All the Health Benefits of Cinnamon (and How to Eat More of It)
Your first taste of cinnamon might have come from a slice of cinnamon-sugar toast or a bowl of cereal named after that very breakfast food. (Good news: You can make cinnamon sugar chickpeas that taste just like it.)
The nostalgia factor can be strong with this spice, but the benefits of cinnamon go way farther. Here are all the potent health benefits of cinnamon, plus how to get them by adding cinnamon to your favorite foods and drinks.
What Is Cinnamon?
Think you know everything about this staple cabinet spice? ICYDK, cinnamon is actually the dried bark of the cinnamomum verum plant. Yes, that's right: Cinnamon sticks are bark.
The Health Benefits of Cinnamon
A teaspoon of ground cinnamon contains just six calories but packs a big punch of your daily recommended dose of manganese, a mineral that activates key enzymes throughout your body. Here's more of what cinnamon can do for you:
Provide antioxidant and inflammatory benefits. Cinnamon contains active polyphenols (plant compounds that your gut transforms into antioxidants) similar to those found in tea, says Richard A. Anderson, Ph.D., CNS, MACN, who researches the spice. "Components of cinnamon function as insulin potentiating, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory agents," he says. (Here's more about the health benefits of polyphenols.)
Reduce your blood sugar. This is one of cinnamon's most well-known benefits. In people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, a daily dose of cinnamon can significantly reduce fasting blood sugar and insulin resistance, according to a study review published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice. Healthy adults might also benefit from cinnamon's blood-sugar-regulating effects, suggests research published in the International Journal of Food Science. People who consumed about five teaspoons of cinnamon per day improved their pre-meal blood sugar levels, while people who ate between one and five teaspoons improved their post-meal blood sugar levels. (FYI: Keeping blood sugar under control can reduce the risk of more serious health troubles such as vision loss and kidney disease.) The spice might also provide cognitive improvements; research published in Nutrition Research found that people with high blood sugar who consumed cinnamon had better working memory (a measure of short-term thinking ability) than those who didn't. (More here: Healthy Foods That Are Good for Your Memory)
Protect your heart. Cinnamon could help you mount a defense against two things that harm your heart: high blood pressure and high cholesterol. In a study published in BMC complementary and alternative medicine, healthy adults who added cinnamon to their diets every day for three months experienced, on average, a 7-point drop in systolic blood pressure, a 5-point drop in diastolic blood pressure, and a 23-point drop in LDL cholesterol, which helps to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Make period cramps go away. The spice might make your period less torturous. In a study in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, a small amount of cinnamon—less than a quarter teaspoon—worked better than placebo for relieving menstrual cramps.
Improve metabolism in polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Insulin resistance (an inability to respond to the blood-sugar-regulating hormone insulin) is a problem for many women with PCOS and can exacerbate symptoms such as unwanted hair growth and weight gain. Fortunately, cinnamon might help, according to a study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research. Women with PCOS who consumed about 1.5 teaspoons of cinnamon per day for 12 weeks reduced their fasting insulin and a marker of insulin resistance. A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology also suggests that cinnamon could help women with PCOS regulate their periods.
Soothe rheumatoid arthritis symptoms. Cinnamon can mitigate joint inflammation, swelling and pain in women with rheumatoid arthritis, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Women who consumed four capsules of 500 milligrams of cinnamon powder--which comes out to just under two teaspoons--daily for eight weeks had decreased levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker, compared to those who popped placebos. They also had decreased symptoms, swelling, and fewer swollen and tender joints.
Boost weight-loss efforts. While it's no magic bullet, cinnamon could be a good thing to add to your diet if you are looking to lose weight. A study review published in Clinical Nutrition concluded that cinnamon can help obese people lose an average of about 2.6 pounds and an inch of fast from their waistlines.
How to Use Cinnamon
As with its numerous nutrition benefits, cinnamon is a multitasker when it comes to flavor, too. "Cinnamon's versatility in both sweet and savory dishes makes it one of the most well-loved and commonly used spices," says Holley Grainger, M.S., R.D., a dietitian based in Birmingham, Alabama. Add a dash of cinnamon to your morning lemon water or tea (or just brew a cup of cinnamon tea!), sprinkle it on freshly sliced apples or pears, add a pinch on plain popped popcorn, or spoon it over cereal or cottage cheese to add flavor without sugar, says Grainger.
You can even incorporate it into your dinner. "For savory cooking, simmer a whole cinnamon stick in a braised meat dish or beef bolognaise to intensify the flavor," says Grainger. "Add depth to a curry or marinade with fragrant ground cinnamon."
For more cinnamon flavor, try cinnamon coffee, a cinnamon smoothie, apples with maple cinnamon yogurt, or add cinnamon to roasted nuts, like in the almond recipe below. (Here are a bunch of other warm cinnamon recipes perfect for fall and winter.)
- 2 cups raw almonds
- 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 3 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Combine cinnamon, chili powder, and salt in a large bowl.
- Stir in honey and oil, and then toss with nuts to coat.
- Bake on parchment paper or a foil-lined cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes, stirring once.