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Superfood in the Spotlight: The Benefit of Cinnamon

The holiday season is over and winter is in full swing. For us here in the Northern Hemisphere, we still have a couple more months of cold weather ahead of us. While we dream of warmer days to come, there is one spice that will keep us cozy from October to March and that’s cinnamon.

Cinnamon is the spice of fall and winter from pumpkin spice lattes to chai tea, hot apple cider, gingerbread, and even cinnamon hearts on Valentine’s Day (but seriously, you shouldn’t eat those, too much red dye). Cinnamon is so popular because of its sweet but pungent/spicy flavour, beautiful aroma, and versatility. It is also one of the oldest known spices and its history is just as rich as its flavour.

History of Cinnamon

Cinnamon was once so highly valued, it was considered to be worth more than gold, and here we are sprinkling it on our oatmeal.

While we mainly find it in powdered form today, it is actually from the inner bark of evergreen trees native to Sri Lanka, India, and China. Once this inner bark is removed from the tree, it dries into rolls or quills, which produce the cinnamon sticks we know today.

Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon as medicine, flavouring for beverages and an embalming agent. Cinnamon is mentioned in ancient texts on botanical medicine from China dating back to 2700 BC.

Its popularity eventually spread throughout Europe. In the first century AD, it is reported that the Roman Emperor Nero was so devastated by the death of his wife that he burned a year’s supply of cinnamon on her funeral pyre. This gesture, although a bit wasteful, was meant to signify the gravity of his loss.

The admiration of cinnamon continued throughout the Middle Ages in Europe. One pot meals, or rather one cauldron meals, were quite popular during this time. Often the dishes contained both meats and fruit and cinnamon married the flavours together nicely.

While today we may think of cinnamon as a spice used in baking and cooking sweet foods, it is actually just as useful in savory cooking, such as in chilies, curries or used to season meats.

Cinnamon has also been used a medicinal remedy to treat infections, diarrhea, nausea and reduce bleeding.

Types of Cinnamon

There are over two hundred varieties of cinnamon.
  • One of the most popular varieties of cinnamon is cassia which is mainly produced in China, Indonesia, and Vietnam.
  • Ceylon cinnamon is another common variety.  Ceylon cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil, and the Caribbean.

Both Cassia and Ceylon are similar in characteristics, however, Ceylon cinnamon is considered to have a more refined and subtle flavour. Ceylon is also a more expensive, therefore most cinnamon sold in grocery stores is Cassia.

As China and India (as well as other parts of East and Southern Asia) is the place of origin of cinnamon, we can look to the ancient teachings from these cultures to better understand cinnamon’s benefits.

Flavours of Cinnamon

In Traditional Chinese medicine, there are 5 main flavours comprised of: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent.  The idea behind this concept is that we can bring balance to the body by eating a balance of these different flavours in accordance with our specific constitution.

In Ayurveda, there are similar teachings although a sixth flavour is added which is astringent. Astringent means to reduce secretion or constrict. Traditionally herbs that were believed to be astringent in nature were used to reduce bleeding. All of these difference flavours are associated with different elements.

Cinnamon’s main flavour is heat or pungency, which is of course associated with the element of fire, but it is also sweet which is associated with earth and water.

Carbohydrates are composed of carbon, the basis of all life forms on earth (we all end up as soil, the earth) and water (hydrate.) The astringency and slight bitter taste of cinnamon also adds in the element of air and ether (space). While it is still primarily a warm or heating flavour, the additional flavours in cinnamon make it a truly balancing food, containing all the elements.

Science has now finally caught up to this concept of cinnamon and its ability to balance.

Below we’ll cover all the many health benefits of cinnamon, so read on!

Benefits of Cinnamon

1. Cinnamon for Blood Sugar Balance

Several studies have found that cinnamon can help to lower blood sugar. In one study, volunteers with type 2 diabetes consumed 1g to 6g of cinnamon per day for 40 days and found a decrease in fasting glucose by 18-29%. However, other studies have found that cinnamon had no affect on blood sugar. It’s no surprise that the results have been inconclusive, given that blood sugar management is a highly complex issue.

A a nutritionist, my advice to those with blood sugar issues would be, if you like cinnamon go ahead and sprinkle some on your oatmeal, but this isn’t the be all and end all to blood sugar balance. The oatmeal by itself is an unbalanced carbohydrate, so adding nuts and seeds (or nut/seed butter) to your oatmeal will make for a more complete and filling meal.

2. Cinnamon for Circulation and Digestion

Cinnamon’s natural warming properties make it excellent for circulation. It also increases the metabolism of fats. This is why cinnamon is enjoyed most in the colder months in hot beverages, such as chai’s and apple cider. It has also been used for diarrhea and nausea, as well as relief from intestinal gas.

3. Cinnamon for Immunity

Cinnamon contains many anti-microbial properties, including anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. It’s also been shown to reduce the production of biofilms. Cinnamon’s warming properties and ability to increase circulation and decrease congestion help with cold and flu symptoms. Its antifungal properties have shown to help with oral thrush.

4. Cinnamon for Inflammation

Cinnamon is rich in antioxidants; these contain potent anti-inflammatory compounds such as polyphenols.  Including cinnamon in your diet can greatly increase antioxidant levels while decreasing inflammatory compounds such as c-reactive protein.

5. Cinnamon for Menstrual Issues and Fibroids

Prior to the twentieth century, cinnamon tincture was commonly used for excess menstrual bleeding. Certain types of cinnamon have been found to inhibit a substance in the blood called thromboxane A2, which causes platelets in the blood to clump together and form clots. This inhibition of thromboxane A2 will actually reduce uterine bleeding, as it diverts blood flow away from the uterus.

6. Cinnamon for Cancer

Two components in cinnamon, camphornin and cinnamonin, have been shown in laboratory tests to inhibit the growth of liver cancer and melanoma cells. Cinnamon also increases the body’s production of tumor necrosis factor (TNF), a chemical of the immune system used to fight cancer. Other compounds in cinnamon are known to deactivate plasmin, which allows cancer cells to infiltrate surrounding tissue.

5 Reasons to Use Cinnamon

  1. It tastes good! Food is meant to be enjoyed. Increasing the flavours of food will increase satisfaction and satiation. I find any baked good or hot drink can be improved with an extra dash of cinnamon.
  2. It’s warming. Cinnamon will help you feel more comfortable in colder months. This is especially good if you have a constitution that is cold and damp.
  3. It’s a great cold remedy. If you are feeling under the weather, try some ginger, lemon, cinnamon, and honey. It will not only be soothing, but also help your body fight whatever it’s dealing with.
  4. It’s anti-inflammatory! Joint pain, migraines, digestive issues, eczema are all associated with inflammation. While cinnamon may not be a miracle cure, it will certainly help to reduce the inflammation contributing to whatever is ailing you.
  5. Disease prevention. Research has shown cinnamon and its compounds to be effective in treating and preventing heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. While more research is needed to truly understand the benefits and uses of cinnamon, this combined with all the reasons listed above, is enough to add an extra sprinkle whenever you can.

5 Ways to Use Cinnamon

  1. Cinnamon tea – Break up a cinnamon stick with a mortar and pestle or rolling pin (to release the flavours.) Place cinnamon in a pot with boiling water, reduce heat and let simmer for about 5 minutes. Strain and add your favourite milk and sweetener.
  2. Beverage Topper – Sprinkle on tea, coffee, apple cider or hot chocolate
  3. Cinnamon Tincture – Used as an herbal medicine
  4. Seasoning – Include with any dish using chili powder, curry powder, cumin, coriander
  5. Baking – Any cookie, cake or pie is made better with cinnamon.

Recipes Using Cinnamon


Kirsten Colella, CNP, is a Holistic Nutritionist who graduated from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition with high honours. She is also a certified yoga teacher and studied chemical engineering at the University of Toronto. Always using the full spectrum of fresh herbs when making her farm-to-table meals, Kirsten shares her delicious recipes, colourful food pics and health-promoting food ideas on our Instagram page @essentialbalanceholistic


Sources quoted for the blog:  

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