What makes cinnamon a super spice (and how to best use it)

A dietician and nutrition educator walks us through the many health benefits of cinnamon

Cinnamon in quill form and powder form

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known to man and there are records of it being imported by Egypt as early as 2000 BC. It has a history of being used as a spice as well as medicine and there was a time when it was more valuable than gold.

Cinnamon is an exotic, fragrant and sweet flavoured spice stick obtained from the outer bark of the tree Cinnamomum, which when dried, rolls into a tubular form known as quills. It is available in quill form and powder form. This spice can be used to boost energy and increase circulation.

Health benefits of cinnamon

1. It helps regulate blood sugar

Sprinkling a little cinnamon powder on a high carb meal can lower the spike in post meal blood sugar levels. A study shows that it slows the rate at which the stomach empties meals, thereby reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating. It not only stimulates the insulin receptors but also inhibits the enzyme which inactivates them. This improves the response to insulin for those who have type-2 diabetes to insulin and stabilises blood sugar levels.

2. Cinnamon lowers bad cholesterol

Studies show that this spice lowers triglycerides, LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol by affecting the way the body processes fat thereby offering protection from heart disease and promoting overall heart health.

3. It relieves chest congestion and heals common cold and sore throat

As soon as you start feeling an itch in your throat or get the sniffles, have 1 – 2 cups of cinnamon tea. It has antimicrobial and warming properties which will prevent your condition from worsening. It can also help relieve congestion as it reduces mucous production and encourages circulation.

4. It helps lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease

The latest findings indicate that compounds found in cinnamon may be effective in fighting Alzheimer’s.

5. Cinnamon fights free radicals

This super spice is considered to be one of the top seven antioxidants in the world as it can fight free radicals and prevent organ damage.

6. It boosts your immune system

It is known to have anti-bacterial properties. This boosts the body’s immune response and helps prevent and fight infections.

7. It can help you fight depression and IBS

Cinnamon can kill the bad bacteria in the gut which have been linked to low mood and irritable bowel syndrome.

8. It improves the health of your brain

Known to improve brain function by improving cognitive processing, alertness and concentration, it may also heal brain cells and prevent them from swelling in case of a stroke or brain injury.

9. It has anti-inflammatory properties

It has been shown to reduce various types of inflammation and aids in repairing tissue damage. It can help treat certain types of pain, headaches as well as arthritic pain by boosting circulation at the joints.

10. It improves menstrual health

Cinnamon can improve insulin resistance in women with PCOS, which can improve their menstrual health. It can also help mitigate heavy menstrual bleeding associated with common female reproductive health issues such as endometriosis, heavy bleeding, and fibroids.

11. It aids digestion

Besides giving flavour to food, cinnamon improves digestion too. Cinnamon tea is an effective digestive tonic and is used to treat indigestion, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, diarrhoea and flatulence. Due to its carminative properties, it helps eliminate excess gas. It also reduces acidity and the severity of morning sickness. It can also be used in topical applications.

Other uses of cinnamon

  • Ground cinnamon can be added to an oatmeal pack to prevent acne
  • Cinnamon oil can be used to massage teeth and gums to prevent tooth decay
  • Combined with a carrier oil, the oil makes an excellent massage oil which can help to relax tense and knotted muscles and reduce aches and pains. It is also used in creams.
  • Cinnamon oil or cinnamon infused in water can be used to heal toe and finger nail fungus
  • The oil can be added to an oil diffuser and potpourris. This will relieve mental fatigue and improve concentration levels
  • Cinnamon oil and bark act as excellent mosquito repellents as the spice contains cinnamaldehyde, which is an active mosquito killing agent
  • It can also be used as a food preservative. If you add it to any recipe, it helps to prevent the food from spoiling by inhibiting bacterial growth.

The best ways to use cinnamon

It is a highly versatile spice which can be used in sweet and savoury dishes.

  • Sprinkle some in your tea/coffee or green tea.
  • Add a dash of it to your oatmeal, whole grain cereal or vegetable soups or even on your popcorn.
  • Freeze cinnamon with ice cubes to add some zest to your plain water or beverages.
  • Season roasted or grilled veggies like cauliflower, sweet potato, carrots etc with cinnamon powder.
  • Add a few pinches of freshly ground cinnamon powder to your yoghurt and add some fruits, nuts or seeds to it. Refrigerate it for 20 – 30 minutes and enjoy this as a refreshing snack at the end of a long day.
  • It can also be used in combination with ginger and cardamom, especially if you have a sluggish digestive system.

Safe dosage

Consuming anything between 2 – 5g/day is safe. Anything in excess can be toxic.

You may also like: Cinnamon: The nice spice

How to store cinnamon

Whole cinnamon sticks can be stored in a cool, dry, dark place in airtight glass containers for many months. Powdered cinnamon should be kept in a sealed container and refrigerated. It should be used as soon as possible since it loses its flavour quickly.

This article first appeared in the March 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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