Cinnamon is a powerful spice that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. It is still used daily in many cultures because of the widespread cinnamon benefits, not to mention its distinctly sweet, warming taste and ease of use in recipes.
Interestingly enough, researchers have found that cinnamon ranks No. 1 out of 26 of the most popular herbs and spices in the world in terms of its protective antioxidant levels. (1) It also boasts a wide range of other health benefits, including antibacterial, antifungal and anti-diabetic properties.
So why is cinnamon good for you and how can you add it to your diet? Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about this potent spice.
What Is Cinnamon?
So what is cinnamon and where does cinnamon come from? Cinnamon is actually made from a type of tree, and the unique smell, color and flavor of cinnamon is a result of the oily part of the tree that it grows from.
Meanwhile, the health benefits of cinnamon come from the bark of the Cinnamomum verum (or Cinnamomum zeylanicum) tree. This bark contains several special compounds which are responsible for its many health-promoting properties, including cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid and cinnamate.
Researchers have concluded that cinnamon health benefits can be obtained in the form of its pure bark, essential oils, in ground spice form (which is bark powder) or in extract form when its special phenolic compounds, flavonoids and antioxidants have been isolated. These compounds make cinnamon one of the most beneficial spices on earth, giving it antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anti-microbial, immunity-boosting and potential cancer and heart disease-protecting abilities. (2)
The cinnamon tree is grown around the world and approximately 250 species of cinnamon have been identified so far.
However, there are two main types of cinnamon spice used today: Ceylon cinnamon, which is sometimes labeled as true or real cinnamon, and Cassia cinnamon, which is more widely available and commonly used. They each have a notable spicy taste and fragrance which is due to the presence of cinnamaldehyde and both types also contain plenty of health benefits, but Ceylon cinnamon powder is actually considered to be more potent.
In addition to these two common types of cinnamon, some of the other varieties available include:
- Indonesian cinnamon
- Vietnamese cinnamon
- Indian cinnamon
- Malabar cinnamon
A little bit of cinnamon goes a long way, and its antioxidant properties are what makes it especially beneficial to include in your diet. As little as half a teaspoon of cinnamon daily can have positive effects on blood sugar levels, digestion, immunity and more. However, stronger doses are also extremely beneficial for improving heart disease risk and cutting your risk of diabetes, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.
Cinnamon also supplies a wide variety of important nutrients and is especially rich in fiber and manganese along with several other vitamins and minerals.
One tablespoon of ground cinnamon contains approximately (3):
- 19 calories
- 6.2 grams carbohydrate
- 0.3 grams protein
- 0.1 grams fat
- 4.1 grams dietary fiber
- 1.4 milligrams manganese (68 percent DV)
- 77.7 milligrams calcium (8 percent DV)
- 0.6 milligrams iron (4 percent DV)
- 2.4 micrograms vitamin K (3 percent DV)
1. High in Antioxidants
Cinnamon is packed with a variety of protective antioxidants that reduce free radical damage and slow the aging process. In fact, researchers have identified at least 41 different protective compounds found within cinnamon to date. (4) (5)
According to the ORAC scale, which is used to measure the concentration of antioxidants in different foods, cinnamon ranks No. 7 of all foods, herbs and spices. And in a study that compared the antioxidant activity of 26 spices, cinnamon was deemed the winner and proved to be higher in antioxidants than other many other herbs and spices, including garlic, thyme, rosemary and oregano. (1)
Cinnamon health benefits are attributed to its content of a few specific types of antioxidants, including polyphenols, phenolic acid and flavonoids. These compounds work to fight oxidative stress in the body and aid in the prevention of chronic disease. (6)
The different antioxidants present in cinnamon help to neutralize harmful free radicals in the body and prevent oxidative stress. It can also help limit nitric oxide build-up in the blood and prevent fat peroxidation, both of which can increase the risk of brain disorders, cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions. (7)
2. Relieves Inflammation
The antioxidants in cinnamon can help relieve inflammation, which may help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, cognitive decline and more. Researchers have identified many different types of flavonoids in cinnamon, all of which are highly effective at fighting dangerous inflammation levels throughout the body.
Because cinnamon lowers swelling and prevents inflammation, it can also be beneficial in pain management, with studies showing that cinnamon helps to reduce muscle soreness, decrease menstrual pain, lessen the severity of allergic reactions and help relieve other age-related symptoms of pain as well. (8) (9)
3. Protects Heart Health
Studies show that one of the top cinnamon health benefits is its ability to improve heart health. In fact, cinnamon has been shown to reduce several of the most common risk factors for heart disease, including high cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels and high blood pressure to keep your heart healthy and strong. (10) Cinnamon has also been shown to reduce high blood pressure, which is another risk factor for heart disease or a stroke. (11)
Research also shows that cinnamon is a helpful blood coagulant and can stop excess bleeding by helping the body to form blood clots. Cinnamon also increases circulation and improves tissue repair, which may be especially helpful for regenerating heart tissue in order to help fight heart attacks, heart disease and stroke. (12)
4. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
Cinnamon is well-known for its anti-diabetic effects, which is why it’s considered one of the best foods for diabetics. It can lower blood sugar levels and improve sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which helps transport sugar from the bloodstream to the tissues to keep blood sugar levels balanced. (13)
Cinnamon for diabetes can help block the activity of several digestive enzymes to slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream after a high-carb meal. (14) For this reason, many studies have shown that people with type 2 diabetes can experience significant positive effects on blood sugar markers by supplementing with cinnamon extract. (15)
5. Preserves Brain Function
Because cinnamon is rich in antioxidants, research shows that it may boost brain function and can help defend against the development of neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. (16)
Although human studies are lacking, in vitro studies show that cinnamon helps block the build-up of a specific protein in the brain to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. (17) It’s also been shown to protect neurons against oxidative stress to reduce the risk of inflammation and cell damage in animal models, which can help preserve brain function and prevent cognitive decline. (18)
6. May Help Lower Cancer Risk
Because of its antioxidant abilities, cinnamon may protect against DNA damage, cell mutation and cancerous tumor growth. Studies have revealed that the health benefits of cinnamon come from a compound called cinnamaldehyde, which can inhibit ∫ tumor growth and protect DNA against damage while also killing off cancer cells. (19)
This is especially true in the colon; studies show that cinnamon can improve the health of the colon, which could reduce the risk of colon cancer. (1) Cinnamon is now being investigated as a natural cancer-fighting food because of its strong antioxidant abilities and may be a useful supplement for those at a higher risk of cancer.
7. Fights Infections and Viruses
There are many potential benefits of cinnamon when it comes to defending the body from illness. Cinnamon contains natural antimicrobial, antibiotic, antifungal and antiviral properties and its essential oils contain powerful immune-boosting compounds as well. (20)
For this reason, cinnamon is used in many cultures to naturally help fight harmful infections and viruses. Cinnamon oil, in particular, can also protect against bacterial infections, which can cause conditions like the common cold, strep throat and pneumonia. (21)
8. Optimizes Oral Hygiene
Research shows that cinnamon benefits oral hygiene and could protect against certain strains of bacteria that cause bad breath, tooth decay, cavities and mouth infections. The essential oils from cinnamon have been shown to have potent antibacterial properties and can be used to naturally combat bacteria in the mouth, acting as a natural mouthwash. (22)
Similar to peppermint, one of the health benefits of cinnamon is that it can also be used as a natural flavoring agent in chewing gums due to its refreshing taste. Because it removes oral bacteria, cinnamon has the ability to fight bad breath without adding any chemicals to the body. Because of this, cinnamon has also been traditionally used as tooth powder and a natural remedy for toothaches, dental problems and mouth sores. (23)
9. Prevents Candida
The powerful antifungal properties in cinnamon could be effective in treating and preventing Candida overgrowth in the digestive tract. (24) Cinnamon has been shown to lower amounts of dangerous Candida albicans, which is the yeast that causes Candida overgrowth and can cause a host of digestive and autoimmune issues. (25)
Another health benefit of cinnamon is that it helps to control blood sugar levels; a diet high in refined carbs can increase the amount of sugar in the digestive tract and may be associated with an increased risk of Candida. (26)
10. Benefits Skin Health
The potential cinnamon benefits for skin are rooted in its antibiotic and antimicrobial properties which can help protect skin from irritation, rashes, allergic reactions and infection. Applying cinnamon essential oil directly to the skin can be helpful in reducing inflammation, swelling, pain and redness. (27)
One of the benefits of cinnamon and honey, another antimicrobrial ingredient, is that using both together can boost skin health even more and may be beneficial for acne, rosacea and skin allergies. You can use either raw honey or Manuka honey and cinnamon for skin relief.
11. Reduces Allergy Symptoms
Those with allergies may find relief thanks to the multitude of beneficial compounds packed into cinnamon. In fact, cinnamon may help fight common allergy symptoms because it’s been shown to reduce inflammation and fight histamine reactions in many animal models. (28, 29, 30)
12. Sweetens Up Recipes Without Sugar
Because of its naturally sweet taste, adding cinnamon to foods and recipes can help you cut down on the amount of sugar you normally use, effectively lowering the glycemic load of your meal. Cinnamon already has anti-diabetic effects that slow sugar absorption and may help curb cravings by stabilizing blood sugar, but using cinnamon for its naturally sweet taste is yet another added benefit that can boost blood sugar control.
Cinnamon contains no added sugar and minimal calories yet is high in many nutrients, making it an extremely healthy addition to many meals. Try using cinnamon in coffee, tea, baked goods, yogurt, on fruit or in oatmeal instead of adding extra sugar. This can help you to reduce your sugar intake and cut down on extra calories to aid in weight loss and fight Candida, diabetes and low energy.
13. Acts as a Natural Preservative
One of the lesser-known cinnamon powder benefits is that it can be used to preserve food. Because cinnamon has antibacterial abilities and acts as an antioxidant, it can be used as a preservative in many foods without the need for chemicals or artificial ingredients. (31)
A recent study reported that when pectin from fruit was coated with cinnamon leaf extract, it yielded high antioxidant and antibacterial activities and stayed fresh for longer. Cinnamon also possesses antityrosinase activities, which can be useful in stopping the discoloration of fruits and vegetables as they oxidize and begin to rot. (1)
Can You Have Too Much?
When used in moderation, cinnamon is generally safe and can be consumed with minimal risk of side effects. High amounts of cinnamon — and cassia cinnamon in particular — can cause several adverse symptoms. This is due to the presence of a compound called coumarin, which has been shown to damage the liver in large amounts. (32)
While Ceylon cinnamon contains only trace amounts, cassia cinnamon is much higher in coumarin. Excess consumption of the coumarin found in cassia cinnamon has also been linked to other health problems, including an increased risk of cancer development. (33)
Because of its anti-diabetic properties, cinnamon may also contribute to low blood sugar levels, especially if you’re taking blood sugar-lowering medications already. Cinnamon consumption has also been associated with breathing problems and mouth sores in some people. (34, 35, 36)
Cinnamon is not known to cause negative reactions or allergies, especially when used in small amounts the way that it most commonly is. At times, when taking cinnamon extract supplements or using cinnamon essential oil, it’s possible to take too much, which can interfere with other medicines and medical conditions.
Cinnamon can become unsafe if you take too many cinnamon supplements, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, have diabetes, have liver disease or recently had surgery. Always make sure you read the recommended dose of cinnamon extracts and other herbal extracts and don’t consume more than is recommended without speaking with your doctor first in order to avoid complications.
Additionally, if you’re using cinnamon essential oil, you might also want to test a small patch of your skin to first check for irritation and allergic reactions before using larger amounts to prevent negative side effects or allergic reactions.
Additionally, many people often wonder: is cinnamon bad for dogs? While cinnamon is non-toxic to your furry friends, it’s best to stick to Ceylon cinnamon to minimize coumarin consumption and keep intake in moderation to prevent negative side effects.
Uses in Traditional Medicine
As one of the oldest spices in the world, cinnamon has long been used for its healing properties as a staple in many forms of holistic and traditional medicine.
On the Ayurvedic diet, cinnamon is considered a warming spice and helps enhance the bioavailability and absorption of other spices in the body. It is used to manage blood sugar levels and is thought to aid in the detoxification and cleansing of the liver. It also encourages digestion, circulation and energy levels to optimize overall health and keep you feeling your best.
Meanwhile, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, cinnamon is often steeped alongside other herbs and spices to brew up a potent medicinal drink. It helps improve the health of the heart, lung and bladder and is believed to relieve pain, ease digestion and promote proper blood flow.
Cinnamon vs. Cassia
Ceylon and cassia cinnamon actually come from two different, but related, trees. Ceylon cinnamon comes from trees grown in areas like Sri Lanka and Thailand that are rarer, therefore Ceylon cinnamon is more expensive and harder to find in stores. Conversely, cinnamon of the cassia variety (also called Saigon or Chinese cinnamon) comes from trees grown in China and is less expensive and more widely available. (37)
To date, cassia cinnamon has been studied more extensively than Ceylon cinnamon, but researchers think that Ceylon cinnamon may actually have more health benefits than cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon also contains less of a compound called coumarin than cassia cinnamon, which can be potentially damaging to the liver when consumed in high amounts. For this reason, Ceylon cinnamon is the better option for producing cinnamon extracts that contain highly concentrated doses of cinnamon.
As far as taste goes, Ceylon cinnamon is said to have a lighter and more citrusy taste than cassia, which is considered deeper and spicier. For the most part, however, the two can be used interchangeably in recipes.
Where to Find/How to Use
You can find cassia cinnamon in the spice aisle of most grocery stores. However, look for organic Ceylon cinnamon powder and cinnamon essential oil in health food stores or ethnic markets to really get the most benefits from cinnamon. Check the label to determine which type for cinnamon you’re buying and keep in mind that if it doesn’t list the type, it’s most likely the cassia variety of cinnamon, which is less expensive and more commonly used.
You can also purchase cinnamon sticks and grate fresh cinnamon yourself using a small grater. Additionally, you can try using whole cinnamon sticks (also referred to as cinnamon quills) to infuse liquids like mulled wine and give them a distinct flavor. You can also infuse cinnamon into hot water to take advantage of the many benefits of cinnamon tea. To determine which type of cinnamon stick you’re purchasing, look at the texture; Ceylon cinnamon generally has a thinner, more brittle cinnamon bark than cassia cinnamon.
Ground cinnamon also works well for sweetening up dishes like oatmeal, yogurt or baked goods. It can add a bit of depth and warmth to savory dishes as well, so give it a try in your next bowl of soup or stew.
Besides using fresh or ground cinnamon in your favorite recipes, there are many other cinnamon uses and cinnamon supplements available. For example, cinnamon pills, cinnamon essential oil or cinnamon capsules are all also available as well for a quick and concentrated dose of cinnamon.
There are plenty of delicious ways to squeeze a hearty dose of cinnamon into your diet. Here are a few simple cinnamon recipes to get you started:
- Apple Cinnamon Baked Oatmeal
- Pear Walnut Salad with Maple Cinnamon Dressing
- Vegetable Beef Barley Soup
- Cinnamon Quinoa Bake
- Cranberry Apple Cider
Cinnamon has been harvested from the inner bark of trees in the Cinnamomum genus for thousands of years and dates back as far as 4,000 years ago to Ancient Egypt. Cinnamon was considered a very valuable and rare spice at this time and was frequently sold at very high prices and given to royalty as gifts or signs of devotion.
Cinnamon was also mentioned in the Bible numerous times and was noted for its ability to fight illnesses. We have continued learned more about the health benefits of cinnamon as time has gone on, with research now backing up the medicinal claims of cinnamon that ancient populations have known about for centuries.
Today, cinnamon as we know it is made by cutting the stems of the Cinnamomum tree and removing the inner bark, which curls up into cinnamon sticks. These sticks are then ground to make powdery cinnamon spice which is sold and used across the world.
The health benefits of cinnamon can also be obtained in cinnamon extract form, which contains a more concentrated dose of its special compounds and can have some powerful effects on health. Another use for cinnamon is in cinnamon oil, which contains high levels of cinnamon and has numerous uses.
- Cinnamon is a spice derived from the bark of cinnamon tree that is packed with nutrients, including fiber, manganese and calcium.
- Adding cinnamon to your routine can come with a long list of benefits, including better blood sugar control, improved oral hygiene, enhanced heart health and reduced inflammation among others.
- There are many varieties of cinnamon available, but it’s primarily found in two main types: cassia and Ceylon. Ceylon is thought to be more potent and contain more extensive health benefits while cassia is cheaper to produce and more widely available.
- High doses of cinnamon may cause symptoms like difficulty breathing, mouth sores, low blood sugar and liver problems. Therefore, it’s best to keep intake in moderation and pair with a healthy diet and active lifestyle to maximize the potential health benefits.
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