Health & Wellness

Why Cinnamon Is the Best Seasoning for the Holidays

By Justin Fowler-Lindner

Nothing says “The holidays are here!” like the sweet taste of cinnamon, but there’s a lot more to this spice that just its delicious taste. Cinnamon is packed with potent antioxidants, so the next time you sprinkle it on your hot cocoa, you’ll be doing your body (and you taste buds) a favor.

Here are just a few of the top health benefits of cinnamon:

  • Reduces inflammation
  • Prevents diabetes
  • Improves oral hygiene 
  • Fights infections
  • Supports cognitive health
  • Protects the heart

And although cinnamon tastes sweet, it actually contains almost no sugar. The holidays are full of tempting desserts, but cinnamon can be your sugar-free oasis.

What Is Cinnamon?

Cinnamon is a spice made from a tree of the genus Cinnamomum. It has a sweet, warm flavor that makes it perfect for holiday recipes. There are several different species of cinnamon, but the most common are Cinnamomum vera and Cinnamomum cassia.

The compounds in cinnamon, including cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, and cinnamate, possess many therapeutic properties, and they’re just what the naturopath ordered for the holidays.

Long before there was such a thing as Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah, cinnamon was already working its magic. In fact, the ancient Egyptians valued cinnamon so highly that it was just as expensive as gold.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic practitioners have also been using cinnamon as an extract and tea for thousands of years. In the Ayurvedic diet, cinnamon is considered a warming spice that boosts the bioavailability of other herbs.

Traditional Chinese Medicine, on the other hand, used it to support the heart, ease digestion and relieve pain. Today, many of these claims are holding up under the scrutiny of modern research.

Ceylon Cinnamon vs. Cassia Cinnamon

Before you start adding cinnamon to all of your holiday recipes, there’s one more very important thing you need to know: not all cinnamon is as healthy (or as delicious) as the rest.

Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) is cheaper and easier to find. However, it’s also lower in nutrients and is more difficult to digest due to higher levels of the compound coumarin, which can damage the liver in high doses.

Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum vera), on the other hand, is grown in Thailand and Sri Lanka and has a lighter, more citrusy taste. Plus, it contains more antioxidants and less coumarin. The only catch is that Ceylon is more expensive and can be harder to find in conventional grocery stores.

In general, always opt for Ceylon cinnamon because it’s more flavorful and possesses more potent health benefits. If you check the label and it doesn’t say which type it is, chances are it’s regular Chinese cinnamon.

You can also purchase fresh cinnamon sticks and grate them yourself with a fine grater. When shopping for cinnamon sticks, keep in mind that Ceylon cinnamon is generally thinner and more brittle than Chinese cinnamon.

Cinnamon Is Packed with Antioxidants

Aside from giving you the gift of deliciousness this holiday season, cinnamon also comes bearing antioxidants, and lots of them. Believe it or not, researchers have identified 41 different protective compounds in cinnamon, including flavonoids, phenolic acid and polyphenols. These compounds fight oxidative stress and slow the aging process.

To top it all off, they can also inhibit nitric oxide buildup in the blood, which is associated with heart disease, cancer, brain disorders and other chronic diseases.

In fact, a 2006 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that cinnamon contains more antioxidants than garlic, oregano, rosemary, thyme, and over 20 other spices.

6 Health Benefits of Cinnamon

Here’s a closer look at the long list of health benefits that cinnamon has to offer:

1. Reduces Inflammation

It’s now well understood that chronic inflammation is strongly linked to most serious health problems. Fortunately, a 2012 study found that the antioxidants in cinnamon can relieve inflammation. This is partly why cinnamon has such diverse health benefits. The flavonoids in cinnamon are especially effective at fighting inflammation, and they may even help reduce swelling, joint pain, muscle soreness and menstrual pain.

2. Prevents Diabetes

Cinnamon is particularly well-known for its ability to alleviate diabetes. For starters, it’s low on the glycemic index. At the same time, researchers have found that it can lower blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

For example, one small 2008 study on five diabetic patients found that cinnamon supplementation can lower fasting blood glucose levels. According to a 2011 study published in the journal Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, these same effects may also help curb food cravings and slow sugar absorption after a high-carb meal.

3. Improves Oral Hygiene

The essential oils in cinnamon may support oral hygiene by protecting against the strains of bacteria that cause tooth decay, mouth infections and bad breath. One 2011 comparative study found that cinnamon oil was significantly more effective than clove oil at killing oral bacteria.

This holiday season, try making your own DIY antibacterial toothpaste with peppermint oil, cinnamon oil, and coconut oil.

4. Fights Infections

Cinnamon’s antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties aren’t just good for oral health—they can also help you survive the cold and flu season. For example, a 2014 study found that cinnamon oil may fight bacterial infections that cause strep throat, pneumonia and the common cold.

Plus, a separate 2012 study found that cinnamon can protect against three different types of Candida: the type of fungi that causes yeast infections.

5. Supports Cognitive Health

Research shows that the antioxidants in cinnamon may boost brain function and protect against degenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. According to a 2009 in vitro animal study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, cinnamon inhibits the build-up of a protein linked to Alzhermer’s disease.

Plus, cinnamon also effectively protected neurons from inflammation and oxidative stress in a mouse model of Parksinson’s disease.

6. Protects the Heart

Of course, no list of cinnamon health benefits would be complete without mentioning its impact on the heart. Studies show that cinnamon can reduce several of the most common risk factors of heart disease, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High triglycerides

At the same time, cinnamon may also increase blood circulation to damaged heart tissue, which helps protect against stroke and heart attacks.

How to Use Cinnamon This Holiday Season

Sugary foods are always within arm’s reach during the holidays, and it’s easy to get in the habit of snacking on cookies and pies. However, sugar is also pro-inflammatory and increases the risk of diabetes by spiking blood sugar levels.

Fortunately, cinnamon’s sweet taste is the perfect way to satisfy your sweet-tooth without the negative side effects of sugar. So the next time you’re deciding which dish, dessert, or drink to make, think of cinnamon first.

You can add cinnamon to…

  • Yogurt
  • Oatmeal
  • Pies
  • Muffins
  • Soup
  • Stew
  • Hot cocoa

It’s one of the tastiest ways to stay healthy during the holidays! At the same time, you can experience the health benefits of cinnamon on-the-go with cinnamon capsules, supplements, and essential oil extracts.

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