When Hippocrates famously said “Let food by thy medicine and medicine be they food,” he could easily have been talking about cinnamon.
On top of its many known health benefits—including protecting against oxidative damage and inflammation, reducing risk of cancer, improving sensitivity to the hormone insulin, and more—research has now found that this common kitchen spice can also reduce the harms of a high-fat diet.
In the study, presented at the American Heart Association’s Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology/Peripheral Vascular Disease 2017 Scientific Sessions, held in Minneapolis, MN, rats fed a high-fat diet supplemented with cinnamon for 12 weeks experienced less weight gain and developed less abdominal fat compared to rodents fed a high-fat diet without cinnamon. The cinnamon group also had healthier blood levels of fat, sugar, and insulin.
A diet high in fat—such as Paleo and Atkins—is a major contributor to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, killing about 610,000 people every year, according to CDC data, which is 1 in every 4 deaths. Though people tend to adopt those particular diets to lose weight, eating high-fat foods such as bacon, steak, and full-fat dairy, can lead to weight gain, diabetes, high cholesterol, and various other harmful conditions.
Incorporating cinnamon into your diet, according to the new study, may be able to offset some of this risk.
Co-author Vijaya Juturu, PhD, of OmniActive Health Technologies Inc in Morristown, NJ, says that cinnamon’s ability to lower cardiovascular risk factors associated with a poor diet comes from a polyphenol that is rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
Dr. Juturu and colleagues found that, along with the cinnamon group having less weight gain and abdominal fat, they also had healthier blood glucose and insulin concentrations, as well as better lipid profiles, than the controls. The cinnamon group even had fewer molecules linked with the storing of fat, as well as higher levels of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant molecules.
Antioxidants play a vital role in heart health as they protect against oxidative stress—an imbalance of free radicals linked with heart disease, among other health conditions.
While it is safe to consume up to 1/2 cup of ground cinnamon each day, it’s more realistic to consider adding 1 teaspoon to an array of foods, like oatmeal, and drinks, like coffee, and aim for 2 teaspoons each day.
It’s important to note, however, that consuming a teaspoon of ground cinnamon without mixing or blending with other foods can cause the powder to enter your lungs, resulting in throat irritation and difficulty breathing. To prevent injury, mix your cinnamon with food or liquid.
While cinnamon typically doesn’t cause side effects, it may cause an allergic reaction in some people, irritating the mouth and lips, and causing sores. Those taking blood thinners may need to moderate their consumption, as the coumarin in the spice can increase risk of bleeding.