10 Surprising Health Benefits of Cinnamon

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a spice we all know and love, especially in sweets and especially in baked goods containing apples and other autumn fruit. Moreover, our beloved pumpkin pies and everything flavored with pumpkin spice (including the notorious Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks which made headlines the past two falls) wouldn’t be the same without this glorious spice. But few people know that its usefulness is just as great as its taste, and that there are several amazing health benefits of cinnamon which should encourage anyone to consume more of it. We have a few suggestions on how you can up your daily dose of cinnamon without spending all day in the kitchen baking pies or spending a small fortune on several Starbucks lattes a day. But first, we need to present you some more facts about cinnamon, including bits of its fascinating history and, of course, detailing its amazing health benefits and properties.

cinnamon sticks in a bundle next to cinnamon powder
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The delicious cinnamon sticks ground into powder spice.

Cinnamon: History and Varieties

Cinnamon is a spice which mankind had discovered and loved ever since Antiquity, when ancient Egypt was thought to be the main source of imported cinnamon for the rest of the world. In truth, the spice was actually native to the areas known today as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Burma (as well as the Malabar Coast of India), but that was a secret carefully guarded by the middlemen who imported the spice and wanted to maintain their monopoly on the source(s). In the Middle Ages, the mystery surrounding the exact source of this cinnamon continued, and European countries had no idea where their expensive spice came from. Indonesian merchants carried it on their rafts to East Africa, from which it was distributed further on to Europe.

The cinnamon spice trade route in Ancient Roman times.
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The cinnamon spice trade route in Ancient Roman times.

Later, in less distant times, Portuguese merchants started getting the spice from Ceylon (in Sri Lanka), and were after a while dethroned by the Dutch traders in the battle for spice trade supremacy. To cut a rather long story short, the world always loved cinnamon even though its source has been a mystery for a long time. With today’s knowledge, we can be aware not only of cinnamon’s origins, but also of the fact that not all cinnamon powders are alike: there is more than one variety of plant in the Cinnamomum genus and their health properties differ as well.

There are over a dozen various species of trees in that genus, and several of them produce bark which can be then dried up, ground and commercially sold as cinnamon. The most precious of them, considered to be the one true cinnamon tree, is called Cinnamomum verum, though most of the cinnamon you can find on the market is derived from other sources. To distinguish the vast majority of cinnamon from the ‘true’ one, it is labelled as “cassia” instead of cinnamon. If you look carefully on the satchels of spice you can find in stores, you will notice the difference. Do note that if it’s not specifically labelled as “Ceylon cinnamon” or “True cinnamon”, then your cinnamon is probably cassia. You can find true cinnamon either in specialty stores, on online on large retailing sites such as Amazon or eBay.

Now, about the health benefits of cinnamon, you will find that both cassia and cinnamon share most of them, but the properties of cassia are less strong, and cassia can also become toxic in large quantities, faster than its “true” counterpart. If you research power smoothie recipes and health cures online, make sure they specify what type of cinnamon they are referring to before you start experimenting with them.

What Are the Main Health Benefits of Cinnamon?

The cinnamon bark (those cute rolled sticks you sometimes see in supermarkets) gets is unmistakable smell and flavor from its oily compound, known in the chemistry world as cinnamaldehyde. This is particularly important because all the amazing health benefits of cinnamon come from that oily compound as well; the rest of the stuff in the spice is mostly just woody fiber, without anything special other than its food fiber status. In no particular order, these are the main perks and benefits which you can reap from this delicious spice:

1. Antioxidant Power

Cinnamon has been proven to have antioxidant properties which are so high, that you could even use it as a natural food preservative. Few things can help you fight tissue ageing as well as cinnamon.

2. Anti-inflammatory Properties

Just as strong as its anti-oxidant properties, the anti-inflammation benefit of cinnamon is particularly useful not only to fight temporary infections, but also to treat insidious and long-term inflammation (like arthritis and other cartilage and bone diseases).

cinnamon bark sticks
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Close-up of 3 cinnamon bark sticks

3. Lowers the Risk of Heart Disease

Cinnamon has been proven to decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and to fight the disease where it’s just starting to take hold. With just 1 gram of cinnamon per day (that’s about ½ teaspoon) you will be able to reduce total cholesterol level, maintain or even increase the good kind of cholesterol (HDL), obtain better blood markers when you get your blood tested and so on. Those results were even obtained in people suffering from Type 2 Diabetes, so cinnamon is really some powerful stuff!

4. Aids in Weight Loss

A great detox and weight loss cure is to mix ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 tablespoon of honey, and then eat this mix each morning 15 minutes before eating anything else. This will not only energize you for the whole day, but it will also reduce appetite for other sweet foods.

5. Improves Sensitivity to Insulin

Cinnamon has been proven to have beneficial effects on how your body responds to the natural hormone insulin, lowering the risk of diabetes, of obesity, and making your metabolism better adjusted overall (hence the weight loss properties as well).

6. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels (and the Risk of Diabetes)

Another important perk of the health benefits of cinnamon is the fact that your overall blood sugar levels will get lower if you ingest cinnamon regularly, even if your diet should remain the same. This only adds to the diabetes prevention effect, and makes the spice all the more powerful in fighting metabolic syndrome and weight gain.

7. May Prevent Cancer

There have been studies linking cinnamon consumption to a decreased risk of cancer, but more remains to be tested yet. But in the light of the other amazing and firmly proven health benefits of cinnamon, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have the spice anyway, since it’s probably just a matter of time until the anti-cancer effects are tested out more.

8. May Prevent Neurodegenerative Diseases

The same correlation has been noticed between cinnamon consumption and neuro-degenerative diseases: it turns out that if you eat more cinnamon, you may have a lower chance to develop diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

9. May Help Fight HIV

Another great effect of cinnamon which still needs to be tested out further is that it may help fight HIV infections, making the disease progress slower and be less damaging overall. Since it fights inflammation of any kind, diseases such as HIV infections were just bound to be vulnerable to the awesome power of this spice as well.

10. Helps Fight Bacterial and Fungal Infections

Furthermore, bacterial and fungal infections aren’t safe from cinnamon’s anti-inflammatory properties either. Just a scant ½ teaspoon every other day has been proven to fight such infections naturally, even without the help of specialized meds.

How to Include More Cinnamon into Your Diet (and Precautions)

First of all, it would really benefit you to take the time and make sure that the cinnamon you use (especially for therapeutic purposes) is true cinnamon (Ceylon cinnamon) and not cassia, though for lack of better options, cassia will work as well. Second of all, and as a precaution, if you know you have kidney problems (for instance, if you have suffered a kidney transplant at some point in your life or if you struggle with kidney stones often), it would be best to avoid ingesting large quantities of cinnamon (say, more than ¾ teaspoon a week). Some studies have linked increased cinnamon consumption with a hindered kidney function, but only in the case of people who already had trouble with these organs.

the making of cinnamon tea with lemon slices and star anise
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Cinnamon tea made with lemon and star anise for extra flavor balance

Cinnamon Fix Ideas:

Here are a few ideas on how to get a quick cinnamon fix throughout a busy week without spending time doing much labor-intensive cooking:

  • Cinnamon tea: you can find it commercially available, but it’s better to make your own: a teaspoon of cinnamon in tea paper or a fine-sieved tea infuser will do the trick for 1-2 cups of tea.
  • Cinnamon supplements: If you just happen to not like the taste, you can also find several cinnamon supplements available in selected pharmacies and health stores. Read and follow the instructions carefully and you’ll benefit from almost the same effects.
  • 1 Teaspoon cinnamon in your savory stews: Cinnamon use in food and cooking isn’t reserved just for sweets, you know. You can also use a scant ½ teaspoon in a meat or vegetable stews: lots of Asian and Middle Eastern spice mixes for marinades and sauces and stews contain some cinnamon. We promise it won’t taste weird, especially if you combine it with other spices as well (like nutmeg, allspice, cloves, ground coriander, caraway etc.)
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon over your salads: If you’re not cooking but you’re more like a take-away lunch person, feel free to sprinkle cinnamon over your salads as well. It’s a lovely way to take in the desired daily dose!
honey drizzle over cinnamon powder
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Cinnamon powder and honey: nature’s exquisite combo.

  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon with honey in the morning: The weight loss and detox combo we described above is well worth it even if you’re not actively looking to lose weight. It’s delicious, it gives you energy and regulates your metabolism, so what’s there not to like about it? Also, it tends to work better than cooked options, because raw cinnamon maintains its properties better, and together with honey it’s even better. As a bonus, if you take care of it in the morning, you won’t have to bother with the question “How should I take my cinnamon dose today?’.
  • ½ teaspoon of cinnamon in your coffee: You don’t need to order expensive Vietnamese coffee at the restaurant to get a taste of Saigon in your own mug each morning. Just mix some cinnamon in it for a powerful health kick, and add some condensed milk as well for a delicious and more authentic treat (if the true experience is also what you’re after). Either way, it’s a great method to take care of the cinnamon addition in the diet without much fuss.
  • 1 teaspoon of cinnamon in your smoothie: Last, but not least, smoothies are also a great way to make use of cinnamon without much fuss. If you’re already an adept of healthy smoothies to start your day with, make sure you add some cinnamon to them: it will not only make them more delicious but it will also bring you the much-desired health benefits of cinnamon that we presented above. Here are some particular flavor combinations that work really well: banana with hazelnut and cinnamon; banana with honey and cinnamon; carrot with yogurt, honey and cinnamon; orange and cinnamon etc.

Last, but not least, another great perk of cinnamon but which isn’t really a way to ingest it, is the fact that it works wonderfully as a breath refresher. If you want to fashion your own natural and additive-free mouthwash, just mix 3-4 teaspoons of cinnamon with 100 ml of vodka and you’re done. You can use a good mouthful of this as a mouthwash (but don’t forget to spit it out once you’re done swishing it around) and you’ll never miss the commercially produced ones! Surely, the health benefits of cinnamon are the main perks for which the spice should be appreciated, but we though this extra trick would be a welcome bonus to share. Enjoy using the tips and tricks we gathered here and don’t turn down the occasional apple pie slice either: it’s more healthy cinnamon to take in!

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David

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