As the days get shorter and the temps start to drop, chilly bones and methods of staying warm are top of mind for many of us. Aside from bundling up, one of our favorite ways of promoting body heat is through the use of cinnamon in our diets. Not only is it a tasty spice that’s easy to incorporate into a variety of dishes, it also carries many medicinal benefits. Read on to learn more about the power properties of cinnamon.
Cinnamon is derived from the inner bark of trees scientifically known as Cinnamomum and has been used throughout history, dating as far back as Ancient Egypt. There are two main types of cinnamon – Ceylon, or true cinnamon, which comes from Sri Lanka, and Cassia, the more common variety used today that comes from China and Indonesia. Cinnamon is made by cutting stems of cinnamon trees, extracting the inner bark, removing woody parts and allowing it to dry. Once dried, it forms strips that curl into rolls, otherwise known as cinnamon sticks. These sticks can be used whole to spice up dishes, or ground into a powder.
Known benefits of this warming spice are profound. Cinnamon is loaded with antioxidants that protect our body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals. It also has anti-inflammatory properties, is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, helps offset insulin resistance, promotes a healthy metabolism, lowers blood sugar levels (particularly important for diabetics), prevents Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, helps fight infection and well as potentially protects against cancer. While all of these healthy are still being studied, there’s no doubt that including cinnamon in our diet cannot hurt.1
So how best to spice things up? Following are a few of our favorite ways to use cinnamon:2
- Add the powdered variation to drinks such as smoothies, coffee or turmeric lattes
- Sprinkle on warm porridge
- Add cinnamon to marinades for meat or vegetables to give meals a Middle Eastern flair
- Add to home-baked cookies, banana bread, cakes and crumbles
- Dust cinnamon on almonds or butternut squash and roast them in the oven
- Add whole quills to a pot of tea, pumpkin soup or curries
- Sprinkle on buttered toast for a decadent breakfast
- Incorporate sticks into cranberry sauce, especially around Thanksgiving
Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. Cassia cinnamon contains high levels of coumarin (a photochemical with a vanilla-like flavor) that can be toxic at high levels. Too much coumarin can cause liver damage, increase cancer risk, create mouth sores, lead to low blood sugar levels or breathing problems as well as interact with medications. If taking medication for diabetes, heart disease or liver disease, it’s important to ask a doctor about contraindications, as well as if we ingest other medications that task the liver such as statins and acetaminophen.3
The tolerable daily intake for coumarin is 0.05 milligrams per pound, or .1 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, and is considered safe in these small amounts. This translates into 8 milligrams of coumarin a day for an adult weighing 178 pounds, where the amount of coumarin in 1 teaspoon of ground Cassia ranges from 7 to 18 milligrams. Even though Ceylon contains only trace amounts of coumarin, excessive intake should still be avoided. It’s important to note that toxicity from coumarin is extremely rare in spite of these cautions.4
As with everything, moderation and mindfulness are key. But with the right monitoring, we can enjoy the profound benefits of cinnamon and enjoy a healthier, warmer winter season.
"Spice a dish with love and it pleases every palate." – Plautus