I recently wrote a piece for Women’s Health where I discussed potential immune-boosting foods (here's a similar piece online on my tips for immune-boosting foods at San Diego Family).
One of those I just happened to mention: Ceylon cinnamon.
Cinnamon happens to be one of my favorite flavors and with Fall rapidly approaching, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere, what a perfect time to consider incorporating this spice into some of your favorite fall dishes. If you’re not quite sure whether you’re willing to incorporate more of this spice into your foods, let me quote the great Jerry Seinfeld here:
People love cinnamon. It should be on tables at restaurants along with salt and pepper. Anytime anyone says, ‘Oh, this is so good. What's in it?' the answer invariably comes back, cinnamon. Cinnamon. Again and again.
Alright, so it’s tasty, but does it have any health benefits?
The Difference Between Types of Cinnamon
There are different types of cinnamon. While they may basically taste the same to us, each species contains a different combination of compounds. In the U.S., the most commonly available forms are:
- Cassia cinnamon (sometimes called Cinnamomum aromaticum)
- Cinnamomum burmanii
- Cinnamomum loreirii
- Ceylon cinnamon (the most expensive and least available)
Sometimes Ceylon cinnamon is known as “true cinnamon.”
I should mention here that I’m NOT talking about cinnamon sugar. Because ground cinnamon is such a strong flavor, adding sugar to it more appealing to our taste buds. But I’m discussing pure ground cinnamon, with no added sugars.
What each of these species have in common is that they contain proanthocyanidins (PACs). PACs are antioxidants that are thought to provide health benefits. PACs aren’t just found in cinnamon but in other plant-based foods as well. Cinnamon also contains cinnamaldehyde, which may prevent the growth of bacteria. It’s these compounds that may provide health benefits.
Potential Health Benefits of Cinnamon
We need to look at the research and see whether any well-designed studies have been performed to examine the effects of cinnamon on health. Luckily, studies like these exist. In fact, cinnamon has been found to help lower blood sugar in those with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes and those with pre-diabetes. Since diabetes is a disease where there is too much sugar floating around in the bloodstream, decreasing this amount can be beneficial.
There is also some evidence to suggest that the antioxidant properties of PACs may help reduce systemic inflammation in the body. Systemic inflammation is thought to cause a number of chronic health conditions from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease.
How much cinnamon do you need to consume? Believe it or not, just ½ teaspoon per day may do the trick.
Potential Risks Associated with Cinnamon
There is one concern with cinnamon, particularly if you are thinking of consuming it as a supplement. The more commonly found species like cassia cinnamon may contain high amounts of something called coumarin. Too much coumarin could harm the liver. You don’t always know which species of cinnamon you’re getting with supplements, so you may end up consuming lots of cassia cinnamon, which contains higher amounts of coumarin. Consuming about 6 mg of coumarin per day could be enough to harm the liver. Ceylon cinnamon on the other hand, does not contain high levels of coumarin. This may be why you have heard that Ceylon cinnamon better for you.
There have actually been a number of studies on the effects of turmeric and its role in preventing systemic inflammation. Turmeric is that bright yellow spice that’s often used in Eastern dishes.
Which Turmeric Supplement Should You Buy?
You can purchase turmeric in its powdered, spice form, or as a dietary supplement. But the quality of turmeric can vary widely across brands… even spice brands. Lead, cadmium, and arsenic, which are all potentially harmful, have been found in some of these products.
According to ConsumerLab.com, an independent 3rd party organization that tests for the quality and purity of some of these products on the market, organic varieties of turmeric were free of these potentially harmful chemicals. So when you purchase turmeric as a spice at your local grocery store, it may be a good idea to buy organic.
What is the Proper Dosage of Turmeric?
How much turmeric do you need to take? It’s hard to say — turmeric has been studied as a treatment for a number of conditions, from autoimmune diseases to cancer. The dosages studied vary.
What I can say is that consuming more than 8,000 mg of turmeric per day is not advised. This would be like consuming 3-4 teaspoons per day. One to 2 teaspoons per day seems to be fine for most people. However, turmeric can interfere with certain medications, and in some people, may increase risk for kidney stones and possibly liver damage. As always, ask your doctor about taking either of these.
Turmeric is not so easy for the body to absorb. To help our bodies absorb it more efficiently, it’s best to consume it with some fat and black pepper. Also, know that turmeric can lose some of its potency when it’s heated.
Last, after it’s absorbed, the body seems to process turmeric fairly quickly, so it’s a good idea to consume it twice a day (maybe a teaspoon in the morning and a teaspoon at night).
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re using cinnamon as a flavoring, say as a topping on your oatmeal or your baked sweet potatoes, or consuming it as a supplement, be sure the product you purchase is made up of mostly Ceylon cinnamon. You’ll get the most benefit with a lower risk of some of the potentially harmful effects.
When it comes to turmeric, ask your doctor if 2 teaspoons per day is safe for you, and think about consuming it twice a day with some fat and black pepper.
Finally, be sure you’re buying quality products. That way you’ll get the most benefit with a lower risk of some of the potentially harmful effects.