At one point in our global history, spices were among the most valuable resources on the planet.
Exotic flavors like turmeric, ginger, and pepper were highly sought after and became competitive sources of commerce in Asia, Africa, and Europe. The discovery of cinnamon, in particular, was kept a secret for decades in an attempt to protect the fortune that came with its trade. Travelers in search of it (including Christopher Columbus) were told about the dangers of venomous snakes that hid near cinnamon trees and even wilder tales of mythical Cinnamologus birds that kept careful watch from high perches on cliffs.
Not only was cinnamon used as a way to flavor and preserve foods, but, as many early civilizations discovered, it also had medicinal properties that made it as good as gold. Today, cinnamon continues to show increasing health benefits, from fighting cancer and reducing inflammation to encouraging heart health. Thankfully, it’s also more attainable and affordable than ever, making it both a kitchen staple and powerful remedy for a number of ailments.
Cinnamon’s antioxidant properties
Cinnamon is a natural antioxidant, which means it can help fight the free radicals that are known to destroy healthy cells and cause damage to the body. They have been linked to heart disease, cancer, stroke, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and premature aging—and, as natural byproducts of lifestyle and environmental stressors, are difficult to avoid. Yet, modern research has shown there is hope with cinnamon, which greatly helps battle cellular breakdown.
The link between cinnamon and cancer treatment
As medical research into cancer treatment and prevention progresses, new medical trials are coming to light that show the power of regular household products in fighting or preventing the disease. A recent study by the University of Arizona made a significant discovery, finding just how potent cinnemaldehyde (the compound found in tree bark that gives cinnamon its flavor and smell) can be in staving off colorectal cancer. When given to test mice, “the animals’ cells had acquired the ability to protect themselves against exposure to a carcinogen through detoxification and repair.” Since cinnamon is so common and safe, future testing on human patients will undoubtedly reveal even greater health benefits in the fight against cancer.
“If we can ascertain the positive effects of cinnamon, we would like to leverage this opportunity to potentially improve the health of people around the globe.” — Georg Wondrak, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at University of Arizona
Cinnamon’s role in reducing inflammation
Research has shown that nitric oxide is one of the main culprits in the development of inflammatory disease, which causes chronic pain in muscles and joints. Fortunately, cinnamon is an excellent way to inhibit the production of nitric oxide and other related toxins. According to studies from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, cinnamon “has the most inhibitory effect on [nitric oxide] production…and can thus be used as an anti-inflammatory agent.”
Cinnamon and heart health
Another benefit of regularly adding cinnamon and other spices to your diet is the ability to improve the overall health of your heart. Recent medical testing has shown that regular consumption of cinnamon led to an increase in coronary blood flow and decrease in vascular resistance and “bad” cholesterol. It also has worked to regulate blood sugar in some patients with controlled type 2 diabetes (as much as 29%!) since cinnamon mimics insulin in the body. With added antioxidant benefits, cinnamon is turning out to be a tasty and helpful step to a healthier heart.
The brain power of cinnamon
Scientists at UC Santa Barbara also made national headlines a few years ago when they discovered the surprising link between cinnamon and Alzheimer’s disease. Cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin, the two compounds that make up the spice, were shown to help prevent the development and progression of the memory disorder. Much in the way that antioxidants prevent the breakdown of cells, cinnamaldehyde helps to “untangle” the clusters found in brain cells characteristic of Alzheimer’s.
In other related research, cinnamon was also proven to improve motor functions in mice, and stop the loss of Parkin and DJ-1 proteins, both of which may be giant breakthroughs in Parkinson’s disease research. According to Kalipada Pahan, PhD, lead researcher and professor of neurology at Rush University Medical Center, “This could potentially be one of the safest approaches to halt disease progression in Parkinson’s patients.”
Different types of cinnamon
- Ceylon cinnamon is mainly produced in Indonesia and used widely throughout North America. It’s the most common type found on grocery store shelves (and also at the Thrive Market shop). Typically, Ceylon cinnamon has a stronger flavor and smell and adds a distinctive touch to a range of recipes.
- Cassia cinnamon is often more difficult to find in everyday stores. Produced in Sri Lanka from the bark of evergreen trees, it is widely used in Europe for a variety of culinary purposes thanks to its milder, sweeter taste.
While there are a a couple of types of cinnamon, the health benefits do not differ between the two. What does matter is the freshness of the cinnamon, which will allow you to receive its most potent potential, so be sure to check the date on that bottle that’s been sitting in your pantry.
Getting more cinnamon in your daily diet
With the beneficial role of cinnamon so prevalent in health circles, people are now clamoring to find inventive ways to spice up regular diets. And it’s easier than it sounds. One of the great things about cinnamon is that a little goes a long way, especially when added to these common drinks and food:
- Tea & coffee: Stir in some cinnamon for a natural sweetener or order a cinnamon latte the next time you stop into the coffeeshop for a tasty health boost.
- Smoothies: Add a spoonful of cinnamon to the blender for a pop of flavor. It tastes especially good in seasonal treats like this Pumpkin Pie Smoothie.
- Fruits and vegetables: Cut up apples or sweet potatoes, brush some honey and dust cinnamon on top, and then bake for 10 minutes for a sweet treat.
- Meats: Cinnamon can be savory, too. Add to braised beef or throw in the crockpot alongside a beef stew for surprising results.
- Desserts: There are few desserts that wouldn’t benefit from a little spice. Try it on top of ice cream, mix in with hot chocolate, or dig into the age-old favorite cinnamon rolls and coffee cake.
Cinnamon sticks are also great to keep handy and can be used to stir in drinks and get freshly ground spices. A sprinkle or pinch here and there is the best way to make sure you are receiving the daily recommended amounts.
Whether the recipe calls for cinnamon or would benefit from a dusting on top, try any of these tasty options the next time you’re looking to whip up something quick and new in the kitchen.
What better way to start the day than with a super healthy and fresh breakfast treat? Soak rolled oats overnight in apple juice and then combine with Greek yogurt, chopped pecans, and a few other favorites for an awesome protein-packed meal.
Whereas Mexican horchata uses rice for this tasty drink, the Spanish version relies on tigernuts that are similar in taste to coconuts. Add some cinnamon spice, sea salt, and honey, and soak overnight for a creamy and delicious Paleo-friendly drink.
These pancakes are the perfect dish for lazy Sunday breakfasts with the family. Vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free, the flapjacks contain almond milk, quinoa flour, and spices including pumpkin and cinnamon for a festive treat you can enjoy year-round, too.
No matter what Mom told you as a child, eating ice cream for breakfast can actually be good for you. This recipe whips up frozen bananas, almond milk, and cinnamon for instant soft serve that will rev up your morning.
A great combination of healthy fats, antioxidants, and caffeine, this matcha latte is the perfect way to start your day and build momentum for a more productive morning. Add the finishing touch with a sprinkle of cinnamon or a stick for garnish.
Save time on brewing fresh coffee every morning, and instead have a batch ready to take with you on the go. Pro Tip: Add some ground organic cinnamon to the coffee grounds before brewing for added flavor and antioxidant benefits. Dilute with water or almond milk to taste, and save the remaining stock in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls
Who can resist the smell of cinnamon rolls? Stock up on some gluten-free mix and look forward to a delightful treat any time of the day (or night).
Put cinnamon to the test
For thousands of years, people have talked about the mysterious health benefits of cinnamon, and more recently, medical research has begun to legitimize the claims. With all the positives we already know, and those yet to be discovered, only good can come from adding more cinnamon into your daily diet.
Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson via Flickr, Paul Delmont