Eating Cinnamon Revisited: Reasons to Enjoy More of This Healthy Spice

cinnamon sticks

If there’s one spice we use a lot of around our house, it’s cinnamon. In the past we posted an article on cinnamon but recently got a special request to talk more about this powerful spice and the health benefits it offers. We’re happy to oblige. 🙂

You’ve probably eaten a lot of cinnamon during your lifetime but may not have considered the health benefits this”peppy” spice offers. We add a pinch of cinnamon to coffee and a quarter-teaspoon to the morning bowl of hot cereal. The few times I’ve left cinnamon out of my cereal, I felt less full. Dr. A says the same thing. As you’ll see, cinnamon may help reduce cravings by its effect on your blood sugar. 

Where Does Cinnamon Come From?

Cinnamon comes from the bark of evergreen trees from the cinnamomum genus. These trees grow in various parts of the world including the island of Ceylon.  Cinnamon that comes from the Cinnamomum verum tree is called “true cinnamon” or “Ceylon cinnamon” while cinnamon from comes from other species from the Cinnamomum genus is  “cassia cinnamon.” 

As we pointed out in a previous article, cassia cinnamon, the kind you find in most grocery stores, contains significant amounts of a chemical called coumarin. Coumarin,even in modest amounts, is linked with liver toxicity and is a suspected carcinogen.

After discovering the health risks of coumarin, we switched to Ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon has only small amounts of coumarin, between a thirtieth and a sixtieth the amount in Cassia cinnamon. According to the resources we’ve read, this is not enough to jeopardize your health.

If you use more than a half-teaspoon of cinnamon daily, we recommend switching to Ceylon cinnamon so you aren’t getting exposure to  significant amounts of coumarin. If you’re only an occasional user of cinnamon, you can probably get by with Cassia cinnamon.

How do the flavors differ?. Ceylon cinnamon has a mild but rich flavor. It lacks the bold, brash flavor Cassia cinnamon does. We like the fact that the flavor doesn’t completely overpower the palate like supermarket cinnamon does.

Health Benefits of Eating Cinnamon: Cinnamon and Diabetes

So what’s to love about cinnamon from a health standpoint? If you’re trying to lower your blood sugar, spice up your meals with a pinch or two of cinnamon. Research shows cinnamon helps temper the rise in blood sugar that occurs after a meal. It does this by making the cells in your body more sensitive to insulin. This helps reduce cravings too. 

That’s not the only health benefits cinnamon offers. Some studies show it lowers LDL-cholesterol, the “bad” type of cholesterol that’s linked with heart disease. A study published in the journal Diabetes Care found cinnamon had the following benefits in people with type 2 diabetes:

  • Lowered LDL-cholesterol and total cholesterol
  • Reduced triglycerides
  • Lowered blood glucose

Although a number of studies show cinnamon is heart healthy and blood sugar friendly, more research is needed to confirm the benefits. Needless to say, cinnamon isn’t a replacement for healthy diet or diabetes medications, if you’re currently taking them. On the other hand, in moderation, there’s very little downside to adding Ceylon cinnamon to your diet.

There’s another way cinnamon is good for heart health. Consuming cinnamon in moderation helps to keep platelets from sticking together to form a clot that can lodge in an artery and lead to a heart attack or stroke.

Don’t be aggressive with the cinnamon shaker if you’re on a blood thinner though. Talk to your doctor first. Cinnamon has blood-thinning properties of its own.

Cinnamon for Digestive Issues

Cinnamon is a source of natural tannins,compounds that help relieve diarrhea, Plus, it’s a natural aid for indigestion and flatulence. Of course, many people just enjoy the taste of this  spirited spice and enjoy it for its flavor rather than its health benefits. It’s always gratifying when something that tastes good has health benefits!

Lastly, some research shows cinnamon has anti-bacterial properties. Because of this, the food industry is looking at it as a potential food preservative.

How to Use Cinnamon

With its lively, robust flavors, cinnamon adds flavor to baked goods and desserts of all types including cookies, custards, cakes, rice pudding and flan. When you add cinnamon to something sweet, you can usually cut back on the sugar in in a dessert or bakery item without detracting from its flavor. Plus, cinnamon helps reduce the blood sugar rise you get when you eat something sweet.

Other Ways to Enjoy Cinnamon

Stir a little cinnamon into a hot cup of coffee or a cold smoothie or sprinkle it on oatmeal and breakfast cereal to perk up the flavor. Enjoy a piece of whole grain toast with butter and cinnamon first thing in the morning.

You can also sprinkle cinnamon on pancakes and French toast when you do a breakfast splurge to help tame  the blood sugar response. 

Fun Facts about Cinnamon

  • Cinnamon can be irritating to the inside of your mouth and tongue, causing burns and mouth ulcers, especially if you swallow it without liquid. Cinnamon oil has been linked with an increased risk for oral cancer, probably due to the oral irritation it causes.
  • Cinnamon has natural antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Cinnamon is a common ingredient in lip products claiming to enhance the size of your lips. The cinnamon in these products causes local irritation and swelling that makes thin lips look fuller.
  • Cinnamon gets its flavor and scent from a natural chemical called cinnamaldehyde. Because of its unique flavor and scent, it’s used to flavor chewing gum, candy and beverages and to scent colognes and perfumes.
  • Cinnamon was in hot demand in ancient Rome. It’s value was 15 times greater than silver!
  • A tablespoon of cinnamon has only 6 calories.
  • References to the benefits of cinnamon go back to 2800 B.C. People have used it medicinally for centuries to treat ailments like colds, diarrhea and indigestion. Chinese medicine practitioners believe cinnamon has “warming” properties that help keep colds and viruses at bay.
  • At least one study showed smelling the aroma of cinnamon boosts cognitive skills and brain function. Falling asleep at the office? Can’t stay focused? Breathe in the sweet aroma of cinnamon or chew a piece of cinnamon gum.
  • According to Encyclopedia.com, cinnamon is an effective snake repellent. Who would have known?
  • In some European countries, people take a combination of cinnamon and ginger when they feel a cold coming on.

Here’s how to make cinnamon apple oatmeal:

Still Other ways to enjoy cinnamon:

  • Add a pinch of cinnamon to a cup of coffee.
  • Sprinkle it lightly on your favorite dessert to help reduce the blood sugar rise the dessert will cause.
  • Stir it into yogurt.
  • Sprinkle a light dusting of cinnamon on sweet potatoes and roasted squash.
    Add a pinch of cinnamon to chili. Yes, it really works from a taste standpoint!
  • Make homemade chai tea using Ceylon cinnamon.

Do you cook or bake with cinnamon? Share your experiences with us in the commend section. 🙂

References:

World’s Healthiest Foods website.

Drugs.com. “Cinnamon”

J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Sep 7;53(18):7274-8.

Diabetes Care December 2003 vol. 26 no. 12 3215-3218.

American Diabetes Association. “Cinnamon May Help Improve Blood Glucose Levels in Type 2 Diabetes”

J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Jul 11;55(14):5484-90. Epub 2007 Jun 13.

Nutraingredients.com. “Cinnamon Boosts Brain Activity” (April 2004)

Encyclopedia.com. “Cinnamon Bark”

Kristie Leong M.D.

Dr. Kristie Leong and Dr. Apollo Leong are physicians helping you to lead a healthy lifestyle by sharing nutrition and fitness tips and keeping you abreast of the latest health news.

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