It's not just the whole foods we consume that can have a positive (or negative) effect or our bodies, the spices we add can really introduce an entirely new spectrum of health to the foods we enjoy. Today I'd like to discuss what may be one of my favorite spices of all time, cinnamon. I love cinnamon! I love it on oatmeal, with apples, in soup, and of course on some sugary sweets. Cinnamon compliments all sorts of tastes so well, and in my neck of the woods it shows up in all sorts of year round recipes. Boy do I love it with apple cider, or in healthy pumpkin pie my mom has gotten so good at making. It's a flavor I never want to live without, and I'm sure most of you can agree with my affinity for the stuff. The great news is: this spice is also quite healthy! It's got all sorts of little nutritional nuances that in the end can really do you and your body some long term good. But first, as always, let's look at where this stuff comes from in the first place.
Cinnamon is actually collected from the inner bark of a tree, specifically trees of the Cinnamomum genus. It's originally native to southeast asia, but has obviously become one of the most widely used spices in the world. That's why you'll be able to find cinnamon in basically any grocery store you happen across. All the better for us, right? Cinnamon is actually harvested through coppacing, which basically means chopping down many young trees that are all growing from one stump. These trees rapidly replace themselves, and therefore the cinnamon yield is very consistent. As with most things, there are all types of cinnamon, but we won't concern ourselves with the details at this point. Let's just get down to the fun little nutritional facts that make cinnamon such a uniquely healthy spice!
Stabilizes Blood Sugar: Cinnamon is actually quite effective at mimicking insulin in our body, and therefore has been shown to decrease/stabilize blood sugar levels. This is not only great news for diabetics, but also those looking to lose weight more quickly, as your body will be less likely to store fat when blood sugar levels are stable. So sprinkle some cinnamon on your morning cereal, oatmeal, toast, waffle, etc. and you'll be more likely to keep your weight loss on track (as long as that cereal/toast/waffle is full of whole wheat, fiber, and low sugar of course!)
Lowers Bad Cholesterol: There was a study done a while ago that showed cinnamon may have an effect on lowering bad (LDL) cholesterol. Unfortunately more recent studies have shown that cinnamon may have no real effect on cholesterol levels, but hey, adding a little here and there to the healthy foods you love definitely won't hurt you! I always say that if there's at least a chance something's healthy for you, you might as well give it a shot, right? Many Americans would love to have a lower level of bad cholesterol, and a sprinkle of cinnamon is just one more little step you can take!
Anti-Clotting: Your blood works much more effectively if it's flowing smoothly. In your blood, there are little cells called platelets, which are meant to clump together under "emergency" circumstances like a cut or gash in which a vein/artery is punctured. The platelets clot up and stop the leak, and in turn keep you alive. That's all fine and dandy, but unless you really need the clotting action, platelets can inhibit smooth bloodflow if they clot together when they're not supposed to. Cinnamon actually helps reduce unnecessary clotting (without affecting clotting when it's needed, don't worry), and therefore can help your blood flow more smoothly, taking a load off your heart and circulatory system.
Brain Booster: Surprisingly, cinnamon has been shown to have a positive effect on cognitive function! Even smelling the spice increases brain activity, and several studies have shown that cinnamon flavored gum or even just the scent of cinnamon can help students score marginally better on tests. Cool stuff, right?
Other Nutrients: Cinnamon can also give you a little bit more of the stuff your body really needs right along with your whole foods, like critical vitamins and minerals. Courtesy of WHfoods.com, here's a nutritional profile for cinnamon:
|calcium||52.10 mg||5.2||7.3||very good|
I for one love cinnamon over almost any other spice. It's easy to fit into my diet, adds so much flavor and character to food, and is just plain healthy! You really can't go wrong. I hope some of you learn to enjoy it as much as I do, and try it with a few of your favorite foods. Seriously, oatmeal and cinnamon go together like bread and butter. Apples too =]. What are you waiting for, start sprinkling!