Superfood Series: Cinnamon

Description & history

cinnamon sticks and powderNative to Sri Lanka, the Malabar Coast of India and Myanmar (Burma), Cinnamon is a spice which comes from the inner bark of evergreen trees from the laurel family (Lauraceae) (1).

Also cultivated in South America and the West Indies, Cinnamon has been widely used since antiquity, not just as a food condiment but for embalming, as a preservative and even in some religious practices (2).

Although the spice can be derived from several Cinnamomum species, the two most common are Cinnamomum verum (Ceylon cinnamon) – which is most popular in Europe, and sometimes referred to as “True Cinnamon” – and the less expensive Cinnamomum aromaticum (Cassia cinnamon or Chinese cinnamon) (3).

Nutritional profile

Per serving, Cinnamon is low in calories and predominantly a good source of Manganese, Dietary Fibre and Calcium but also provides a reasonable amount of Calcium, Iron and Vitamin K.

Here’s a detailed nutrient breakdown per serving (1 teaspoon, 2g) (4).

  • cinnamon sticksCalories: 6 kcal
  • Protein: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 2 grams
  • Dietary fibre: 1 grams: 5% RDA
  • Manganese: 22% of the RDA
  • Calcium: 3% of the RDA
  • Iron: 1% of the RDA
  • Vitamin K: 1% of the RDA

Health benefits

Cinnamon’s potential healing abilities come from three basic active components in the essential oils found in its bark: cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamyl alcohol (5).

Insulin resistance, diabetes and blood sugar

diabetesInsulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas which is released into the blood stream and passed throughout the body to carry out many actions, most of which are related to metabolic control, energy use and regulation of the body’s cells, including their growth.

Insulin resistance is a condition where the body’s cells become resistant to the effects of insulin. As the body’s response to normal levels of insulin is reduced, the pancreas compensates by producing more insulin until its ability to produce more expires.

Ultimately this results in an increase in blood sugar levels which is why insulin resistance is one of the key factors in the development of type 2 diabetes and metabolic control (6, 7).

The good news is that recent studies have shown that even small amounts of Cinnamon taken daily can dramatically reduce the effects of insulin resistance (8).

Further, Cinnamon is ideal for seasoning high carbs meals as it slows the rate at which the stomach empties after meals, reducing the rise in blood sugar (9).

This claim is backed by numerous studies in which Cinnamon has been shown to play a role in the control of blood sugar levels and in improving fasting blood glucose in people with type 2 diabetes (10).

Antioxidant properties

Antioxidants are molecules which neutralise free radicals (11) by inhibiting the oxidation of other molecules. In health terms, antioxidants are important and are widely used as dietary supplements as the neutralisation of free radicals is associated with the prevention of many diseases such as heart disease and cancer.

According to many studies Cinnamon is a very powerful antioxidant (12) with some reports claiming it has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any spice (13), even outranking superfoods like garlic and oregano (14).

Anti-inflammatory properties and exercise recovery

Inflammation in the human body is a double edged sword as appropriate inflammatory responses, triggered by the immune system, help in the fight against infection and disease, whilst inappropriate responses can have the opposite effect and promote disease (15).

Whilst further studies are required, it is widely thought that diet plays a major role in the regulation of the body’s inflammatory responses. Along with a raft of other foods, Cinnamon has been shown to be one which has potent anti-inflamatory properties (16) and can even help in reducing muscle soreness after exercise (17).

Heart disease

heart diseaseAnnually responsible for 73,000 deaths in the UK (18) and a staggering 720,000 heart attacks in the United States (19), heart disease is the world’s leading cause of death.

Fortunately, the risk of heart disease can be significantly reduced by making simple lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking, following a healthy diet and by staying active (20).

Because of its beneficial effects on diabetes, LDL cholesterol and blood pressure, Cinnamon is one superfood which can help in the fight against heart disease (21).

Other benefits

In addition to the major ones listed above, Cinnamon is said to have lots of other potential benefits such as the ability to help fight bacterial and fungal infections, HIV and even cancer.

If you want to know more, one of the best articles we have found is this one on the Authority Nutrition website and there are lots of other sources listed below.

How to select

ceylon cinnamon sticksAlthough many sources state that there are two main types of Cinnamon, other sources show that there are, in fact, hundreds with 4 main types used for commercial purposes (22).

From these, though, the two main types used for human consumption are, indeed, Cassia Cinnamon and Ceylon Cinnamon, the latter of which is sometimes referred to as “True” Cinnamon.

The debate around which Cinnamon is the best for health purposes centres around the substance Coumarin which is said to cause liver damage in high doses. Whilst Cassia Cinnamon contains high levels of Coumarin, Ceylon is the only variety known to contain very low doses (23).

Unfortunately, in terms of which one to select, it may be challenging as most commonly available products don’t state the type of Cinnamon and most supermarkets stock the Cassia variety. That said, if you’re concerned about this most health stores stock Ceylon Cinnamon, and there lots available on Amazon.

However, in our opinion, and based on our research, you shouldn’t be overly concerned.

Firstly, Cinnamon has been shown to be effective in small doses as low as 1g (24) and studies have shown that 1 teaspoon per day is well within the safe range (25).

Secondly, The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a report in 2008 concluding that “exposure to coumarin resulting in an intake 3 times higher than the TDI* for one to two weeks is not of safety concern”.

The TDI, or ‘Total Daily Intake‘ they were referring to was 0.1 mg coumarin/kg body weight, which translates to 0.021g of Coumarin for a person weighing in at 70kg.

As Cassia Cinnamon contains 0.31g/kg Coumarin (0.00031g/g), 1 teaspoon (8g) contains only 0.00248g.

If you do the simple math this means your Average Joe 70kg human can consume 10 teaspoons Cassia Cinnamon without any major concern for their liver (10 teaspoons would equate to about 0.0248g Coumarin).

The key take away here is that unless you’re consuming in excess of 10 teaspoons of Cassia Cinnamon per day you should have no concern over the implications on your liver health. 1-2 teaspoons per day of your standard supermarket Cinnamon will do the job just as well as the slightly superior, and slightly more expensive, Ceylon Cinnamon.

How to use

Cinnamon can be included in a wide range of recipes and an extremely easy way to incorporate it into your diet on a daily basis is to add it to breakfast cereal and smoothies.

cinnamon-coffee Another interesting way to increase your Cinnamon intake is to add it to coffee instead of milk and sugar.

A strong case for this method as a potential aid to increasing metabolism, controlling blood sugar and inhibiting weight gain was presented in Tim Ferriss’ book The Four Hour Body.

The health benefits of adding cinnamon to coffee are supported by a number of studies (26) and advocated by some of the best health and wellness authorities (27, 28) in the field so why not give it a try.

Sources for this article

Image credits:

  • www.cinnamonvogue.com
  • www.livescience.com
  • www.time-out-cafe.com
  • www.o.canada.com
  • www.proactiveinvestors.com
  • www.summervilleperiodontist.com

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