This is the second installment of our series on herbs and spices and today we will talk about the health benefits and medicinal properties of cinnamon. The dried tubular form and the ground powder that you are most used to come from the brown bark of the cinnamon tree. There are two major types of cinnamon used in food and these are Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka and is considered the one true cinnamon while cassia is commonly called Chinese cinnamon.
Differences in Ceylon Cinnamon and Cassia Cinnamon
These two types of cinnamon have a similar flavor but the Ceylon cinnamon is a little sweeter and more refined. Ceylon cinnamon is more expensive and is tougher to find in your local supermarket. If you are buying your cinnamon there, chances are that it is cassia. As we come to the health benefits of cinnamon we will see an even bigger difference in the two than just the taste.
A very important difference in true cinnamon and cassia is the amount of coumarin that they contain. Coumarins are natural components in plants and are strong anticoagulants. Excessive ingestion of coumarins over a period of time can be detrimental to your health as it decreases the blood’s ability to coagulate when injury occurs. The level of coumarins in Ceylon cinnamon seems to be very small and much lower than the amount necessary to cause health risks. The level of coumarins in cassia cinnamon seems to be higher and might cause a problem in some people if taken in large amounts on a regular basis. Coumarin also has the potential to cause liver damage in large amounts and has been found to be carcinogenic in rats. I would highly recommend that if you are going to use cinnamon that you buy the Ceylon variety. If you can’t find it in your area there are many reputable sources online.
Helps to Regulate Blood Sugar
Ceylon cinnamon is known to be beneficial in regulating blood sugar. There have been studies with cassia cinnamon that have showed it to regulate blood sugar also, but evidence points to Ceylon cinnamon being more effective. The blood sugar regulating aspect of cinnamon is of particular importance to those with type 2 diabetes. As little as half a teaspoon daily greatly reduces blood sugar with individuals with type 2 diabetes. Adding cinnamon to a high carb food can minimize the food’s effect on blood sugar levels. It also helps to reduce LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and triglyceride levels as well in this group.
Relieves Arthritis Pain
Cinnamon is high in a compound called cinnamomum. This has powerful antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that help to reduce cytokines which are linked to arthritis pain. And even if you don’t have arthritis it can help to relieve pain and stiffness in muscles and joints.
Helps with Digestion
Cinnamon is full of manganese, essential oils, fibre and calcium. The calcium and fibre aid in removing bile salts from the body while the oils improve digestion. The anti-inflammatory properties reduce inflammation brought on by indigestion, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and ulcers. Cinnamon tea is very effective in helping to relieve an upset stomach.
Cinnamon helps with weight loss by improving digestion and assimilating food in the body as well as by regulating the breakdown of carbs and how insulin is produced and used in the body.
It is a strong anti-microbial agent that can kill bacteria such as E. Coli among others.
Due to it’s antibiotic properties, cinnamon is great for a cold and cough. It helps to relieve congestion and soothes a sore throat when mixed with ginger and honey.
Cinnamon has been shown to help relieve menstrual discomfort.
How to Use
Cinnamon is great as a tea, mixed with smoothies or added to curry. For a very healthy and tasty dessert grind fresh cinnamon over frozen bananas for an ice cream like sensation. Some uses for cooked food include cinnamon toast, adding ground cinnamon to black beans and as flavoring for chicken and lamb. It is great cooked with apples and can be added to soymilk and honey for a delicious hot beverage.
I have eaten cinnamon my whole life but never really gave it much thought. In the last year I have become aware of its health benefits but I didn’t know to what extent until I was researching this post. I honestly did not know the different types of cinnamon until very recently when a friend brought me some fresh from a spice farm here in Costa Rica. I hope as we continue this series on spices that you will try them out and experiment with them in your foods. Spices can be a very powerful addition to an already healthy diet. Thanks for joining me and I will be back soon with another post in our continuing essential herbs and spices series.