Much like salt, cinnamon is an ingredient we're used to adding to everyday meals and treats -- oatmeal, smoothies, yoghurt, cookies, cakes and even savoury dishes like curry. The spice gives food warmth, natural sweetness and depth of flavour.
Not everyone knows, however, how brilliant cinnamon is for our health.
"Cinnamon comes from bark. Specifically, it comes from the inner layer of bark derived from many varieties of evergreen trees that belong to the genus Cinnamomum," dietitian Robbie Clark told HuffPost Australia.
"In order to produce cinnamon powder, farmers have to first shave the outer bark off the trees and then shave off the inner bark -- the cinnamon layer. The bark is then dried, which naturally curls up into quills. The quills are either cut up into sticks or crushed into a fine powder."
Interestingly, the cinnamon we usually find at the supermarket isn't 'true cinnamon'.
"Cinnamomum verum is considered to be 'true' or 'Ceylon' cinnamon, but most cinnamon readily available to purchase from stores is derived from a related species, referred to as 'cassia'," nutritionist Fiona Tuck told HuffPost Australia.
Both varieties, however, have great health benefits.
"Cinnamon is a warming spice that can be used in both sweet and savoury cooking. Health benefit claims include stabilising blood sugar, anti-inflammatory properties, and possible protection against free radicals and bacteria."
1. Reduces inflammation
"The antioxidants in cinnamon have anti-inflammatory effects which may help lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, brain function decline and more," Clark said.
"There are over seven kinds of flavonoid compounds alone in cinnamon, which are highly effective at fighting dangerous inflammation levels throughout the body."
2. Helps fight infections
Thanks to the immune-boosting abilities of cinnamon, which are found in cinnamon's essential oils, the spice is a "natural antimicrobial, antibiotic, anti-fungal, and antiviral agent", Clark explained.
Delicious ways to use cinnamon:
- Add cinnamon to drinks such as smoothies (mango, banana and almond milk) or turmeric lattes
- Add cinnamon to stewed fruit, such as rhubarb and apples, to bring out the flavour
- Sprinkle on warm porridge
- Add to home baking such as cookies, banana bread and crumbles
- Dust almonds with cinnamon powder and roast in the oven
- Mix cinnamon powder through natural or Greek yoghurt as a snack
- Add to marinades for meat to give a Middle Eastern flavour, e.g. roast lamb
- Add whole quills to casseroles and curries
- Add whole quills to a pot of tea
- Add to pumpkin soup
3. Supports heart health
"Cinnamon has been shown to reduce several risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, including lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as blood pressure," Clark said.
Some of the ways cinnamon helps heart health is by increasing coronary blood flow and potentially suppressing total serum cholesterol, triglycerides and phospholipids.
4. Stabilises blood sugar levels
"Cinnamon helps lower blood sugar levels and may assist in improving your body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which is the vital hormone to help keep your blood sugar levels balanced," Clark explained.
5. Helps reduce risk of type 2 diabetes
"The compounds [found in cinnamon] also have similar effects on insulin signalling and glucose control. Cinnamon is thought to help reduce blood sugar levels and may therefore assist with type 2 diabetes or those with blood sugar fluctuations," Tuck said.
"The studies to back these claims are controversial, however, as there is no definitive recommended dosage amount for cinnamon."
6. Helps brain function and protects against cognitive disorders
Thanks to its antioxidant properties, cinnamon has also been reported to have activities against neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, by "activating neuro-protective proteins that protect brain cells from damage and mutation".
While this is all well and good, how much cinnamon do we need to get these benefits?
"Currently, there hasn't been enough scientific research done to determine how much cinnamon we need to help various conditions," Clark said. "However, one study has shown that a daily intake of 3-6 grams of cinnamon, which is equivalent to 1-1½ teaspoons, can decrease blood glucose levels by 18-29 percent in people with type 2 diabetes."
Do be careful not to exceed this amount of cinnamon, as large doses may be toxic or cause problems in those with cinnamon sensitivities, Tuck explained.
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