The Inflammation-Fighting Food You Should Be Adding To Everything (It's Not Turmeric!)
Cinnamon is one of my favorite ingredients to incorporate into my daily routine. During the holiday season especially, I find myself incorporating it into so many different recipes for a sweet flavor. With a dozen or so health benefits and a naturally sweet taste (but without the sugar!), there really isn't a more perfect spice. What most people don't realize is that cinnamon is classified into two main categories, Cassia and Ceylon.
Ceylon cinnamon, also considered "true cinnamon," is harder to find and a bit more expensive than classic cinnamon. It's native to Sri Lanka and has a more delicate, sweet flavor. Cassia cinnamon is found most commonly in households around the world—about 90 percent of cinnamon in the United States is this type. The compound in cinnamon that provides a myriad of benefits is called cinnamaldehyde, which is significantly higher in Ceylon cinnamon1, making it the better choice between the two. You can find both types at most grocery stores—just note that if a brand doesn't specifically say "Ceylon," it's likely Cassia.
The health benefits of cinnamon are extraordinary. Here are my five favorites:
1. Cinnamon can help regulate blood sugar.
One of the biggest benefits of cinnamon in the body is its ability to help regulate blood sugar. Cinnamon reduces insulin resistance in the body2, which can help the liver metabolize glucose. Cinnamon can increase insulin sensitivity and therefore lower blood sugar levels in the body.2 At least 120 milligrams a day (less than ½ teaspoon) are recommended when using cinnamon for blood-sugar-stabilizing purposes. You can use cinnamon as a spice on or in carbohydrate-dense foods (hello, baked goods!) in order to help minimize the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels.
2. Cinnamon is a powerful antioxidant.
Cinnamon is packed with antioxidants including polyphenols, phenolic acid, and flavonoids. These antioxidants have been shown to slow the aging process and reduce free radical damage in the body3. According to the TEAC4 (Total Equivalent Antioxidant Capacity) scale, cinnamon ranks No. 7 of all foods, herbs, and spices when it comes to highest concentration of antioxidants. Because of its high concentration of antioxidants, cinnamon has been shown to preserve brain function and may protect against DNA damage4 and cell mutation—the start of cancer in the body. Not only is Ceylon cinnamon packed with antioxidants, but it has even been shown to enhance the enzyme antioxidant2 activity that is already taking place in your body.
3. Cinnamon is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Cinnamon contains cinnamic acid, a powerful anti-inflammatory5. Inflammation and chronic inflammation can be very damaging to the body and lead to illness, infections, disease, and tissue damage. Its anti-inflammatory properties protect brain health and have been shown to protect neurons against oxidative stress5. These properties as well as its antioxidant properties can help prevent cognitive decline and preserve brain function long-term. Cinnamon is also known to increase the production of anti-inflammatory proteins5 in your blood.
4. Cinnamon can help improve your overall heart health.
Cinnamon supports cardiac function and has the ability to improve blood flow2 as well as lower blood pressure. Further, it has the ability to reduce overall cholesterol levels6 and the most common markers for heart disease: high blood pressure levels, high cholesterol levels, and high triglyceride levels. Improved circulation and increased tissue repair1 are yet more benefits.
5. Cinnamon is extremely helpful when it comes to fighting illness.
Ceylon cinnamon contains natural antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. The essential oils found in cinnamon (cinnamyl alcohol, cinnamyl acetate, and cinnamaldehyde1) contain powerful immune-boosting compounds that help fight harmful pathogens like bacteria and viruses. Cinnamon can also help to prevent infection as well as stimulate immune system activity already going on. With winter being peak cold and flu season, it's the perfect time to add cinnamon into your diet routine!
How I use cinnamon.
First of all, I always go for Ceylon cinnamon, for all of the reasons I mentioned above. After I have my Ceylon, though, I use cinnamon in everything. It's the ultimate way to sweeten food without adding a ton of sugar. I use it in baking, in smoothies—especially ones with cacao powder since the flavors go so well together, in my creamy chia pudding, my soft and chewy peanut butter cookies, and so much more. You can also make a quick cinnamon tea by adding a bit with some ginger to hot water—it's so good! Try using cinnamon whenever you want a boost of extra therapeutic benefits or some extra sweetness in your dishes—you'd be surprised at how much it goes with!
Rachael DeVaux is a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer living in Seattle, Washington. She has a bachelor’s in Dietetics and Clinical Nutrition Services from Oregon State University, and is passionate about helping people look at food in terms of eating for nourishment, fuel and well-being. Her wellness site, Rachael’s Good Eats, covers everything from fitness, to nutritious recipes, to travel and lifestyle.