Growing up, when someone said cinnamon, I thought sugar: Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon pop-tarts, cinnamon and sugar on buttered toast and cinnamon rolls….which are all pretty much made of the same three ingredients – wheat flour, sugar, and cinnamon. Swap out the wheat flour and add oats and you’ve got the popular highly sugared instant oatmeal – not much different from a cinnamon roll!
Though none of these options are healthy when it comes to balancing blood sugar and reversing diabetes, there is clearly some wisdom to the fact that nature made sugar and cinnamon so compatible and that’s because cinnamon can actually help you better metabolize sugar.
Cinnamon and (Blood) Sugar
Cinnamon has been shown to lower fasting blood glucose in both diabetics and prediabetics. (1)
It has also been shown to improve triglycerides, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol in diabetics. In this particular study, subjects consumed between 1-6 grams of cinnamon per day (1 teaspoon = 5 grams) over 40 days. (2)
One reason why cinnamon has such a powerful effect on blood sugar (and subsequently on your lipid profile) is because it contains chromium and polyphenols (healthy plant chemicals) that help improve insulin sensitivity (how well your cells respond to insulin). This helps remove sugar from the blood, reducing its negative impact on your red blood cells and blood vessels.
Of course, cinnamon is not to be used as a stand-alone treatment if you’re diabetic and it absolutely does not replace your medications (talk to your doctor), but many of my diabetic clients have used cinnamon along with other diet and lifestyle changes to gradually reverse their diabetes and get off medications.
What they noticed is that their post meal sugars (the most important value to measure) were significantly lower if they had taken cinnamon with their meal. In many cases, my diabetic clients saw readings that were up to 50 points lower.
If you’re prediabetic or your blood sugar has been creeping up, feel free to use cinnamon to help reverse the cycle and prevent actual onset of diabetes in combination with other lifestyle changes. It’s very safe to use and inexpensive.
By consuming either whole cinnamon sprinkled on food or capsules with each meal, you can affect how your cells respond to insulin and potentially need less insulin or metformin over time. You’ll want to keep track of your blood sugars and tell your doctor about your plans so that they can help you monitor your progress.
How to Incorporate Cinnamon into Your Diet
In the US, cinnamon is usually used in sweet foods, but abroad, it’s actually used in more savory dishes like meats and vegetables (think Indian foods and curries). Historically, it’s been regarded as a medicinal plant, especially due to its antimicrobial properties.
The key to this (and almost any new habit) is to use it in a way that is natural and easy for you. If you drink coffee every day, stir some cinnamon into it. Add it to oatmeal with just a touch of sweetness, either from a drizzle of maple syrup, natural brown sugar or even stevia. It will help you better metabolize the carbohydrate in your meal. Or be bold and add it to other dishes like beans or curries.
Drink cinnamon spice tea with or after a meal. Chai tea also contains cinnamon.
Many of my clients use about a teaspoon of cinnamon per day without worrying about dosage, however, if you really want know how much you’re getting and have the option of not having to taste it in foods, capsules might be best. With any supplement, I like to avoid store brands and visit a health food store where the employees have training and knowledge on supplements.
Best Form of Cinnamon – Depends on Dosage and the Individual
The majority of studies on cinnamon’s effect on blood sugar used the more popular Cassia cinnamon. This is what you are likely using if you bought it in the store.
There is another form of cinnamon, called Ceylon, that some experts recommend over Cassia, though there is less evidence of its efficacy. The major difference between the two is that Cassia can contain high levels of a naturally occurring compound called coumarin. If someone is sensitive to coumarin and they consume excessive amounts of cassia, it could cause liver toxicity.
Though this is highly uncommon, perhaps someone with known liver problems may want to use Ceylon as a precaution and check with their doctor first.
Otherwise, 1 tsp per day of Cassia cinnamon should be fine for just about anyone as that is the safe limit of coumarin for even sensitive individuals set by the European Food Safety Council. (3) It’s also a therapeutic dose, so it’s effective and safe.
Like everything else, experiment and observe your blood sugar to see what works for you.
Including cinnamon in your diet is just one small part of making smart incremental changes that you can stick to for the long haul.
Additional Fun Fact: cinnamon is also being studied for its positive benefits on memory and learning and may help halt Parkinson’s disease, so it’s definitely a spice to include in your diet on a regular basis. (4)
Now, I would love to hear from you: Do you already use cinnamon daily? Have you noticed any effect on your blood sugar? What are some creative ways you’ve found to incorporate it into food? Your experience can help someone else, so I encourage you to share. If you haven’t tried it yet, please do and let me know how it goes!