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What is cinnamon?

A favourite household spice, cinnamon was once traded as currency. The spice has a pleasant flavour and warm smell, making it popular for cooking, especially in sweet bakes and curries.

Derived from the inner bark of a small evergreen tree, the bark is peeled and laid in the sun to dry, where it curls into rolls known as cinnamon sticks. Cinnamon is also available in powdered form.

Cinnamon health benefits may include...

1. It contains plant compounds with protective antioxidant properties.

2. It has anti-inflammatory effects.

3. It appears to be useful in defending against infection.

4. Research suggests cinnamon may be protective against colds and flu.

5. It may help regulate blood sugar.

6. It appears that cinnamon could help reduce the risk of insulin resistance.

7. Cinnamon contains compounds that appear to slow conditions like Alzheimer’s.

8. Consistent consumption of cinnamon may reduce blood pressure.

9. It helps lower cholesterol levels.

10. It may help restore the balance of bacteria in the gut, supporting good digestive health.

11. Cinnamon may provide some protection against cancer, although more studies are needed.

12. Traditionally, cinnamon has been used to promote dental hygiene.

Discover our full range of health benefit guides and check out some of our delicious cinnamon recipes, from cinnamon buns to cinnamon tea.

Cinnamon tea in a glass with cinnamon sticks

Nutritional profile of cinnamon

One teaspoon (3g) of cinnamon (ground) provides:

  • 7kcal / 31kJ
  • 0.1g protein
  • 2g carbohydrate
  • 1.6g fibre

What are the top health benefits of cinnamon?

1. It has antioxidant properties

Like other spices, cinnamon contains plant compounds called polyphenols that have protective, antioxidant properties. It is these compounds that provide many of cinnamon’s health benefits as well as support its role as a preservative in food preparation.

2. It’s anti-inflammatory

These same antioxidant compounds contribute towards cinnamon’s anti-inflammatory effects. As we age this may be helpful because the process of chronic inflammation is heavily involved in the progression of many age-related diseases.

3. It’s anti-bacterial and anti-fungal

Cinnamon is thought to have many medicinal and soothing properties, and is used frequently in Chinese herbal medicine. The distinctive smell and flavour of cinnamon derives from the essential oils contained in the bark, called cinnamaldehyde.

Cinnamaldehyde appears to be useful in protecting against bacterial and fungal infection.

4. It may have anti-viral properties

Some research suggests cinnamon may also be protective against certain viruses, including influenza and mosquito-derived Dengue fever.

5. It may help lower blood sugar and reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes

Cinnamon has a reputation for helping manage blood sugar. It appears to do this by a number of different mechanisms, including managing the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream.

Human trials are promising and suggest cinnamon may have a moderate effect on lowering fasting blood sugar levels in diabetics with poor blood sugar control.

6. It may improve insulin sensitivity

Insulin is the hormone involved in transporting blood sugar from our blood to the cells where we need it, this means it plays an important role in regulating our metabolism and energy levels.

As we age we may become resistant to the effects of insulin and this has the potential to disrupt blood sugar balance and over time lead to type 2 diabetes. While more research is needed it does appear that extracts from cinnamon mimic the action of insulin and potentially reduce the risk of insulin resistance.

7. It may be beneficial for the ageing brain

Conditions like Alzheimer’s are more common as we age, and are typically caused by a progressive deterioration of brain cells. In Alzheimer’s, accumulation of protein fragments in the brain act by slowing how a person thinks and remembers.

Cinnamon contains two compounds that appear to inhibit the build-up of these proteins. Much of this evidence is derived from animal and test tube studies, so there is still much for us to learn with regards to how this effect may be of benefit to us.

8. It may help manage blood pressure

There is some evidence to suggest that consistent consumption of cinnamon is associated with a short-term reduction in blood pressure. Although the evidence looks hopeful, it is early days and more long-term random controlled trials are needed.

9. It may protect against heart disease

Blood pressure may not be the only cardiovascular risk factor aided by regular cinnamon consumption it also appears to have a positive impact on reducing blood triglycerides as well as cholesterol levels.

10. It may support gut health

Some spices, including cinnamon, have prebiotic properties. Consuming them regularly may help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut, support digestive health and alleviate digestive issues.

Stick cinnamon and cinnamon powder

11. It may protect against cancer

Although evidence to date is limited to test tube and animal studies extracts from cinnamon may provide some protection against cancer. In this regard, the spice appears to be useful at reducing the growth of cancer cells, limiting the formation of blood vessels in tumours and killing off cancer cells.

12. It may promote dental hygiene

A traditional use for cinnamon has been as a tooth powder to treat toothache and other dental problems including bacterial overgrowth and bad breath.

Is cinnamon safe for everyone?

For the majority of people, cinnamon is generally recognised as safe when consumed as a culinary spice and in small amounts – no more than 1 tsp per day is considered safe for most adults, with less for children. In rare circumstances, some people may experience allergic contact dermatitis.

Most of the cinnamon purchased from supermarkets is a variety called Cassia cinnamon – this has a stronger taste and is cheaper to buy. However, it is high in compounds called coumarins, which in large doses may cause toxicity. Ceylon, or ‘true’ cinnamon, has relatively low levels of coumarins and may be better tolerated.

If consumed in large amounts, cinnamon may interact with prescribed medication, including those for diabetes, heart and liver disease.

Overall, is cinnamon good for you?

There are plenty of reasons to add warming cinnamon to your diet. It’s high in antioxidants, which may help protect against disease, inflammation and ageing. What’s more, it may improve gut health, dental hygiene, reduce cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. However, it’s important to note that more studies are needed into some of the benefits.

More like this

If you’re on prescription medication, have a relevant medical condition or have other related concerns, speak to your GP for further guidance.

Healthy recipes with cinnamon

Cinnamon porridge with banana & berries
Cinnamon-rubbed salmon with couscous & harissa yogurt
Cinnamon crêpes with nut butter, sliced banana & raspberries
Clementine & honey couscous

Check out more of our cinnamon recipes.


Jo Lewin is a registered nutritionist (RNutr) with the Association for Nutrition with a specialism in public health. Follow her on Twitter @nutri_jo

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All health content on bbcgoodfood.com is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the medical advice of your own doctor or any other health care professional. If you have any concerns about your general health, you should contact your local health care provider. See our website terms and conditions for more information.

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