We’ve mentioned our love for cinnamon in coffee, but this spice is good for so much more than just spicing up the morning Joe. It could also have some huge health benefits, from helping treat diabetes to fighting inflammation, killing bacteria, and a whole lot moreCinnamon and health. Gruenwald, J., Freder, J., Armbruester, N. Analyze & realize ag, Berlin, Germany. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 2010 Oct;50(9):822-34..

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice — The Need-to-Know

Photo by Nicole Fara Silver

Cinnamon comes from trees grown throughout Asia and can pack in tons of flavor to a wide variety of sweet or savory dishes without adding too many calories. A whole tablespoon (eek — our mouths go dry just thinking about it!) has only 19 calories. Surprisingly, cinnamon even offers some fiber, though probably not enough to really count. But cinnamon does more than just make food taste awesome. One study found a topical ointment with cinnamon and ginger (among other natural ingredients) helped relieve patients of some types of arthritis painComparing analgesic effects of a topical herbal mixed medicine with salicylate in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Zahmatkash, M., Vafaeenasab, M.R. Farateb Research Institute, Yazd, Iran.Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences, 2011 Jul 1;14(13):715-9.. Another study found a different herb mixture also containing cinnamon was even shown to help fight the fluA randomized, controlled trial comparing traditional herbal medicine and neuraminidase inhibitors in the treatment of seasonal influenza. Nabeshima, S., Kashiwagi, K., Ajisaka, K., et al. General Medicine, Fukuoka University Hospital, 7-45-1 Nanakuma, Jonan-ku, Fukuoka, 814-0180, Japan. Journal of Infection and Chemotherapy, 2012 Feb 16.. And cinnamon could just be the answer to all things hygiene, too — cinnamon mouthwash could help fight oral bacteria, while a cinnamon face mask might boost collagen in aging skin, no Botox requiredSusceptibilities of Candida albicans Mouth Isolates to Antifungal Agents, Essentials Oils and Mouth Rinses. Carvalhinho, S., Costa, A.M., Coelho, A.C., et al. Department of Biology and Environment, University of Trás-os-Montes and Alto Douro (UTAD), PO Box 1013, 5001-911, Vila Real, Portugal.Cinnamon Extract Promotes Type I Collagen Biosynthesis via Activation of IGF-I Signaling in Human Dermal Fibroblasts. Takasao, N., Tsuji-Naito, K., Ishikura, S., et al. Department of Biological Chemistry, Division of Applied Life Science, Graduate School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Osaka Prefecture University , 1-1 Gakuen-cho, Naka-ku, Sakai 599-8531, Japan. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2012 Feb 8;60(5):1193-200.! But when it comes to some more serious matters, like the potential treatment or prevention of diabetes, the debate is more variedFunctional food and diabetes: a natural way in diabetes prevention? Ballali, S., Lanciai, F. Prochild ONLUS , Trieste, Italy. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 2012 Mar;63 Suppl 1:51-61. While docs don’t yet recommend spicing it up as a cure-all for diabetesA Review of the Hypoglycemic Effects of Five Commonly Used Herbal Food Supplements. Deng, R. Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Pharmacy, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI. Recent Patents on Food Nutrition and Agriculture, 2012 Feb 9., some studies show cinnamon could help keep blood sugar steady and alleviate symptoms of diabetes and pre-diabetesEffects of 1 and 3 g cinnamon on gastric emptying, satiety, and postprandial blood glucose, insulin, glucose-dependent insulinotropic polypeptide, glucagon-like peptide 1, and ghrelin concentrations in healthy subjects. Hlebowicz, J., Hlebowicz, A., Lindstedt, S., et al. Department of Medicine, Malmö University Hospital, Malmö, Sweden. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2009 Mar;89(3):815-21.Cinnamon: potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. Qin, B., Panickar, K.S., Anderson, R.A. Diet, Genomics, and Immunology Laboratory, Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service, Beltsville, Maryland. Journal of Diabetes Science and Nutrition, 2010 May 1;4(3):685-93.Antioxidant effects of a cinnamon extract in people with impaired fasting glucose that are overweight or obese. Roussel, A.M., Hininger, I., Benaraba, R., et al. INSERM, U884, LBFA, Université Joseph Fourier, Grenoble, France. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2009 Feb;28(1):16-21..

Cinnamon Roll With It — Your Action Plan

Okay, so cinnamon doesn’t exactly count as medicine yet, but that’s not stopping us from working it into as many recipes as possible. It’s obviously good in sweets (oh heyyyy, pumpkin pie), but it works well in savory dishes, too. Its naturally sweet-ish flavor also makes it a fantastic substitute for sugar in coffee, yogurt, popcorn, and just about anything else. Any cook who wants to sound savvy should know there are actually two types of cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is also known as “true” cinnamon, while cassia cinnamon (aka Vietnamese, Chinese, or Indonesian cinnamon), is the type most Americans are used to seeing on grocery store shelves. While they’re pretty similar in terms of nutrition and taste, some studies suggest cassia cinnamon may sometimes contain higher levels of the phytochemical coumarin, which could possibly cause liver damage in those who eat a very, very, very large quantity of cinnamonQuantification of flavoring constituents in cinnamon: high variation of coumarin in cassia bark from the German retail market and in authentic samples from Indonesia. Woehrlin, F., Fry, H., Abraham, K., et al. Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, Berlin, Germany. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 2010 Oct 13;58(19):10568-75.. And obviously, cinnamon is available in both sticks or ground. Sticks can be used for mulling or can be freshly ground for any recipe, while ground cinnamon is an easy alternative to grinding at home.