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How the “sweet spice” helps maintain healthy weight and supports heart health

How the “sweet spice” helps maintain healthy weight and supports heart health

Once viewed as a luxury, the spice known as cinnamon was traditionally presented to kings by those looking to gain royal favor.  Nowadays, of course, you can find cinnamon on the supermarket shelf and enjoy its regal flavor for mere pennies a pinch.

However, those long-ago petitioners to the king had the right idea – this sweet kitchen spice truly is a “gift” to health.  Let’s check out some of the impressive benefits of cinnamon.

Compounds in cinnamon promote fat-burning

Natural health experts have long believed that cinnamon might help protect against obesity and high blood sugar.  Now, a new University of Michigan study shows that a cinnamon compound known as cinnemaldehyde can help “reprogram” the metabolism, thereby encouraging weight loss.  (It turns out that cinnemaldehyde acts directly on fat-storing cells to induce thermogenesis, the process of metabolizing fats).  In addition, a recent scientific review credits cinnamon with significantly reducing body weight in obese participants, and even recommends its use to maintain healthy weight.

However, it’s not a good idea to start ingesting large amounts of cinnamon, as this can cause serious health problems.  More studies need to be done before researchers can determine how cinnamon can best be used to advance metabolic health without causing adverse effects.  In the meantime, it certainly doesn’t hurt to spice up foods with judicious amounts of this tasty spice.  As a bonus, the sweet, satisfying taste of cinnamon may help people cut down on the use of unhealthy refined sugar.

Promote healthy blood sugar levels

One of the hallmarks of type 2 diabetes is insulin resistance, in which the body’s supply of insulin no longer works efficiently to carry sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells.  By slowing the breakdown of carbohydrates, cinnamon can drastically reduce insulin resistance and help lower blood sugar. In fact, scientists report that cinnamon acts in a way that mimics the function of insulin, although the effects aren’t as immediate.

And human studies have helped illustrate the hypoglycemic effects of cinnamon.  In an older - but still well-respected - placebo-controlled trial published in the European Journal of Clinical Investigation, a cinnamon extract lowered fasting blood sugar in type 2 diabetics by a substantial 10 percent!

Make your heart happy with cinnamon

Because cinnamon has high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacities, it is believed to promote heart and circulatory health.  While more studies need to be done, one major review suggested that cinnamon reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, or fats, in the blood, while boosting levels of healthy HDL cholesterol.  (That’s good news for cardiovascular health!)  In addition, animal studies have shown that cinnamon reduces blood pressure, and it may exert this benefit on humans as well.  Clearly, cinnamon appears to be a very heart-healthy spice.

So bring on the cinnamon!

Derived from the bark of the tree botanically known as Cinnamomum, cinnamon is normally then ground and powdered or rolled into sticks.  There are two primary types: Cassia cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon.  Cassia cinnamon, widely sold in supermarkets, is the most common.  Ceylon cinnamon, also known as “true” cinnamon, is not as easily available, but can be found in health stores.  Substantially more expensive, Ceylon cinnamon has a sweeter, milder flavor than Cassia cinnamon.

There are countless ways to incorporate the flavor and health benefits of cinnamon.

Sprinkle powdered cinnamon over oatmeal, yogurt, granola, baked apples and sweet potatoes - or use it to add an intriguing note of sweetness to chili.  Enhance coffee, spice up herbal teas, or blend it with  bananas, dates, and yogurt for a scrumptious smoothie.  You can also incorporate the rich, warming flavor of cinnamon into sauces, marinades and recipes for baked goods.

While cinnamon is generally recognized as safe when consumed in quantities normally used in food, eating too much - especially Cassia cinnamon - can cause adverse health effects, including liver damage, breathing problems, low blood sugar and mouth sores.  Due to its high content of the natural blood-thinner coumarin, natural health experts advise staying within a teaspoon of powdered cinnamon a day.  (And do we even need to warn you that the so-called “cinnamon challenge” publicized on social media - in which people try to swallow large quantities of cinnamon in a limited time - is an exceptionally bad and potentially dangerous idea?)

Used as a seasoning, cinnamon is a great addition to your healthy diet.  And, you no longer need to be of royal blood to enjoy it.

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