The Health Benefits (And Risks) Of Eating Cinnamon, According To Experts

How much do you need to eat to actually reap the rewards? And how much is too much? And take note: one type is far better than the others.

Like the latest love interest of Taylor Swift, who’s poised for superstardom, cinnamon is the standout spice of the fall. Rising above nutmeg, cloves and ginger in a pumpkin spice blend, it promises more than just great flavor and an irresistible aroma. Research is showing that it can be good for your health, too.

Noting that current studies are not yet fully conclusive, Dr. Michael L. Dansinger, an internist and professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, said that even without long-term, definitive results, “There are enough favorable studies that together suggest that about 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day may slightly improve blood sugar, insulin resistance, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and inflammation, compared to placebos.” The spice has already shown positive possibilities for some people with health conditions, including Type 2 diabetes or obesity.

Registered dietitian Toby Smithson noted that cinnamon contains promising health benefits but also requires caution. “The good news is that cinnamon contains bioactive ingredients, including antioxidants, and some studies have shown health benefits to cholesterol and triglyceridCe levels, blood pressure and modest improvements in post-meal blood sugar spikes and fasting blood sugar levels. But studies looking at lowering A1C, a measure of average blood sugar levels, have been inconclusive so far,” Smithson explained.

Julia Zumpano, a registered dietitian from the Center for Human Nutrition at the Cleveland Clinic, said, “Although we do know the benefits of cinnamon are real, the exact dosages have not yet been established since more research is needed.” But she also added, “Use cinnamon as often as you can, as a spice, to reap the benefits.”

There are different kinds of cinnamon, so shop with care.

If you aim to boost your cinnamon IQ, be aware that there are different types. The two most popular are Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka and Cassia, a less-expensive variety that originated in Southern China but is now grown across many regions of Eastern and Southern Asia. The type of cinnamon you choose makes a difference, Smithson said. “The European Food Agency has set the daily intake limit for Cassia cinnamon at 1/2 teaspoon per day because of the presence of a compound called coumarin,” he added. “Cassia cinnamon has about 250 times the coumarin as Ceylon, and coumarin is suspected of causing liver damage at high doses.” Because of these cautions, Smithson recommended using the Ceylon variety.

Another caution exists for Vietnamese cinnamon, noted registered dietitian nutritionist Amanda Frankeny. “Consumer Labs, a company that independently tests the quality of health and nutrition products, found that the Simply Organic Vietnamese Cinnamon contained 6.2 milligrams of coumarin per gram,” she said. “This suggests that at-risk populations may want to limit their consumption of this brand.”

How should you consume cinnamon?

“Don’t be fooled into thinking that cinnamon rolls or cinnamon supplements are a good treatment for diabetes or a good way to prevent health problems,” Dansinger said. “The best way to use cinnamon is to incorporate it into a healthy eating plan. Many health experts agree that an overall healthy eating and lifestyle strategy is crucially important for maintaining health and longevity, and for minimizing the risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, cancers, dementia and many other common health problems.”

Dansinger offered this caution if you hope to get your cinnamon intake through supplements. “Cinnamon capsules are not regulated, and some studies have found that different brands of cinnamon capsules vary in terms of the quality of their cinnamon content,” he said.

Zumpano noted, “If you’d like to use cinnamon as a supplement in capsule form, speak to your health care provider or a registered dietitian to help you find a dose that is right for you. Be cautious with cinnamon supplements, and be sure they are third-party tested.” She suggested reviewing brand data on independent, third-party testing sites like ConsumerLab.comNSF or Fullscript.

How to add more cinnamon to your diet.

Amy Gorin, a registered dietitian nutritionist, adds cinnamon to coffee, desserts and soup. And she highlights another benefit of the spice: “Surprisingly, cinnamon boasts satiating fiber. Just one teaspoon of cinnamon offers more than a gram of fiber.”

And it’s important to remember that the delicious taste of cinnamon may be a good stand-in for less-healthy choices, Chelsey Amer, a registered dietitian nutritionist, said. “Adding cinnamon to your meals can add flavor, without added sugar, which can help you reduce your overall sugar intake,” Amer added

Cinnamon can be sprinkled on top of oatmeal or in morning coffee, too. “I also like to add cinnamon to the batter of any of my breakfast baked goods I’m making, like pancakes and waffles,” Michael C. Williams, a registered dietitian, said. “It adds warm flavor to savory recipes, too, so try pairing it with spices like cloves, cardamom and nutmeg. Cinnamon also pairs well with different ingredients like apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, bananas, almonds and chicken.”

Eating too much cinnamon may lead to liver damage, mouth sores and low blood sugar.
ANNABOGUSH VIA GETTY IMAGES/Eating too much cinnamon may lead to liver damage, mouth sores and low blood sugar.

As always, don’t overdo it.

As great as all this sounds, too much of a good thing, even with cinnamon, can be a bad idea. “Cinnamon could potentially be toxic in high amounts, for example, if you took as much as three teaspoons daily,” Dansinger said.

“The optimal amount of cinnamon to consume for health benefits can vary depending on factors, including your health condition, tolerance and the specific benefits being sought,” according to Carissa Galloway, a registered dietitian nutritionist. She added, “It’s important to note that while cinnamon does offer potential health benefits, consuming excessive amounts can also have adverse effects, especially if you’re taking certain medications or have underlying health conditions.”

Williams said having too much cinnamon could result in liver damage, mouth sores and low blood sugar. He added, “And as with any powdery substance, if cinnamon is inhaled, it can lead to respiratory issues like coughing, sneezing and difficulty breathing.”

Check your prescriptions before increasing cinnamon intake, experts advised. “Coumarin in cinnamon interacts with blood thinning medications, such as Warfarin and Coumadin, which prevents blood clots and improves circulation,” Frankeny said.

Gorin added: “Remember that there can be too much of a good thing and that balance is important. So make sure to cook with a variety of health-helping spices and herbs. There are so many, including turmeric and ginger.”

But still, it’s fun to spice it up.

While current research is trending positive, there is still more work to do. “Scientists are asking for more high-quality, long-term randomized control trials, the gold standard and most challenging research, to confirm any of these promising findings with cinnamon,” Frankeny said.

And although it’s not a panacea, there are still many positive benefits to adding some cinnamon to your life. Dansinger offered this advice: “Embrace the full glory of spices such as cinnamon to add variety and pizazz to your healthy meals.”

Just hold off on considering the spice “a silver bullet” or using it to replace doctor-prescribed treatments because more research still needs to be done on the spice, Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist, said. However, she added, “do consider it a part of your healthy, disease-protective lifestyle.”

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