Is cinnamon healthy? We explore claims that the spice can improve blood sugar management in diabetes, reduce blood pressure and ease digestive discomfort.
Cinnamon is a favourite household spice and has been used throughout the world for centuries. Once traded as currency, this spice has a pleasant flavour and warm smell which has made it popular in cooking, particularly in baking and curries.
The spice comes from the inner bark of a small evergreen tree. The bark is peeled and laid in the sun to dry where it curls up into rolls known as cinnamon sticks. Cinnamon can also be found ground into a powder.
Best grown in tropical regions, the main type of cinnamon is Ceylon cinnamon, from the Cinnamomum Zeylanicum plant which originates in Sri Lanka. The other main type is Cassia cinnamon which has a stronger taste and is slightly cheaper.
To maximise the medicinal value and health benefits of cinnamon, regardless of type, the key thing is its freshness. Some prefer the sweet, subtle flavour of Ceylon cinnamon in desserts and the stronger potency of Cassia in savoury dishes, however most forms of commercial cinnamon is a mixture of the two.
Cinnamon is reported to have many desirable medicinal and soothing effects and is used frequently in Chinese herbal medicine. The distinctive smell and flavour of cinnamon is due to the essential oils contained in the bark. The essential oil found in cinnamon bark is called cinnamaldehyde. Cinnamaldehyde displays antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Cinnamon also contains large amounts of polyphenol antioxidants. Antioxidants can help protect the body from disease and are found in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. The antioxidants in cinnamon have been found to have anti-inflammatory effects.
It is also high in manganese and contains small amounts of calcium and fibre.
Specific health issues
There is some evidence to suggest that consumption of cinnamon (short term) is associated with a reduction in blood pressure. Although the evidence is hopeful, it would be premature to recommend cinnamon for blood pressure control until a comprehensive randomised controlled trial (RCT) involving a larger number of patients has been carried out.
Blood sugar and type 2 diabetes
It has been suggested that cinnamon can have a moderate effect in improving glycaemic control and management of type 2 diabetes. However, conclusions are mixed and once again, larger, high quality Random Controlled Trials are needed in well-defined population groups using standardised interventions in order to definitively determine the efficacy of using cinnamon in subjects with diabetes. However, a small amount used at breakfast or in baking is not going to do any harm and can be useful as part of a balanced diet.
Cinnamon extract has been used to alleviate gastrointestinal problems in both Eastern and Western medicine for years. It has been described as a carminative, renowned for its digestive, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, cinnamon bark oil is cited as the active part for treating flatulence and digestive imbalance. It is believed that the warmth of cinnamon increases blood flow and improves blood oxygen levels to help fight off illness. To alleviate digestive symptoms, cinnamon is taken as part of a hot drink (much like a tea). In this instance, it's easier to use ground cinnamon rather than trying to grate the sticks yourself.
How to store and use
Cinnamon needs to be kept in an airtight container in a dark place. Whole cinnamon lasts for about a year, but cinnamon that has been ground will start to lose flavour after a few months. It's worth going through your cupboards to check the use by dates on cinnamon as the fresher the better.
This article was updated on 26th September 2017 by nutritional therapist Kerry Torrens.
A registered Nutritional Therapist, Kerry Torrens is a contributing author to a number of nutritional and cookery publications including BBC Good Food magazine. Kerry is a member of the The Royal Society of Medicine, Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BANT).
Jo Lewin works as a Community Nutritionist and private consultant. She is a Registered Nutritionist (Public Health) registered with the UKVRN. Visit her website at www.nutrijo.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo.
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