Cinnamon is best known as a spice sprinkled on toast and lattes. It is extracted from the bark of the cinnamon tree and has also been used traditionally as medicine throughout the world. Although it is often associated with treat foods such as cinnamon buns, cinnamon sugar, cinnamon swirls etc, the truth is that without the sugar, cinnamon’s benefits on your health are rather amazing. It’s emerging as a true wonder food in terms of health protection. In this week’s article, find out what cinnamon has to offer and how you can incorporate it in your diet.
Why do people take cinnamon?
According to research a particular type of cinnamon, cassia cinnamon, may lower blood sugar in people with diabetes. However, other studies have not found a benefit and were inconclusive. Lab studies have found that cinnamon may reduce inflammation, have antioxidant effects, and fight bacteria. But it’s unclear what the implications are for people. Although so far the results of studies have been mixed, cinnamon may play a role in weight management and improving health.
Can you get cinnamon naturally from foods?
Cinnamon is an additive to numerous foods. When purchased in the store, common spice cinnamon could be one of two types or a mixture of both. It is either “true” or Ceylon cinnamon, which is easier to grind but thought to be less effective for diabetes. Or, and more likely, it could be the darker-coloured cassia cinnamon.
What is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon is the bark of one of a group of trees belonging to the same family. Many related species are marketed as cinnamon. “True cinnamon” is from Sri Lanka and is more delicate tasting than what is commonly sold as cinnamon in Europe and the United States, which is also called “cassia” or “Chinese cinnamon.” Interestingly, cassia has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. As for its nutritional information, just one teaspoon of cinnamon contains 28 mg of calcium, over a gram of fiber, almost one mg of iron, vitamins C and K, manganese and about half a gram of carbohydrate.
Although the results of preliminary studies are somewhat mixed, the majority of the research seems to suggest cinnamon is beneficial. In traditional medicine, cinnamon has been used for digestive ailments such as indigestion, stomach upset, bloating etc. More recently, research suggests it has a mild anti-inflammatory effect. It also slows the spoiling of food and has anti-fungal properties as well. However, the potential health benefits of cinnamon that have received the most attention have to do with its effects on blood glucose and cholesterol. Cinnamon may improve Type 2 Diabetes and Insulin Resistance. Ingesting as little as ½ teaspoon of cinnamon per day has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control. Improving insulin resistance can help in weight control as well as decreasing the risk for heart disease which is why cinnamon has attracted so much interest. Along with the improvement in blood sugar, these studies have documented improvements in triglycerides, LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) and blood pressure. Moreover, adding a little more than a teaspoon to rice pudding can help reduce blood sugar in people without diabetes. Cinnamon also contains polyphenols and antioxidants which help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. In addition, cinnamon benefits include an energizing scent that has also been found to help increase alertness.
Are there any health risks?
Cinnamon usually causes no side effects in non-allergic people, and up to ½ teaspoon at a time are thought to be safe. However, people attempting to take more as a supplement should be aware that heavy use of cinnamon may irritate the mouth and lips, causing sores. In some people, it can cause an allergic reaction. When applied to the skin, it might cause redness and irritation. People with liver problems should avoid very high quantities of cassia cinnamon as it may be toxic. Cinnamon may lower blood sugar and therefore, people with diabetes may need to adjust their treatment if they use cinnamon supplements. Given the lack of evidence about its safety, cinnamon as a treatment is not recommended for children or for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. As for interactions with other medication, cinnamon supplements could interact with antibiotics, heart medicines, diabetes drugs, blood thinners and others so make sure to consult your doctor.
The best part about it is that cinnamon is easy to add to food you already eat and also adds to the taste! Both ground and stick forms are equally healthy, but sticks have a longer shelf life (one year, compared with 6 months for ground). Aim for 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons (or one to two sticks) a day. Here are some ideas to include this spice to your diet:
• Add 1/2 to 1 1/2 teaspoons to hot oatmeal or cold cereal.
• Stir 1/2 teaspoon into plain yogurt.
• Microwave 1 cup soy milk and 1 teaspoon honey for 1:30, then add 1/2 teaspoon.
• Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon straight into your coffee, latte, or cappuccino.
• Toss 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon over broiled grapefruit or bananas.
• Use 2 cups of raw nuts with a mix of 1/4 cup honey and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and roast for 15 minutes.
• Add one teaspoon into your favourite fruit smoothie.
• Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon over sweet potatoes or carrots.
• Add 2 teaspoons to grilled chicken or pork.
So why not give cinnamon a go and incorporate it in a healthy balanced diet to witness the results first hand!
By Kleio Bathrellou
Associate Nutritionist & ISSN Certified Sports Nutritionist