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Cinnamon, what are the benefits

You might think nothing of sprinkling some cinnamon on your porridge or drinking a chai tea, but it turns out cinnamon could have more benefits than simply being a flavour maker.

“Cinnamon” is the catch-all name for the spices made by grinding up the bark of trees in the genus Cinnamomum.

One study suggests that people with type 2 diabetes who had between one and six grams of cinnamon a day for 40 days had improved blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

While research is yet to conclude whether healthy people could experience similar benefits from sprinkling cinnamon on their food, Kara Landau, Travelling Dietitian, told Coach that its natural sweetening capabilities mean that using it may reduce your sugar consumption.

“It’s certainly a healthy option for the general population and … can often lead to less sugar being required at a meal to satisfy such cravings,” she says.

Most supermarket cinnamon is the cassia variety, made from the Cinnamomum cassia tree's bark. Naturopath Karina Francois says this variety is a good source of the polyphenol antioxidant, but she says it’s important you don’t have too much.

“Cinnamon has a lot of antioxidants – it’s like taking a little bit of natural vitamin,” she says.

“But don’t overdo it because the cassia type, which you buy from the supermarket, has coumarin in it which can interfere with blood thinners and aspirin and cause problems with liver and kidney if you have too much.”

If you want to use a lot of cinnamon – in the order of multiple teaspoons a day – then Francois says you’d be better off having Ceylon cinnamon (aka “true” cinnamon, made from the Cinnamomum verum tree's bark), which hails from Sri Lanka and can be bought in Sri Lankan grocers or from herbalists.

“The Ceylon type is quite safe and helps with metabolising blood sugars and making the body more responsive to insulin so you can access the carbohydrates you’ve been eating,” she says.

“It tastes completely different to [cassia] cinnamon. You could have it on porridge or cooked fruit or mix it in your tea or in hot water with honey. It doesn’t hurt to have a teaspoon three times a day.”

Francois says it’s one of her go-to ingredients for making herbal tonics to help everything from diabetes to high cholesterol to polycystic ovarian syndrome.

“The main component in Ceylon cinnamon is the anti-inflammatory cinnamaldehyde, which helps alkalise the body,” she says.

“It seems to inhibit the prostaglandins, which create more inflammation. So if you get a lot of period pain because your prostaglandins are up, herbalists use cinnamon to reduce the pain by inhibiting this inflammatory response.”

Ultimately though, Francois says that Ceylon cinnamon is only a booster for somebody who already has a healthy diet.

“It’s all good and well to say, ‘Have a teaspoon of cinnamon three times a day’ but if you don’t have a clean eating diet, it’s not going to do anything,” she says.

“It’s not like popping an aspirin to get rid of pain. I think it’s something you add to your diet – you don’t completely rely on it for the benefits.”

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