It’s widely understood that sprinkling a little bit of cinnamon on top of oatmeal, a latte, a Cinnabon cinnamon roll, or honestly just about anything, makes whatever you’re eating or drinking taste infinitely better. But from my experience, the things that tend to taste the best (by that I mean, specifically doughnuts) tend to be also be pretty bad for you. That’s why I can’t help but wonder whether my habit of adding cinnamon to 90 percent of the foods I ingest is actually healthy. So to understand whether it has any benefits, I consulted with two experts who broke down the spice for me.
First off, what is cinnamon? Of course, we all know what cinnamon is, in theory: It’s that brownish thing we use when baking and (as I said) sprinkle on top of our foods. Beyond that, registered dietitian Brigitte Zeitlin explained to me that cinnamon is a spice that comes from the bark of a plant. Sometimes you can find it as a stick, which she says is the “truest form,” but cinnamon can also be broken down into a powder. Sarah Ball, certified health coach and registered dietitian for the University of Michigan Department of Nutritional Sciences, added that the spice’s main compound is called Cinnamaldehyde – and that’s what gives cinnamon its distinct flavor and smell, as well as its medicinal properties.
Is it healthy or what? As it turns out, cinnamon is, in fact, good for you when ingested in small quantities. First of all, cinnamon is known to be a powerful antioxidant, which means it finds these cells that roam our bodies called free radicals, and squashes them. Free radicals, Zeitlin explained, cause chronic illnesses and diseases, in addition to premature aging both cognitively and physically (so, they contribute to early onset of dementia, as well as wrinkles on your face). Cinnamon also has anti-inflammatory benefits, which means it can help stave off certain autoimmune diseases and cancers. It also is believed to help regulate your blood sugar (and thereby reduce your risk of diabetes) and is thought to help lower your bad cholesterol, though the Mayo Clinic points out there still needs to be more research to figure out cinnamon’s actual effect on cholesterol.
So, can I keep adding it to foods? According to both experts, yes, it’s fine to add cinnamon to your foods — as long as you don’t add too much. Zeitlin told me that if you get too much cinnamon, it can have a toxic effect on your body. “But if you are sprinkling cinnamon on a few different items each day, you are not going to hit toxic levels. We’re talking sprinkles, not scoops,” she added. Zeitlin also explained that cinnamon is naturally sweet, so adding it to your foods instead of sugar is a pretty healthy option.
However, Ball noted that if you do find yourself having more than a teaspoon of cinnamon in a day, you might want to make sure that you’re ingesting ceylon cinnamon, which can be found in health-food stores. Apparently most of the cinnamon added to foods is a type called cassia — and while it’s totally fine in small quantities, it contains a compound that can cause health issues if consumed in large amounts, according to Ball.
Does this mean I should be taking cinnamon supplements? Well, Zeitlin told me that while you can find cinnamon supplements on your drugstore shelf, you don’t actually need cinnamon the way you need vitamins. Furthermore, the beneficial amount of cinnamon a person might want to have in a day is too small to even warrant a pill. That’s why, Zeitlin said, it’s better to get it through the whole food than a supplement.
Who shouldn’t have cinnamon? First and foremost, if you’re allergic to cinnamon, steer clear of it — and if you’re not sure whether you’re allergic or not, check with your doctor. But Zeitlin told me that cinnamon is also not a good idea for people who have liver problems. “Too much cinnamon if you have liver issues can increase those liver problems,” she said.