Q: I’ve heard a lot about the health benefits of cinnamon, including that it may help me lose weight. Is it true?
A: I’m not surprised that you heard this. Word on the street is that cinnamon packs a pretty powerful nutritious punch, though few know what makes this sultry spice such a superstar.
First of all, some background: If you’ve ever been served apple cider with a cinnamon stick in it, you know that cinnamon comes from the bark of a plant. The truest form is called ceylon, which has a fragile bark, but most of the cinnamon you find on the spice shelves comes from the cassia cinnamon family. Cassia has a sturdier bark that can be finely ground into a powder to shake, measure, and stir into almost anything.
Cassia cinnamon is the one most commonly used in the US, and is also the most commonly researched. It’s the one you’re likely to find and buy at the supermarket, so I’ll stick to addressing cassia, here.
The Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Anti-inflammatory: Inflammation is associated with a wide range of health issues, from skin conditions to autoimmune diseases and cancer, and studies have isolated multiple flavonoid compounds in cinnamon that have anti-inflammatory activities.
Brain Benefits: Eating cinnamon increases neurotrophic factors, which keep existing neurons in your brain alive and encourage new ones to grow. This may delay the progression of diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. It’s also been found to decrease responses to stress, so you can stay focused and alert.
Blood Sugar and Weight Loss: While studies are not conclusive, cinnamon has been shown to lower blood sugar levels by decreasing insulin resistance, a possible benefit for all of us, but especially those with diabetes. If you have to watch your blood sugar, it may be wise to add more cinnamon to your diet. Research shows that cinnamon can help slow blood sugar levels when eaten with carbs. It may also lower levels of bad fats and cholesterol in the blood. Important: there’s no established research on a direct link to weight loss, but all of its potential benefits—like curbing inflammation and balancing blood sugar—can contribute to helping you achieve a healthy weight.
Fights Infection: Cinnamaldehyde, a component of cinnamon that gives it its flavor and smell, has been shown to have antimicrobial and antifungal properties, but how that may translate into fighting infections in the body is not established.
How to Reap the Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Just don’t go overboard. If ingested in excess, cassia cinnamon can actually be toxic. People with liver damage, in particular, should be careful, as large amounts may actually increase liver problems. The USDA does not have guidelines for ingestion but the European Food Safety Authority sets the “daily tolerable intake” at about a teaspoon per day. (In other words, think “sprinkle,” not “scoop.”)
And don’t be fooled: the cinnamon coating on a gigantic Cinnabon doesn’t make it healthy! There’s no miracle remedy when it comes to weight loss, only small, meaningful steps (or sprinkles) towards change. Bonus tip: Eating cinnamon isn’t the only way to experience its benefits. For a bit of aromatherapy, try placing a cinnamon stick in a pot of boiling water on low heat. It will be great for your health and your home will smell amazing.
Photo Credits: 1: Jennifer Pallian via Unsplash, 2: Travis Hezel via Stocksnap.io, 3: Jakob Kapusnak via Foodie’s Feed