Most of us think of spices as incidental to our diets, but perhaps it’s time to update our appreciation of these flavorful, and powerfully health-promoting, seasonings.

Spices are defined as any “aromatic vegetable substance.” The keyword is a vegetable. Derived from “vegetables” in the form of tree bark {cinnamon}, seed {nutmeg}, or fruit {peppercorns}, spices have potent anticancer, anti-inflammatory and other health-promoting effects that are daily being confirmed by researchers. Indeed, the following spices have been identified b the National Cancer Institute as having cancer-preventive properties: sage, oregano, thyme, rosemary, fennel, turmeric, caraway, anise, coriander, cumin and tarragon. In one comparison of antioxidant power from the Agricultural Research Center, the compounds of oregano rank higher than vitamin E.

Spices also make major contributions to our health by allowing us to reduce the amounts of salt, sugar and fat in our foods.

We’ve chosen cinnamon as a super-spice because of its general popularity and usefulness.

Cinnamon is welcome all year round, but its special scent is a particular treat in the winter months. What could be more welcome and delicious than a warm mug of apple cider sprinkled with cinnamon or a cinnamon baked apple with crushed nuts on a cold snowy day? It’s exciting to learn that cinnamon has actual health benefits.


Cinnamon, that delightful spice eliciting memories of Grandma’s kitchen and the comforts of home, is actually more than a delicious addition to foods. One of the oldest spices known and long used in traditional medicine, cinnamon is currently being studied for its beneficial effects on a variety of ailments. Recent findings on the power of cinnamon to promote health, in particular, its benefits for people with type ll diabetes, have elevated it to the special status of a super-spice.

cinnamon two types

Cinnamon comes from the interior bark of evergreen trees that are native to Asia. The type we most commonly see in the supermarkets is cassia cinnamon {Cinnamomum cassia}. Known as Chinese cinnamon, it has the sweetly spiced flavor we’re familiar with. Varieties of Chinese cinnamon come from China and northern Vietnam. There’s also Ceylon, or “true,” cinnamon [Cinnamomum zeylanicum}, which is sweeter with a more complex, citrus flavor. Both types of cinnamon are available in sticks {“quills”} or ground.

Cinnamon and your Health:

Today, we’re in the process of learning about the power of cinnamon to affect health, and once you appreciate the special qualities of this mighty spice, I’m sure you’ll be eager to use it more frequently.

Perhaps the most exciting recent discovery concerning cinnamon is its effect on blood glucose levels as well as on triglyceride and cholesterol levels, all which could benefit people suffering from type ll diabetes.

In one study of 60 patients with type ll diabetes, it was found that after only 40 days of taking about one-half teaspoon of cinnamon daily, fasting serum glucose levels were lowered by 18 to 29 percent, triglycerides by 23 to 30 percent, low-density lipoproteins {LDL} by 7 to 27 percent and total cholesterol by 12 to 26 percent. It’s not yet clear whether less than one-half teaspoon a day would be effective. It’s particularly interesting that the effects of the cinnamon lasted for 20 days following the end of the study, leading to speculation that one wouldn’t have to eat cinnamon every day to enjoy its benefits. This is great news for all of us and points out once again the benefits of a varied diet of whole foods and spices. The cinnamon – and perhaps other spices and certainly many foods – that you’re eating today are affecting your health into the future.

Cinnamon, by its insulin-enhancing properties, is not the only spice to show a positive effect on blood glucose levels. Cloves, bay leaves, and turmeric also show beneficial effects.

In addition to being a glucose moderator, cinnamon is recognized as being antibacterial. The essential oils in cinnamon are able to stop the growth of bacteria as well as fungi, including the common yeast CandidaIn one interesting study, a few drops of cinnamon essential oil in about 3 ounces of carrot broth inhibited the growth of bacteria for at least 60 days. By contrast, bacteria flourished in the broth with no cinnamon oil. Cinnamon has also been shown to be effective in fighting the E. coli bacterium.

A recent fascinating study found that just smelling cinnamon increased the subjects’ cognitive ability and actually functioned as a kind of “brain boost.” Future testing will reveal whether this power of cinnamon can be harnessed to prevent cognitive decline or sharpen cognitive performance.

Cinnamon in Your Life:

cinnamon-leafWhat does this exciting news on cinnamon mean to you? While it may not be practical to eat cinnamon on a daily basis, try to incorporate it into dishes when appropriate. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, make a special effort to increase your cinnamon consumption.

Almost everyone is a fan of cinnamon, but we may need a little inspiration to get cinnamon into our diets more frequently. A dash of cinnamon in applesauce, pumpkin smoothies, and pumpkin pudding, and other foods is a delightful treat.

  • For a healthy dessert, sprinkle cinnamon, a few raisins and walnuts, and a bit of honey, if desired, on a cored apple and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes until soft.
  • Make cinnamon toast. Drizzle some honey and sprinkle some cinnamon on toasted whole grain bread.
  • Simmer, don’t boil, milk with a teaspoon of vanilla and a cinnamon stick for a few minutes. Drink the warm milk with a bit of added honey or pour over hot oatmeal.
  • Combine one teaspoon cinnamon with two tablespoons honey and one cup yogurt. Serve as a dip for sliced fruit or as a dressing for fruit salad. Spoon a dollop on top of hot oatmeal, whole-grain pancakes, waffles or granola.
  • Combine equal parts of cinnamon and cocoa. Sprinkle on yogurt and fruit slices.
  • Combine one tablespoon or more ground cinnamon with one-half cup sesame seeds, one-quarter cup golden flaxseeds and one-quarter cup ground flaxseed meal. Use as a topping on cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, grapefruit halves or cantaloupe. Whole flaxseeds add crunch and fiber, though you get more of the nutritional value from ground flaxseeds.
  • Try to buy organically grown cinnamon, as it is less likely to have been irradiated. We know that irradiating cinnamon may lead to a decrease in its vitamin C and carotenoid content.

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