Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

Around the holidays, there’s nothing like treating yourself and tucking into a spicy, sugary dessert. However, baking these sweet treats is often just as pleasurable in many cases because they fill kitchens with the warm, welcoming smell of cinnamon.In addition to helping desserts burst with flavor, the ancient spice is also used in savory dishes, such as baked cinnamon-thyme chicken or spicy lamb and veggie shepherd’s pie.

Some studies have also found that cinnamon can provide certain health benefits. Dietitian Candace O’Neill RD, LDN, shares why this versatile spice can boost the body and some healthy ways to add cinnamon into your meal rotation. Spices such as ginger are often touted for being tasty and healthy. Cinnamon, which is actually bark that comes from a tree, can also have some health benefits. Herbs and spices often contain antioxidants, powerful compounds that can reduce your risk of developing heart disease. In fact, O’Neill says cinnamon’s benefits are thought to be from one of its antioxidant compounds, cinnamaldehyde, which gives it that rich aroma and flavor and can also reduce inflammation.

Cinnamon is also a staple of the Mediterranean diet, a heart-healthy way of eating that emphasizes cooking with herbs and spices. “American food culture doesn’t have a lot of those spices naturally built into our diet,” O’Neill says. “Because we live in this fast-paced, on-the-go society, a lot of our food is packaged and pre-prepared. A lot of these potent antioxidants are lacking from our diet.”

For decades, scientists have been looking into whether cinnamon can help people with Type 2 diabetes reduce their blood sugar levels. One study found that people on insulin therapy who took cinnamon supplements daily saw marked (and enduring) decreases after a 40-day regimen. “When people stopped taking the cinnamon, they saw some continuation of benefits namely, the blood sugar levels remained lower than at the start of the test,” O’Neill says.

However, cinnamon shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for more traditional treatment. In fact, the American Diabetes Association specifically states cinnamon “isn’t as effective as your Type 2 diabetes medication” and notes that supplements “do nothing to help people with Type 2 diabetes achieve treatment goals or provide a reliable drop in blood sugar.” 

Participants in the same study above also had improved cholesterol and triglyceride levels in addition to lower blood sugar. A separate meta-analysis of 10 studies also found that daily cinnamon consumption led to a “statistically significant” decrease in total cholesterol, as well as LDL, or bad cholesterol. However, because the amount of cinnamon in a dose varies as does how long you take extra cinnamon it’s not possible to say definitively that the spice can be used as a treatment to reduce high cholesterol.

When you’re looking for baking cinnamon, you’re most likely going to buy ground cinnamon found in our spice traditional shop. However, you can also buy cinnamon sticks or cinnamon tea, while cinnamon oil is also popular as a flavoring for candy or hard cider. And while cinnamon is also available as an essential oil, it’s not recommended as a health booster, since most studies are done using dried cinnamon or supplements.