Pickles and Vinegar: Weight Loss Solution?

There's a bit of science to back the claims in the Pickle Diet

The pickle diet seems like it would qualify as a fad weight loss diet: simply eat lots of pickles, its proponents say, and you'll lose weight. But there's actually some science behind the diet that provides a bit of evidence for its rather dubious-sounding claims.

There are several different variations on the pickle diet, but the most common one seems to involve this strategy: eat your normal diet, but whenever you normally would have a snack, eat a giant pickle instead.

Some dieters say this works through negative reinforcement: even if you start out liking pickles, you won't after a month or two of this diet, and you'll eschew all snacks (especially pickles) as a result. But the chemistry involved in pickle-making offers another possible reason for pickles' weight-loss effects.

How the Vinegar in Pickles May Help You Lose Weight

Pickles are made with vinegar, which adds that familiar, tart "pickled" taste to the cucumbers. Originally, pickling was a way to preserve food without refrigeration, since the vinegar won't allow harmful microbes to grow on the preserved cucumbers.

But as it turns out, vinegar may also help some people control their insulin and blood sugar levels. This is key in those who have insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, because high insulin and blood sugar are linked to serious complications. Controlling insulin and blood sugar also may help people lose weight.

One study published in the journal Diabetes Care looked at using vinegar to lower insulin and blood sugar in people with varying degrees of insulin resistance. The people in the study were asked to drink either a mixture of vinegar, artificial sweetener, and water, or a placebo, and then to eat a meal consisting almost entirely of simple carbohydrates (white bagel, butter, and orange juice).

The researchers found that vinegar improved insulin sensitivity.

This study doesn't prove that vinegar can lead to weight loss, although improved insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control can contribute to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. Another study followed obese Japanese subjects who were drinking either vinegar or a non-vinegar placebo every day for 12 weeks, and found that those drinking the vinegar lost more weight than those who didn't drink it.

More on the Pickle Diet

Obviously, drinking vinegar isn't the same thing as eating pickles. It's not clear how much actual vinegar you consume when you eat a pickle (it will vary, depending on the type and size of pickle), so you shouldn't assume that the results of the vinegar studies will translate into pickle-induced weight loss.

But there's another reason the pickle diet may help you lose weight: pickles are low in calories. Very low, in fact—one four-inch-long pickle has fewer than 10 calories. So when you substitute pickles for another snack (say, a giant muffin), you're obviously cutting calories on your snacks.

That, in turn, should lead to weight loss, providing you don't make up for your missing muffin elsewhere in your diet (with a giant slab of cake after dinner, perhaps).

Sources:

Johnson CS et al. Vinegar improves insulin sensitivity to a high-carbohydrate meal in subjects with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2004 Jan;27(1):281-2.

Kondo T et al. Vinegar intake reduces body weight, body fat mass, and serum triglyceride levels in obese Japanese subjects. Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. 2009 Aug;73(8):1837-43.

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