Cinnamon: A guide on everything you need to know
The more medical science looks at the natural world, the more they seem to find that nature offers many natural medicines. Sometimes a healthy boost can come straight from your spice rack. Common cinnamon offers many health benefits.
Most of us likely grew up with cinnamon toast and other common treats for kids. Just the aroma of cinnamon can conjure the feel of a certain time of year. This familiar flavor and aroma can take us back to childhood.
While most of us keep cinnamon around to spice up baked goods, tea, or apple cider, cinnamon is also a natural health booster. There are a variety of chemical compounds in cinnamon that provide serious health benefits.
It is quite likely that few of us know that much about cinnamon. It is so common that many of us have never really paid much attention to it. But cinnamon, like so many other complex food substances, is rich in compounds that affect the body.
What is cinnamon? Are there different types of cinnamon? And what are the health benefits of cinnamon? This guide will give you the information you need to include cinnamon as part of your health, nutrition, and fitness routines.
What is cinnamon?
Cinnamon spice comes from the inner bark of a tropical tree. The Cinnamomum tree is native to tropical regions but is now cultivated around the world. The inner bark is harvested and rolled into "quills." This can be ground into a fine powder or used in the form of the quill, depending on how one chooses to use the bark. Cinnamon bark contains several aromatic compounds, most notably cinnamaldehyde, which gives cinnamon its signature spicy piquancy.
Cinnamon trees are a tropical evergreen in the Cinnamomum genus and part of the greater laurel family, which includes bay leaves and even avocados. There are over 250 plant species in the cinnamon genus, and three of them are important to The Spice House. You will recognize them by their common names; Ceylon Cinnamon, Indonesian Korintje Cinnamon, and Vietnamese Saigon Cinnamon.
The short answer is cinnamon is a spice, but the facts about cinnamon show us that it is far more complex than most of us realize. Cinnamon is a naturally occurring flavoring but it is also natural medicine.
Cinnamon nutrition facts
The nutritional content of 1 teaspoon (6.42 g) of cinnamon as listed by the Department of Agriculture includes:
- Calories: 6.42
- Carbohydrates: 2.1 g
- Calcium: 26.1 mg
- Iron: 0.21 mg
- Magnesium: 1.56 mg
- Phosphorous: 1.66 mg
- Potassium: 11.2 mg
- Vitamin A: 0.39 micrograms
Cinnamon also contains trace amounts of vitamins B and K. Cinnamon contains small amounts of the antioxidants choline, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, lutein, and zeaxanthin.
Health benefits of cinnamon
As we said at the outset, cinnamon is known to us in America primarily as a cooking and baking spice. But cinnamon has been used as a traditional medicine in other cultures for centuries. We now know that cinnamon has numerous benefits beyond its great taste. Here are some of the benefits of cinnamon.
Loaded with antioxidants
Antioxidants work to neutralize and remove free radicals that can cause cancer. Cinnamon is loaded with chemicals called polyphenols which are powerful antioxidants. In one study cinnamon was shown to have more antioxidant properties than any other natural source. The high concentrations of these polyphenols in cinnamon accounts for why cinnamon has historically been used as a natural food preservative.
Inflammation is a natural and necessary response as our bodies fight infections. However, inflammation becomes problematic when it becomes chronic and directed against our physiological systems and tissues. Cinnamon has been shown to work as an effective anti-inflammatory agent and can help fight the symptoms of certain autoimmune conditions.
Helps fight heart disease
Heart disease is the number one cause of premature death around the world. Cinnamon helps reduce the risk of heart disease in several ways.
Research has shown that cinnamon can cut down the blood markers symptomatic of diabetes. Just one gram of cinnamon reduces the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
Cinnamon has also been shown to reduce LDL blood levels. This is the so-called “bad cholesterol.” It does this while stabilizing HDL, or good cholesterol.
Finally, some studies have shown that a small dose of cinnamon can also lower blood pressure in people with hypertension.
Since all of these benefits are derived from a simple one-gram dose of cinnamon, we see that cinnamon may be one of the most effective natural remedies to help prevent heart disease.
Helps control insulin levels
In addition to reducing the blood makers symptomatic of type 2 diabetes, cinnamon is known to help regulate insulin in the bloodstream. What happens in type 2 diabetes is people develop the inability to properly resist insulin even though insulin is necessary for transporting sugar in the bloodstream. This is called insulin resistance. Cinnamon can help reduce insulin resistance, this can help cut back on the amount of medications diabetics need to control their condition.
May help with neurodegenerative disorders
The two most common neurodegenerative disorders are Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Both of these disorders cause the progressive loss of brain cells and neurological functions.
Two important chemicals found in cinnamon have been shown to reduce the accumulation of tau proteins in the brain which is the protein that is linked to both Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. One study showed that cinnamon can help protect neurons and normalize neurotransmitter functions.
Antimicrobial and antifungal
One of the primary components of cinnamon is a chemical called cinnamaldehyde. This is known to help fight infections. What is more, this same chemical can also fight fungal infections. Cinnamon oil is an effective treatment for many upper respiratory infections.
It is known that cinnamon can inhibit the growth of two common pathogens: Listeria and Salmonella. Cinnamon can also help prevent tooth decay and bad breath. Perhaps this accounts for the fact that cinnamon has been used as a natural medicine for such a long time.
The studies on cinnamon and cancer are still in the test tube trials, but the early findings are promising. Scientists are testing cinnamon in several ways to examine its cancer-fighting potential.
So far it appears that cinnamon acts to reduce the growth of cancer cells. This inhibits the ways cancer cells form in the blood and therefore inhibits the ability of cancer cells to take hold in the body.
Early studies show that cinnamon works to detoxify cells in the colon and this has the effect of stopping the formation of colon cancer. Since cinnamon has a high level of natural antioxidants, these chemicals work to stop the generation of cancerous growth in the colon. These studies are still in the preliminary stages, but they show great promise for the use of cinnamon in fighting cancer.
Types of cinnamon
Many people may be surprised to learn that there are different types of cinnamon. A few varieties are cultivated around the world, and each finds its place in kitchens and apothecaries for specific reasons. The primary types of cinnamon are as follows:
Cinnamomum Verum (formerly Cinnamomum zeylanicum). This is the form of cinnamon most of us know. It is often called real cinnamon, and in fact, the Latin name translates as “true cinnamon.” Ceylon cinnamon has a floral and citrusy scent and flavor and has been favored in European and Mexican cuisine.
Korintje Cassia Cinnamon
Cinnamomum burmannii. We know this flavor in America, especially if you have had traditional French toast. This is the standard form of cinnamon sold in the United States. It has a bittersweet flavor. Originally from Indonesia, Korintje Cassia comes from a slightly larger tree and is cut from the tree in sheets near the base of the tree. We find this variety of cinnamon almost anywhere in powder or in bark rolls.
Vietnamese Saigon Cassia Cinnamon
Cinnamomum Loureiro. Vietnamese cinnamon has a higher oil content than the other varieties and is therefore much spicier. In Vietnam, this variety is added to traditional cooking in the form of the bark. In the U.S., Vietnamese Saigon Cassia is used in specialty bakeries in cinnamon rolls and apple pie since the added spice gives these pastries a unique flavor.
How to consume Cinnamon
The most common ways to consume cinnamon are in foods. Cinnamon has long been added to pastries and baked goods to provide spice. Cinnamon mixed with sugar is an age-old flavor combination.
Some easy and healthy ways to consume cinnamon include:
Pancakes: Sprinkle homemade pancakes with ground cinnamon. It will mix perfectly with maple syrup.
Sweet potatoes: Cinnamon always pairs well with baked sweet potatoes. It adds depth and richness.
Granola: Fresh ground cinnamon on granola is an ideal substitute for adding sugar to an otherwise healthy breakfast.
Grapefruit: Adding cinnamon on top of fresh grapefruit is not only delicious, but it also creates a powerful antioxidant combination with the vitamin C in grapefruits.
Cinnamon toast: This is a tried and true treat from childhood. Add cinnamon to organic peanut butter for great taste and a protein boost.
Consuming cinnamon in drinks: both hot and cold is also common. Cinnamon can be added to black tea, coffee, and hot cider. You can also add cinnamon to iced drinks for a little kick.
Cinnamon plays a large part in some types of cuisine. Greek and Turkish cuisine calls for cinnamon in savory dishes, meats, and soups.
Cinnamon and pork are a good match because the cinnamon is sweet with hints of smokiness. It's a good flavor combination, especially if you are cooking a pork dish that incorporates apples as well.
One of the easiest ways to include fresh-ground cinnamon in your daily coffee is to add small pieces of cinnamon bark into your beans when you grind them at home.
Add cinnamon to drinks such as smoothies (mango, banana, and almond milk) or turmeric lattes. Try adding cinnamon to stewed fruit, such as rhubarb and apples, to bring out the flavor.
Cinnamon side effects
Cinnamon is generally recognized as safe for anyone. However, there are some potential adverse effects of cinnamon.
Large quantities of cinnamon (over 4 grams per day) can lead to increased heart rate, intestinal problems, increased respiratory rate, and perspiration. These accelerated functions can lead to sleepiness and depression.
Some people can have skin reactions with contact with cinnamon. This can take the form of contact dermatitis.
Consuming too much cinnamon can lead to liver damage and affect coagulation. Therefore, people should speak to their doctor before adding cinnamon or cassia to their diet if they:
- Take anticoagulants or other drugs
- Have diabetes
- Have a liver condition
Finally, people who are sensitive to cinnamon can also develop mucosal lesions or sores in their mouths. This is often associated with cinnamon chewing gum and candy.
When we look around for things to add to our diet for better health, we tend to think in terms of supplements and medicinal products. We often overlook the things we have around the house. Sometimes, the best health supplements are in our spice cabinet. Cinnamon is one such product.
Cinnamon is far more than a simple flavoring for pies and mulled cider. Cinnamon packs a wealth of health benefits. Beyond the spicy flavor and delicious addition to baked goods and foods, cinnamon is one of the healthiest things we probably already have at home.
You can add cinnamon to all kinds of foods. It is not just a pastry spice. Cinnamon is a great addition to meats and stews, giving them a Mediterranean flavor that is uncommon and delicious. Of course, you can get your cinnamon supplement in something as simple as your morning coffee.
In recent years, scientists have begun looking at the health benefits of simple foods and ordinary parts of our diets. This has led to the discovery that many common items have surprising health benefits. Cinnamon is one of these foods and is one of the best health supplements we have.