Spices have always been the perfect allies of the chefs all over the world. Not only they add astonishing fragrances and aromas to food and meals -that from times to times help to hide undesirable taste, but also they are embellished with the most amazing colours and look great organised in little jars on the kitchen shelf. Not only you can use these magic powders to substitute the harmful salt, but also they have important and incredible benefits for our health and wellness.
The properties of the spices have been known and used for centuries by traditional medicines, and the latest scientific researches have proved (or sometimes invalidate) some of their effectiveness.
Always remember: All that glitters is not gold! Trust and follow the advice of a qualified professional before buying and using any type of herbal medicine. There is noting more wrong of the ideas that ‘if it’s natural then it’s harmful’. Whilst I 100% believe that herbal supplements are of great importance for our health and wellness, I will always promote a conscious use of natural remedies, based on evidence and proves. Only in this way we can promote a healthy and safe natural support and cure for body, mind and spirit.
Today, I would like to start this journey in the amazing world of the spices talking about one of my favourite spices, Cinnamon, and discover its use, benefits and alleged health qualities.
Cinnamon is one of the most important spices used daily in both sweet and savoury dishes. Cinnamon has been used traditionally throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe used as a medicine for diarrhoea, nausea and cold, or as a spice for seasoning and cooking meats and as an aromatic for the preparation of fruit juices, wine and cakes. (1)
Cinnamon spice is the dried brown bark of the trees belonging to genus Cinnamomum, which included more than 250 spices. However, the 2 commonly used are:
- True cinnamon (called also Ceylon cinnamon) Cinnamomum zeylanicum, originates from Sri Lanka and Southern India
- Cassia cinnamon Cinnamon cassia, from China, Indonesia and Vietnam
The two varieties of cinnamon have similar flavour and use, although the true cinnamon appear to be more difficult to find in local markets (unfortunately the food labels of the cinnamon bought in common supermarket in Australia don’t specify which type of cinnamon is used).
If you google ‘cinnamon benefits’, you will certainly notice that the list of health beneficial proprieties attributed to this spice is almost unlimited and includes: antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, anticancer, lipid-lowering, and cardiovascular-disease-lowering and preventing neurological disorder such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases…
Impressive isn’t it? Lets explore these too-good-to-be-true characteristics and find out what the science is really saying:
Cinnamon spice contains an essential oil that gives the characteristic aroma that consists primarily in a substance called cinnamaldehyde. In recent times, experimental studies have identified a number of significant pharmacological activities for this spice, with many actions attributed to this cinnamaldehyde constituent.
Anti-diabetic and lipid lowering actions
A recent systematic review and meta analysis on effect of cinnamon on glucose for diabetic patients (2) concluded that cinnamon consumption (at doses of 120mg to 6g per day) was associated with statistically significant decrease of fasting plasma glucose (amount of glucose in the at least 8 hours after meals), total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol (‘bad cholesterol) and triglycerides. There was also a statistically significant increase in HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol) levels. Nevertheless, there was no improvement on the Hemoglobin A1c, an indicator of control of the blood glucose level. In other words, this review shows that cinnamon can reduce the blood lipid levels and lower the glucose in the blood, but because the mechanisms are complicated more study are necessary to understand if it can also be effective in diabetes management.
More than 30 different studies have evaluated the in-vitro and in-vivo (only in animals tho) anti-microbial properties of the True Cinnamon spice (3). The activity is mostly due to the essential oil that has shown potential anti-microbial action against a wide variety of bacteria, including Candida, and benefits in protecting susceptible hosts against opportunistic parasites. Curiosity: In addition to being used as a spice and flavoring agent, cinnamon is also added to flavor chewing gums due to its mouth refreshing effects and ability to remove bad breath. The effects of chewing gum containing cinnamon have been studied, showing a significant reduction of salivary bacteria after 20 minutes.
The volatile oils of True Cinnamon bark extracts were found to be potent in free radical scavenging activity in-vitro, showing 55.9% and 66.9% antioxidant activity at 100 and 200 ppm concentration, respectively (3).
One study (3) demonstrated that CZ extracts facilitates collagen biosynthesis in vivo, suggesting that cinnamon extracts might be useful in anti-aging treatment of skin.
Side effects of cinnamon have been poorly documented.
It is advice to don’t exceed the dose of 6g per day (like you can find in supplements) that can be harmful for the liver (4). One important difference between Cassia Cinnamon and True Cinnamon is their content is a substance called coumarin, significantly higher in the first and almost absent in the latter. The levels of coumarins in the cassia appear to be very high and pose health risks if consumed regularly in higher quantities.
About 1-2g of cinnamon a day is safe (about ½-1 tsp per day) and has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and lowering the blood lipids. There were minimal studies evaluating the anti microbial, anti-oxidant and other effects of cinnamon in humans and the majority of the studies were in-vitro or in-vivo in animals, hence we need to be careful when generalizing the conclusions to the human population. In order to have public health implications these effects need to be reproducible in humans.
How to enjoy Cinnamon
To best take advantage of cinnamon’s potential benefits, don’t buy potential dangerous supplements but incorporate it into more meals. One of the things I appreciate the most about this spice is how versatile it is and how it enhances cakes and meat dishes. I particularly love it in my breakfast recipes, to start my day with an energy boost and most importantly.. when cinnamon I use cinnamon I don’t need to add any sugar!!
Like my 3 ingredients pancakes (banana, eggs, and cinnamon!)
Here are more fun ideas from the American dietitan Cynthia Sass :
- Sprinkle cinnamon into your coffee, or add it to your coffee grounds before brewing.
- Add a dash or two of cinnamon to hot oatmeal, overnight oats, or cold whole grain cereal.
- Fold cinnamon into yogurt, along with cooked, chilled quinoa, fresh cut fruit, and nuts or seeds.
- Freeze cinnamon in ice cubes to add zest and aroma to water or cocktails.
- Season roasted or grilled fruit with a sprinkle of cinnamon.
- Stir cinnamon into almond butter, or any nut or seed butter, and use as a dip for fresh apple or pear wedges or a filling for celery.
- Add a pinch of cinnamon to lentil or black bean soup, or vegetarian chili.
- Season roasted cauliflower, sweet potatoes, spaghetti, and butternut squash with a pinch of cinnamon.
- Sprinkle a little cinnamon onto popped popcorn.
- Stir a little cinnamon into melted dark chocolate and drizzle over whole nuts to make spicy ‘bark’ or use as a dip or coating for fresh fruit.
Can you think of innovative recipes to sprinkle cinnamon on your plate? Add more spice to your life! Coming soon.. the incredible turmeric!
- Braun, Lesley. Cinnamon [online]. Journal of Complementary Medicine: CM, The, Vol. 5, No. 5, Sept/Oct 2006: 67-68, -70. Availability: <http://search.informit.com.au.ezproxy1.library.usyd.edu.au/documentSummary;dn=292946981334586;res=IELHEA> ISSN: 1446-8263. [cited 04 Feb 15].
- Allen RW1, Schwartzman E, Baker WL, Coleman CI, Phung OJ. Cinnamon use in type 2 diabetes: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis.Ann Fam Med. 2013 Sep-Oct;11(5):452-9.
- Priyanga Ranasinghe,1 Shehani Pigera,1 GA Sirimal Premakumara,2 Priyadarshani Galappaththy,1 Godwin R Constantine,3 and Prasad Katulanda. Medicinal properties of ‘true’ cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum): a systematic review. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013; 13: 275.
CASSIA CINNAMON. webmd.