Who doesn't have a set of cherished memories that revolve around that most comforting spice — cinnamon?
Whether it was a stick used to stir a steaming mug of mulled cider, or a sprinkle over warm buttered toast,
cinnamon remains one of the most loved spices of young and old alike. Many have placed the value of
cinnamon on its aroma and spicy-sweet flavor, but others have long recognized that cinnamon is a plant of
power. The benefits to health and wellness that other cultures have used successfully for centuries, is
now becoming more widely known and embraced on a global scale.
Copyright © December 2004 Cerise Cauthron and Low Carb Luxury
Herbs and spices have been a traditional component of the healer's medicine bag and for very good reasons.
Many contain compounds that work to remedy a variety of ailments, aches and pains and also provide health
boosters of a more general nature. Fighting infection, relieving muscle and joint pains, improving
digestion, boosting metabolism, promoting diuresis? the list is virtually endless. One of the king's
among these luminaries is cinnamon. Cinnamon has been used for a vast number of treatments throughout
history and is recently receiving robust press coverage for its value in treating Type 2 diabetes,
cholesterol and for improving triglyceride profiles. Let's open this treasure chest and see what gold
It is not surprising that cultures that inhabit hot climates make extensive use of cinnamon and other
"spicy" spices. One benefit attributed to cinnamon is food preservation. Cinnamon has bacterial-killing
abilities that keep foods fresher, longer. When refrigeration was not even at the pipe-dream stage,
cooks had to rely on other methods to extend the life of dinner beyond the first table-full. Spices
served that bill well and hot-climate cultures are marked by abundant in-your-face dishes. Latin,
Asian, Southeast Asian, African, Indian and Pakistani, etc? and cinnamon is right there in the dishes
and traditional spice blends for these cultures' cuisine.
But if cinnamon can annihilate food-based bacteria, what about other bacteria? What about those that
are based in us? It turns out that cinnamon is just as potent an infection fighter as it is a food
preserver. Whether ingested for internal illnesses or used topically for cuts and skin infections,
cinnamon works to stop bacteria in their tracks and heal our infected areas. It has been shown to
work both against bacteria and fungi and has shown promise in treating Candida infections. Cinnamon
is also an anti-inflammatory and acts as an anti-clotting agent.
Components of cinnamon can retard the clumping of platelets, which inhibits clot formation and
inhibits cells from producing inflammation-messaging substances. This imparts on cinnamon a
heart-protective function and can enable cinnamon to assist with other inflammation and clot-based
problems. Cinnamon can boost brain function (and who can't use more of that?) Just the smell of
the cinnamon essential oils acts to promote cognitive processing. Research has demonstrated that
the odor or flavor of cinnamon increases attention, memory and visual-motor speed. There is hope
that cinnamon-derived treatment can be used to assist the elderly, individuals suffering from test
anxiety and others with cognition-based difficulties.
And the comforting, internal warming affect of cinnamon is not a product of fond childhood
memories. Cinnamon has traditionally been considered a spice to which to turn to spike the inner
heat. It boasts membership in that class of compounds termed "thermogenics," which increase metabolic
rate and, therefore, internal heat production. For those with a cold, this can be just the ticket to
chase away the chill and, for the dieter, this boost in metabolism means more calories are burned
per unit of time. And the boost lingers — Spices like cinnamon and cayenne can create a thermogenic
burn that can last for a couple of hours after their ingestion. A stimulating chili rich with Tabasco
sauce and a hearty dose of cinnamon will do wonders for your taste buds and your waistline!
For low-carbers, the recent studies that indicate a role for cinnamon in decreasing insulin resistance
is most heartening. Cinnamon appears to improve a cell's ability to uptake insulin and, therefore, work
against diabetes. The mechanism appears to be two-fold — cinnamon stimulates insulin receptors and
inhibits an enzyme that inactivates these same receptors. This increases a cell's ability to use glucose
and reduces circulating blood glucose levels. The abilities of cinnamon in this regard seem very powerful.
It takes but ? to ? tsp a day in order to see significant benefits. The same effect was seen for animals who were,
believe it or not, fed a high-fructose corn syrup diet! (Note: I will be most disappointed in you if you
use this last bit of information to rush out and restock your pantry with marshmallow fluff.) Further, the
benefits are manifest even if you do not consume cinnamon every day. The blood-sugar impact was noted in
study participants for a number of days after they stopped their daily cinnamon consumption.
For cinnamon, you can consume the necessary compounds in a variety of ways. The most pleasant, of course,
is cinnamon in its whole-food form. Sprinkled in yogurt, added to coffee or LC hot chocolate, incorporated
into an LC ice cream or protein shake, used in soup, stew, chili and curry (all of which are also well-provided
with other very healthy herbs and spices), baking (of course!), combined with your favorite granular LC
sweetener for "cinnamon sugar," etc. The list goes on for the duration of your imagination. But, of
course, you do have to monitor the carbohydrates. Cinnamon averages about 0.6 net carbs/tsp, which is
not that bad in the big picture, but quantity consumption could cause carb creep. To minimize cinnamon's
impact on your carb allotment, make good consumer decisions. The cinnamon you buy at the stores is the
low-rent variety. It is not the freshest and of a lower-quality grade than others. Purchase cinnamon
from reputable spice houses that grind their spices on a regular basis and have high product turnover.
Further, there are different types of cinnamon and these have different flavor profiles and intensities
of flavor. Check the oil content for the cinnamon that you buy — the flavors in cinnamon are primarily
concentrated in the oily portion and more oils will mean more flavor. Storage can impact the life of
cinnamon, so pay attention to where your bottle resides. Keep cinnamon (and all spices) out of the
light and heat. Avoid the typical "over the oven" spice rack. It may be close at hand, but you are
severely reducing the life of your spices. The best place is the freezer. The flavorful oils will
evaporate at a much slower rate and the spices will retain their flavor a great deal longer. This
is good both for your palate and your wallet. What to buy? The types you can usually find from
good spice houses include:
- Korintje Cassia — the type most familiar to us. The flavor is rich, but relatively mild
in relation to other varieties. Fresh Korintje will beat anything you buy at the local mega-mart
hands down and it is readily available from local and online spice retailers.
- Chinese Cassia — higher in oils and more robust in flavor than the Korintje. Still sweet
and redolent with the aroma of homemade cinnamon rolls pulled fresh from the oven.
- Vietnam Cassia — the richest in oils and strongest in flavor. Sharp, powerful: a truly
high-test cinnamon experience. You don't need to use a lot of this to achieve that cinnamon flavor
that you desire in any application. Less cinnamon, fewer carbs, but same fantastic flavor.
- Ceylon "True" Cinnamon — mild taste, but complex and citrus-y. Many are unfamiliar with
this type of cinnamon, but it can make a very nice addition to any baked or cooked dish.
You can also purchase capsules that contain certain components of cinnamon, but these will not
have all the health benefits provided by the whole food. However, do some research on what it
is specifically that you desire from cinnamon and you may find that capsules are a good choice.
Some of cinnamon's helpful factors are found in the oils, others are more in the vegetative
material. If you are only looking for a specific effect, you might opt to simply buy a capsulated
version that is high in the component that will target your interest.
Above all, cinnamon makes you feel good. It tastes good, it warms you up, it smells oh-so
wonderful! Regardless of any further benefits, just the awakening of the senses that cinnamon
promotes is enough to make one invest in a quality bottle of the stuff and give it a place of
honor in our spice homes. With its endless variety of uses, you should never be at a loss for
a tasty way to incorporate cinnamon and its laundry list of health benefits into your menus.
So, go ahead — Spice up your day the cinnamon way! You'll be glad you did.
Title photo Copyright © 2004 Neil Beaty for Low Carb Luxury