It’s a new year, and that means a new theme for Ingredients of the Month! While I focused on fruits and vegetables last year, this year I want to spice things up (oh my, bad puns! Gotta love them!). For January, I wanted to choose a common cold weather spice that most people probably have on hand, so let’s explore my favorite sweet spice.
Cinnamon comes from the bark of a tree in the Laurel family. The bark is scraped off the tree and as it dries, it rolls up into those characteristic cinnamon sticks . Then we steep them in chai or tea or we grind them down to the cinnamon powder so many of us know and love. And let me tell you–cinnamon is pretty cool stuff. Not only does it taste delicious, but there is some research pointing to its health (and beauty) benefits.
Cinnamon and Blood Glucose
Cinnamon has been shown to lower fasting glucose levels in Type II Diabetics in this meta-analysis  and in other studies . This is important because chronically high fasting blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia) can lead to complications as diverse as nerve damage, amputations, cataracts, and joint problems . All really bad stuff.
Cinnamon and Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin resistance happens when your cells aren’t responsive (or sensitive) to insulin . Insulin resistance can lead to Type II Diabetes. There are various chemicals and compounds in nature that can help to make your cells more sensitive to insulin, improving its effectiveness. As it turns out, cinnamon can improve insulin sensitivity . It does this by regulating the GLUT 4 (a membrane transporter that moves glucose into the cell) and allowing more glucose to be taken into the cell so that blood glucose levels don’t stay as high.
In a world saturated in fructose–which does not signal your pancreas to start producing insulin and leads to insulin resistance –it’s good to have cinnamon on our side.
Cinnamon and Inflammation
Remember reading about unsaturated fats and inflammation–how inflammation is an important bodily process but can go overboard and be unhealthy? Cinnamon, like omega-3 fats, is an inflammation fighter. It increases the expression of an anti-inflammatory protein and decreases the expression of inflammatory compounds . In other studies, cinnamon extracts have been shown to block the creation of nitric oxide, another inflammatory compound .
Cinnamon and Aging
There are these things called AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products) and they–dun, dun, DUN–lead to aging. We’ve talked about them before. Believe it or not (I know, cinnamon has lots of good stuff going for it), cinnamon can stop those bad boys in their tracks with its potent antioxidant powers [6, 8].
Let’s do this!
Now that you are convinced (I hope), you might be wondering what to do with cinnamon. Obviously, if we are worried about insulin and blood sugar, eating cinnamon in the form of a Cinnabon is not a great plan. But there are many ways to use cinnamon–a dash in tea or coffee, on baked apples or poached pears, in savory dishes like meat sauces, or even in octopus (it’s good, I swear!).
This month, I challenge you cook or bake with cinnamon, using a recipe you have never used before. Share your recipes and ideas in the comments!