For a spice that has a history going back over 4,000 years, you would think that there wouldn’t be much controversy over cinnamon. It is disappointing that people will jump all over the benefit of something before doing their homework. The benefits and risks of cinnamon are making headlines these days like never before.
Most of the confusion surrounding cinnamon is that there are two varieties. The two species, Cassia and Ceylon are used interchangeably to flavor both sweet and savory dishes. The issue is whether both types of cinnamon have the same medicinal properties and safety profile.
What is the skinny on Cinnamon?
The cinnamon that is sold in your basic grocery stores and health food stores is primarily derived from Cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon, typically from China, Vietnam or Indonesia contains coumarin, a natural component of the cassia spice. It is found in varying amounts in different brands. When consumed at high levels, coumarin can cause liver damage in susceptible people.
Coumarin can also interact with other drugs including aspirin, NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, etc) and other anticoagulants such as warfarin (Coumadin), to name a few potential complications. I have several friends ingesting huge amounts to help control Type 2 diabetes. And, let’s face it—we are not a society of moderation. We want to get better, NOW.
Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has warned that anyone who regularly eats a lot of cassia cinnamon—more than two grams (0.07 ounce) a day for a 132-pound adult—could be at risk for side effects.
The European Union has created guidelines for the maximum content of coumarin in food items. In Denmark, food authorities have placed a limit on how much cinnamon can be used in the nation’s famous cinnamon swirls, causing a great rallying cry of “viva la cinnamon” by bakers and pastry eaters alike.
So while eating an occasional cinnamon roll is perfectly fine, there have been articles encouraging people with type 2 diabetes to use cinnamon in large amounts—as much as a teaspoon at a time—in their oatmeal, on toast, in coffee, sprinkled on fruit, and anything else you can think of, to lower their blood sugar.
These studies claim that cinnamon will not only lower blood sugar levels but also reduce bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and raise good HDL cholesterol. That might encourage some people to start consuming high doses of *inexpensive cinnamon from their grocery shelves. Wrong answer. Let’s move on to Ceylon cinnamon
What is Ceylon Cinnamon?
Ceylon cinnamon, or Cinnamomum verum, comes from a small tree native to Sri Lanka. Ceylon cinnamon is lighter in color, and tastes “stronger and hotter, while Ceylon cinnamon is full of lighter, brighter citrus tones.
“From a safety point of view, Ceylon cinnamon is better,” says study author Ikhlas A. Khan, assistant director for the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi’s School of Pharmacy in Oxford, Miss. Not everyone is biologically susceptible to the liver damage, but there is certainly a risk.”
Studies have found blood-sugar does benefit from a sprinkle a day of Ceylon cinnamon, says Angela Ginn, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Is it going to eliminate medications? Probably not.
Are there any other solutions?
I found one source that said pouring boiling water on the cassia cinnamon using a paper coffee filter is a way of extracting the coumarin. Per that article, ‘the active compound in cinnamon is water soluble but coumarin is not, so you get the benefit without the worry.’
Health food stores now sell cinnamon extracts that have been purified so that there is no coumarin. One such brand of water-soluble cinnamon extract is Cinnulin PF. Cinnamon extracts from the bark of the cinnamon tree have also been used traditionally as medicine throughout the world.
I found many online sites that sell Ceylon Cinnamon. Amazon, for one, and my favorite spice broker Penzeys. If you have not yet tried Penzeys spices, you are in for a treat. In my opinion there’s Penzeys, and the rest of the guys. You can find them at www.penzeys.com.
*And remember, organic, or natural does not mean real.
Sorry, I don’t mean to complicate our already complicated lives, but I do try to keep us healthy.
Cinnamon Roll Recipe
And this Cinnamon Roll Recipe is not low fat—sometimes we need to indulge.