in the morning without hesitation). There's no question the affordable kitchen staple is a smart addition to your health or beauty regime but it's best taken diluted and with food - here's how to cheat ACV into your diet to make it a little easier to swallow...