I have long been a fan of apple cider vinegar (ACV), an old home remedy that has some solid science behind it. Research suggests ACV may offer health benefits, such as helping to reduce blood sugar, support gut health, and potentially warding off weight gain. But recently a wave of bottled beverages starring vinegar has emerged; and the trend is predicted to keep on growing. If you've seen these drinks at the grocery store, you may be wondering: Are they worth a try?
The short answer is maybe, with a few caveats. The trouble with drinking vinegars is that's there's no standard formula, so it’s tough to know exactly how much vinegar one serving contains. What's more, many products contain fruit juice or puréed fruit, added sugar, or sweeteners like stevia. Others are formulated with probiotics, or extra ingredients like balsamic vinegar, herbs, and spices. Finally, some are ready to drink, while others are concentrated and need to be diluted (with sparkling water, for example).
The wide range of products makes it difficult to give the whole category a definitive thumbs up or down. But if you're interested in trying a drinking vinegar, remember that regardless of all the marketing claims, you should always read the ingredient list so you know exactly what's in the bottle. Here are a few things to scope out:
Check the type of vinegar
I came across one product that includes cane vinegar rather than ACV. An older study from 2004 suggested that cane vinegar may have cancer-fighting properties. But there’s far less research on its benefits compared to its apple cider cousin.
Note the serving size
Some bottles of ready-to-sip drinking vinegar may contain two servings, which means you should drink half and save the rest for the next day. Or if you're going to drink it all, be sure to multiply the carbs, sugar, and calories by two.
Be mindful of the sugar, especially
My personal favorite beverage in this category is Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar All-Natural Drink With Honey. It’s made simply—with distilled water, Bragg’s own organic apple cider vinegar, and organic honey. The vinegar flavor is strong though not overpowering. But here's the caveat: Half the bottle contains 13 grams of sugar. That's more than three teaspoons of added sugar. Drink the whole bottle and you'll hit the American Heart Association’s recommended daily maximum of six teaspoons of added sugar per day for women. (While organic honey is a better-for-you sweetener, it still counts as added sugar.)
Making it at home may be the healthiest option
If you DIY your drinking vinegar, you can control the ingredients, including the type and amount of sweetener you use. My recommended formula: two teaspoons of organic raw apple cider vinegar and one teaspoon of organic honey swirled into a cup of warm water once a day. (You can also chill it and sip it cold.)
Another way to reap the benefits of ACV is by incorporating it into a daily meal or snack. Add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to a smoothie, for example. Or you can whisk it with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and herbs as a dressing for greens or raw veggies; stir it into a soup like white bean and kale; or blend it with a little mustard and drizzle it over potatoes or squash.
Don't go overboard
It is possible to get too much of a good thing: High amounts of apple cider vinegar may lower potassium levels in you body. As with many beneficial foods and ingredients, moderation rather than excess is the best way to get all the perks.
Cynthia Sass is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and consultant for the New York Yankees. See her full bio here.