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VINEGAR

There may be small health benefits associated with apple-cider vinegar.

If you're up on the latest weight-loss trends, you've likely come across apple-cider vinegar. Advocates say that drinking a couple of tablespoons each day can help you lose weight by suppressing appetite, stimulating digestion and burning fat. Most vinegar lovers drink it diluted with water as a beverage. But, before you pucker up to apple-cider vinegar, check out what the research actually says.

It's low in calories.

Apple-cider vinegar has very few calories: only 3 per tablespoon. The compound in apple-cider vinegar believed to have beneficial effects on health is the acetic acid, which is actually found in all commercial vinegars, including red-wine and balsamic.

There's a teensy chance it could help with weight loss.

Sipping apple-cider vinegar isn't a weight-loss cure-all by any means. However, one small study that showed a little bit of promise. When obese adults in Japan were given vinegar to drink -- groups drank either no vinegar, 1 tablespoon or 2 tablespoons daily -- those who drank vinegar had lower weight, body mass indexes (BMIs) and body fat after 12 weeks compared to people who didn't drink vinegar. The vinegar drinkers also had smaller waists and decreased their triglyceride levels. Before you go guzzling vinegar, though, remember this was a very small study and it also happened to be conducted by a vinegar producer.

It could help keep blood sugar in check.

Whether you have diabetes, prediabetes or are just trying to keep your blood sugar in check, apple-cider vinegar may help. Adults at risk for Type 2 diabetes had slightly lower fasting blood sugar levels (by about 9 percent), compared to a control group, after drinking 1 tablespoon of vinegar twice a day for 12 weeks, according to a study in the Journal of Functional Foods. This suggests that apple-cider vinegar may have a positive impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. Though the people in this study didn't lose weight, it might be worth trying a tablespoon of apple-cider vinegar before lunch and dinner to help control blood sugar levels.

It could have other health benefits.

Apple-cider vinegar has also been shown to lower triglycerides, improve cholesterol levels and decrease fat storage in the liver. When rats (with and without diabetes) were fed vinegar for four weeks, they had a reduction in triglycerides and LDL ("bad") cholesterol and an increase in HDL ("good") cholesterol. However, not enough human studies have confirmed these effects, and more research needs to be done.

But watch out for your teeth!

If you do choose to drink apple-cider vinegar, dilute it with water to protect your teeth. According to Julie Brann, D.M.D., a dentist in Phoenix, apple-cider vinegar has about the same acidity level as sodas. "The problem with acidic foods is that they eat away at your enamel. If you are going to drink apple-cider vinegar, dilute it with water and don't let it sit in your mouth for too long," says Brann.

The bottom line.

You've heard it before but we'll say it again: there's no magic bullet for weight loss, and apple-cider vinegar is no exception. Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet, minding portions and adding more activity. However, there may be small health benefits associated with apple-cider vinegar.

(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)

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