Nutrition

Cinnamon: the ‘health’ spice of the season

December 21st 2016 / Anna Hunter

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Move over turmeric - it’s cinnamon time. From quite literally warming your cockles to helping to balance blood sugar levels, this spice doesn’t just enhance your baking…

Ahhh cinnamon. The cosiest spice of all is well known for making everything from buns to lattes to porridge all the more comforting, but it’s worth noting that it’s as health-giving as it is soothing, although perhaps not in sugar-laden pastry form. That being said, steaming porridge and Starbucks ‘red cup’ season is indeed the time when cinnamon comes into its own, as nutritional therapist Jenna Zoe emphasises:

“For me, I would say that cinnamon is great to use in the winter as it warms the system. So if, like me, you always have cold hands and feet, or feel the chill easily, or have sluggish system, adding warming spices such as cinnamon to a drink or meal can really help. There is a reason it crops up in so many cold weather recipes!”

“Cinnamon is a vasodilator (like chocolate, FYI), meaning that it opens and expands blood vessels, which can help with circulation, plus when you take a vasodilator alongside other nutrient rich foods, the vasodilator helps to get those nutritious compounds into the bloodstream efficiently. Pretty cool huh? That’s also what makes it helpful for lowering blood pressure, because expanded veins = less pressure in them.”

We’re feeling warm already, and seeing as t’is the season to embrace cinnamon, we did some digging as to its additional health credentials. Enter nutritionist Lily Soutter

Get The Gloss: Cinnamon's health benefits apparently range from improving the symptoms of PMS to aiding weight loss. What are the main health advantages of including cinnamon in your diet?

Lily: “Cinnamon has been repeatedly proven to help with blood sugar control and can dramatically reduce insulin resistance. This is great news for those suffering with type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and for those trying to lose weight.”

“Other research has shown that cinnamon has anti-inflammatory properties, can reduce harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, and in animal studies has shown to lead to various improvements for Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.”

GTG: All promising- thus would certain people in particular benefit from adding cinnamon to their diet?

Lily: “Whilst everyone will reap antioxidant benefits from adding cinnamon to their diet, those with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, PCOS, high cholesterol and neurodegenerative diseases may see the most impact from consuming this spice.”

GTG: How much cinnamon is required to reap any health benefits?

Lily: “Studies have shown that 1-6g (0.5-2 teaspoons) of cinnamon a day is required to improve insulin sensitivity and blood sugar control. This spice reduces the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream after a meal; therefore it is best taken alongside food (or in it!).”

GTG: What are some of your favourite ways to consume cinnamon?

Lily: “I love adding cinnamon to my morning smoothie, porridge and energy balls. However, cinnamon can be included in almost all cooking. Other great cinnamon infused dishes and snacks include cinnamon spiced nuts, mulled wine (...it’s Christmas after all), turmeric milk, cinnamon spiced veg, soups, stews desserts and stirred through yogurt.”

GTG: Is cinnamon the new turmeric?! How does cinnamon compare in terms of nutritional profile to other spices?

Lily: “Like turmeric, cinnamon has been used for its medicinal properties for centuries. Cinnamon’s active component is called cinnamaldehyde, an anti-microbial which is responsible for most of its health benefits.”

“Cinnamon is also loaded with powerful polyphenol antioxidants, so much so that cinnamon came out as the winner when the antioxidant activity was compared to 26 other spices. Cinnamon’s polyphenol antioxidants even outranked garlic and oregano, which have been dubbed at ‘superfoods’.

GTG: Does it matter where your cinnamon comes from? Is stick preferable to powder? How about cinnamon in supplement form?

Lily: “There are two main types of cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon, which both belong to the same family of plants, however have slightly different tastes.”

“Cassia cinnamon is the type most commonly found in our supermarkets, and has a stronger smell and flavour than Ceylon cinnamon. Both types of cinnamon have proven health benefits, however Cassia cinnamon can have harmful side effects when consumed in large doses.”

“Coumarin is a compound rich in Cassia cinnamon, but not Ceylon, and is harmful to the body. In rodents it has been shown to cause kidney, liver and lung damage. There has been Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) set, which is easy to go over at just 1-2 tsp.”

“If you regularly consume cinnamon, then it would be recommended that you choose Ceylon cinnamon which can be purchased from health food shops or online.”

“Cinnamon can also be taken in supplement form for those who struggle to obtain the required dose within the diet. However it’s vital that the supplements contain Ceylon cinnamon over Cassia.”

“Cinnamon sticks tend to have a longer shelf life than pre-ground cinnamon. You can create tasty freshly ground cinnamon by adding the sticks to your coffee grinder.”

GTG: Can you go overboard? Are there any drawbacks to having cinnamon every day?

Lily: “Cinnamon is a great daily addition to the diet, but it’s also possible to get too much of a good thing. The recommended upper dosage of cinnamon is 6 grams (about 2 teaspoons) daily for 6 weeks. You could then take a week’s rest from cinnamon every 6 weeks.”

“Caution should also be taken for those who are on medications to thin the blood, for diabetes, or other medication which can harm the liver. Women are also recommended to eat cinnamon in moderation whilst pregnant.”

If you want to get a cinnamon hit without the sugar, and make your daytime cuppas a little more exotic, brew up Pukka Three Cinnamon Tea, £2.49. Cinnamon tea and oil has been been a mainstay of traditional Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and this organic blend of Indonesian, Indian and Vietnamese cinnamon is ideal when you've overdone the mulled wines and need a warm, aromatic yet hydrating alternative.

Looking for more cinnamon recipe inspiration? Give these baking recipes a whirl, or for a savoury take, these sweet potato and mushroom burgers will spice up your life (sorry)

Follow Jenna on Twitter @jennazoe, Lily @lilysoutter and Anna @annamaryhunter


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