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To most people, cinnamon reminds Christmas or absolutely divine pastries. But this great spice doesn't just make your house smell like Christmas. Behind its mellow look lies an ocean of health perks that many aren't even aware of.

What's more, there's a big difference between cinnamon types and you might be easily consuming the “wrong cinnamon”. And you might have done it your whole life.

Cinnamon's rich history

Cinnamon has been close to our hearts for centuries, having been used as early as about 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt. It was not just highly sought after, it was considered a great gift that was only served to monarchs.

Interestingly, ancient egyptians also used cinnamon to embalm mummies.

Since cinnamon was considered a rare and exotic gift, it was also insanely expensive. Roman author Pliny the Elder even said that about 11.5 ounces of cinnamon is worth more than a labourer would earn in 4 years.

There was always a shade of mystery surrounding the origin of cinnamon, especially since it was taken as a sign of status – something that only the richest could consume. According to various sources, it's thought that cinnamon originates from Sri Lanka.

Today, 4 countries make up 99% of cinnamon production: Indonesia, China, Vietnam and Sri Lanka.

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Cinnamon types: Cassia vs Ceylon

What many people don't know is that there are actually 2 types of cinnamon: cassia cinnamon (also known as the Chinese cinnamon), the one most of us know since it's the commonly sold type and Ceylon cinnamon, known as the “true cinnamon”.

Cassia cinnamon is so common that almost all supermarkets carry only that. It originates from Southern China and is much darker in color. When touched, it also feels a bit rougher than Ceylon cinnamon and it's taste is much stronger. Actually, once you try Ceylon cinnamon, you might not even recognize it as cinnamon since your taste buds might be used to the strong taste of Cassia cinnamon.

Experts consider Cassia cinnamon to be lower quality and it's also much cheaper than the Ceylon variety.

Ceylon cinnamon, as you might recall from its name, originates from Sri Lanka and is considered to be the real cinnamon – the one fitting for kings. Its taste and aroma are much milder and its color is light brown, contrary to Cassia's darker tone.

Though it's definitely not as expensive as it once was and everyone can afford Ceylon cinnamon, it's a bit higher priced than Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon variety isn't usually available in supermarkets and instead, is found in specialty spice stores or organic shops. Regarding the price, RawSpiceBar, for example, sells 2 ounces of Ceylon cinnamon for $5.


Why you shouldn't eat Cassia cinnamon

Taste, aroma and looks are not the only things that make Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon as similar as night and day. Unfortunately, Cassia cinnamon is related to health risks that you wouldn't encounter with Ceylon cinnamon.

Cassia cinnamon is very rich in a natural compound called coumarin. However, several studies have proven that coumarin might cause kidney, liver, and lung damage or even cancer. As new evidence is found, daily intake limits are also being changed – for example, coumarin's tolerable daily intake was 0.2 mg/lb but that has been corrected to just 0.05 mg/lb.

Roughly, that means that just a couple of teaspoons could easily put you over that limit.

Though coumarin is present in Ceylon cinnamon as well, it's just in trace amounts – 0.004%, which is about 250 times less than in Cassia cinnamon.

Coumarin is considered to be so dangerous that EU has introduced a regulation to restrict the usage of coumarin in pastries, in order to reduce the chance that someone might go over the daily intake level.

If you consume cinnamon on a daily basis (and eat about 1-2 teaspoons per day), it's wise to opt for Ceylon cinnamon instead, so you could reap cinnamon's health benefits without the added danger. Even if it's pretty hard to reach a lethal level of coumarin by consuming cinnamon, it's still possible to cause some damage to your body.

Opting for Ceylon cinnamon removes that threat and you can enjoy cinnamon risk-free.

Cinnamon health benefits

Despite cinnamon having roots in ancient cultures, there's still surprisingly little research done regarding cinnamon's possible health benefits. Findings are still pretty inconsistent: while some studies claim cinnamon to have some health benefits, some experts say that studies done in humans don't actually support those claims.

Many findings need further research but currently, these are thought to be cinnamon's greatest health perks:

Cinnamon might help with diabetes and blood sugar

One 2015 review found that consuming a few grams of cinnamon might lower glucose level and improve the overall health of people who are suffering from type 2 diabetes.

Another study found that people who had just consumed cinnamon had greater insulin sensitivity right away and that effect lasted for an impressive 12 hours.

It's also thought that cinnamon keeps blood sugar under control after a meal.

Can cinnamon truly help people who are suffering from type 2 diabetes? Experts are still arguing over that but so far, findings are impressive. If you have diabetes, including a little bit of Ceylon cinnamon might be a good way to improve your health.

Cinnamon is rich in antioxidants

Antioxidants are the key to better health, helping to fight off free radicals that wreak havoc in your body. Cinnamon is rich in one specific antioxidant called polyphenols which have also shown to lower blood sugar levels, but in addition, these antioxidants might also improve your heart's health, lower the risk of cancer and even boost memory.

Cinnamon is actually one of the richest spices when it comes to the antioxidant count.

There's also a good reason why ancient egyptians used cinnamon in the embalming process: cinnamon is a natural preservative.

And beyond that, it's even thought to have anti-inflammatory properties. Essentially, cinnamon is a powerhouse of health, mainly thanks to its polyphenol content.

Cinnamon might improve your brain's health

Though further studies are needed, some researchers suggest that cinnamon may improve the ability to think, focus and it might even prevent neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease.

One study found that cinnamon might have anti-inflammatory effect on the central nervous system and it might even have some effect against MS.

At the moment, there are no human studies available to confirm this theory but considering how easy it is to include cinnamon in your daily diet, these possible health benefits are just added perks.

From anti-HIV properties to preventing cancer

Several other studies have proven cinnamon's health benefits and have claimed it to have many different positive effects, such as:

  • possible anti-HIV properties (in the sense that cinnamon might one day be present in HIV medications)
  • lower blood pressure
  • possible antitumor and anticancer properties

All these effects are linked to cinnamon's anti-inflammatory effect and high antioxidant content. Even if more studies are needed, it's clear that cinnamon might have great health benefits (but only if you opt for the “true” cinnamon, a.k.a Ceylon variety).

Cinnamon side effects

Cinnamon's main side effect is related to the aforementioned coumarin which may endanger your liver, especially if you already have problems with your liver. Coumarin might also affect coagulation, so if you are taking anticoagulants, you should definitely consult with your doctor before consuming cinnamon.

As mentioned, these side effects are mainly relevant if you consume the Cassia variety which is especially rich in coumarin. Ceylon cinnamon contains so little coumarin that it's barely detectable and thus, it's virtually impossible to suffer from coumarin-related problems when eating Ceylon cinnamon.

But remember to still consult with your doctor first, before making any dietary changes.

Regarding other side effects, cinnamon doesn't really have any particular side effects. Some people might experience an allergic reaction, but that's about it. Cinnamon can be dangerous because of coumarin but other than that, you shouldn't experience any problems.

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How much cinnamon is safe for consumption?

Most people consume cinnamon in such a small amount that it should never pose any problems (and can only bring health benefits). However, even cinnamon can be dangerous if consumed in large amounts.

The most notable such danger came up when “cinnamon challenge” started trending. Dry ground cinnamon can irritate lungs in such a way that the damage is permanent – and lungs can even collapse. Cinnamon should always be added to your food as an extra taste, but never consumed in large amounts in its dry powder form.

Cassia cinnamon should be limited to no more than a teaspoon per day, but even that can already exceed the daily intake level due to the highly variable coumarin content in Cassia cinnamon.

As experts advise, cinnamon should be consumed sparingly, even though Ceylon cinnamon might offer plenty of health benefits.


What about babies and cinnamon?

Considering all the health benefits of Ceylon cinnamon, you are probably wondering if your children can eat cinnamon as well. And when can babies have cinnamon, if at all.

The quick answer is: yes, cinnamon is completely safe for babies (but keep in mind that we are still referring to Ceylon cinnamon). The American Academy of Pediatrics has said that babies can have cinnamon when they are over six months old. Just keep in mind to always mix the cinnamon in baby's food. Babies should never have cinnamon in the powdered form since they can inhale it and suffer serious lung problems.

If you wish to spice up your baby's food, adding cinnamon is a completely safe and tasty choice!

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