The holidays are almost here and nothing puts me in a festive mood more than the aroma of something sweet baking in the oven. For many of my friends, cinnamon is what puts them in a holiday state of mind. Made from the ground bark of a genus of trees called Cinnamomum, the top cinnamon producing countries are Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and Madagascar. There are two main types: Ceylon cinnamon, produced in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil, and the Caribbean, and cassia cinnamon, which comes mainly from Indonesia, China and Vietnam.
Cinnamon is one of those delicious spices that also has many healthful properties, which places it firmly in the realm of FoodTrients. It has been used for thousands of years, not only to enhance the flavor of foods but historically doctors used cinnamon to treat conditions such as coughing, arthritis, sore throats and other common ailments. Today, research indicates that cinnamon has some very beneficial uses, including:
- Aiding digestive function
- Helping to constrict and tone tissues
- Relieving congestion
- Relieving menstrual discomfort
- Stimulating circulation with its blood-thinning compounds
- Relieving arthritis pain and stiffness with its anti-inflammatory compounds
- Helping prevent urinary tract infections, tooth decay and gum disease
- Helping to kill E. coli and other bacteria with a powerful anti-microbial agent
- Boosting activity and memory with its aroma
- Providing, in one teaspoon, 22% of the daily recommended value of manganese, a trace mineral that helps the body form strong bones, connective tissues and metabolize fat and carbohydrates.
Cinnamon has a remarkable ability to moderate blood sugar levels. I’ve been taking cinnamon capsules for years because it’s so effective at lowering blood sugar. In a USDA study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, cinnamon stood out among dozens of herbs, spices and medicinal plants as being effective in maintaining proper blood sugar metabolism. According to the results of the study, cinnamon contains an active ingredient that seems to mimic insulin function, increasing sugar consumption by cells and signaling certain cells to turn glucose into storable glycogen. In another study at the Beltsville, MD Human Nutrition Research Center, the effects of cinnamon on other blood measurements including triglycerides and cholesterol were tested in individuals with type 2 diabetes. One gram of cinnamon a day reduced blood sugar 18-29%, triglycerides 23-30% and LDL cholesterol 7-27%.
It’s so easy to add cinnamon to your diet. Besides baked goods, you can add a teaspoonful to your oatmeal, sprinkle into coffee, tea or coco; mix it into yogurt, use it to top fresh fruit and for baked apples. Cinnamon adds a distinctive flavor to Moroccan-style meats and stews and adds depth to sweet potatoes or baked squash. Whole grain pancakes, waffles and French toast are all better with cinnamon. Here’s a perfect ‘home for the holiday’ dessert in which cinnamon figures prominently. Pear and Apple Tart is my take on the classic French dessert, tarte tatin. I also like to serve a steaming cup of Cinnamon Coffee on cold nights. The cinnamon and nutmeg in the recipe decrease inflammation while the cloves contain high levels of antioxidants. The milk and the molasses in this comforting recipe provide a good dose of calcium. Drink up!