Written by Mary Gerush, Eat Drink Better
Cinnamon is undoubtedly one of the most popular spices we use in the kitchen.
We add it to sweet dishes, like pumpkin pies, cookies, fudges. We use it in savory dishes — moles, curries, and stews.
It’s a necessary addition to mulled red wine and a fantastic ingredient in cocktails. And what would breakfast be without a lovely Cinnamon Raisin Breakfast Bread?
Cinnamon also has a lot of potential health benefits!
6 intriguing facts about cinnamon health benefits
My research on this subject has been enlightening, and here’s why: While cinnamon appears to have a lot of goodness, you should know a few facts before you up your intake. Read on to learn more about what I’ve discovered.
1. Cinnamon is rich in antioxidants.
This is important because antioxidants reduce the harmful free radicals in your blood. In fact a recent study compared the antioxidant properties of 26 spices, and cinnamon was the clear winner, beating out numerous other superfoods including garlic. Antioxidants protect your cell’s membranes and DNA. And high levels of them in the blood can protect against heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
2. Cinnamon is a natural anti-inflammatory.
Inflammation is the body’s response to injury — which is good until it becomes chronic. Increased quantities of immune cells in your body can trigger genetic mutations that have been linked to a number of diseases, like Alzheimer’s, asthma, arthritis, Crohn’s Disease, multiple sclerosis, heart failure, and stroke. The list goes on and on. Cinnamon has natural anti-inflammatory properties, which can help protect the body against chronic inflammation and its outcomes.
3. Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar levels.
Cinnamon can help keep blood sugar levels on an even keel. Research shows it slows the emptying of food from the stomach which curbs the post-meal rise in blood sugar. It also improves the effectiveness of insulin and contains a compound that mimics insulin — although it doesn’t perform as well as the real thing. This is all good news for diabetics.
4. Cinnamon may improve brain health.
Studies have shown that smelling or tasting cinnamon improves cognitive abilities. Other animal research demonstrates a potential link to cinnamon intake and the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease. This research is so important: 1 in 3 seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another dementia in the U.S. every year. And doctors diagnose 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s annually. These are truly ugly diseases.
5. BUT… cinnamon testing is in early stages and has a way to go.
While I was digging into cinnamon health benefits, I found very little definitive, large-scale research in humans clearly demonstrating the upside. Lots of studies on animals. A few small studies on people. But the results of the research that’s out there is promising — and it’s ongoing. (Here’s a great summary of the current research and potential cinnamon health benefits in case you’re interested in learning more.)
6. AND HEADS UP… All cinnamons are not equal — some can be bad for you.
I’ve learned a great deal about the multiple forms of cinnamon. Basically, there are 2 categories of the spice with a variety of names:
1) Ceylon cinnamon (also known as “true cinnamon” or Mexican cinnamon), and
2) Cassia cinnamon — which includes a helluva a lot of cinnamon varieties (Indonesian cinnamon, Korintje cinnamon, Padang cassia, Saigon cinnamon, Vietnamese cassia, Vietnamese cinnamon, cassia cinnamon, and Chinese cinnamon — oh my!).
Cassia cinnamons are loaded with coumarin, which has been shown to cause liver damage. Ceylon cinnamons have much lower levels. It’s more expensive but a better overall choice if you’re looking to increase your cinnamon intake. (The European Food Safety Authority established a tolerable daily intake of 0.1 mg/kg body weight. I know, I know. How do I do the math on that?)
Bottom line: Look for Ceylon or True cinnamon when buying this potentially health-improving spice.
7. Cinnamon is a great addition to so many recipes
Obviously, even though we eat cinnamon in sweets and calorie-rich cocktails, if you’re looking for health benefits, you probably want to look for healthier ways to boost your cinnamon intake. Here are a few savory recipes for you to try.
Turkey Sausage Chile
Recipe adapted from one by Juan Carlos Cruz
This is a delicious, light, slightly sweet chili with great chocolate and cinnamon flavors. It’s one of my family’s favorites — I’ve had it in my recipe box for more than a decade.
- Canola oil spray
- 1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 to 4 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, coarsely chopped
- 1 lb. ground turkey
- 1 tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 can pinto beans (14 oz.), undrained
- 1 can black beans (14 oz.), undrained
- 1 can kidney beans (14 oz.), undrained
- 1 can Italian-style diced tomatoes (14 oz.), undrained
- 1/4 cup coarsely chopped Mexican chocolate (which also contains cinnamon)
- 2 cups red wine
- 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
- 1/2 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
1) Spray a large saucepan or Dutch oven with the canola oil.
2) Add onion and saute over medium-high heat until tender.
3) Add chipotles, ground turkey, seasonings, beans, tomatoes, chocolate, and wine.
4) Bring to a boil over high heat and reduce to a simmer.
5) Cover and simmer for 30 to 40 minutes.
6) Stir in cilantro and cheese just until cheese is melted.
4 more cinnamon-y recipes from great cooks
1. Classic Red Mole (Mole Rojo Clasico) from Rick Bayless’ show Mexico — One Plate at a Time. I just had the pleasure of eating at two of Chef Bayless’ restaurants in Chicago. He always inspires me with his authentic Mexican flavors.
2. Morrocan Red Lentil Soup from The Art of the Slow Cooker by Andrew Schloss. A nice vegan dish that you can set and forget. I’m not vegan, but I love this recipe for a meatless Monday.
3. Turkish Pilaf from My Humble Kitchen. Ground beef, eggplant, rice, and — you guessed it — cinnamon. This looks like a simple and delicious crowd-pleaser!
4. Carribean Coconut Rice from Vegetarian Times. A vegetarian side dish with a dash of lime zest. A great weeknight staple.
Where to buy quality Ceylon Cinnamon Online
You can likely find Ceylon cinnamon at grocery stores like Whole Foods Market and Central Market. But I’ve found a few good online sources for high-quality spices and thought I’d share them here.
- Penzey’s Spices has Ceylon Cinnamon — ground and in sticks (also called quills when harvested).
- My Spice Sage carries sticks and also has both organic and non-organic ground Ceylon cinnamon.
- World Spice Merchants carries sticks marketed as True Cinnamon.
So that’s the lowdown on cinnamon. Some good news. More research in the works. As with any change you make to your diet, don’t expect a “magic pill,” and check with your doctor before you make any significant decisions.
Cinnamon-lovers out there, what are some of your favorite healthy recipes featuring cinnamon?
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Photo via Shutterstock.com
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