For people with diabetes, abnormally high blood sugar is an extremely significant challenge. Unless well controlled, high blood sugar leads to many health complications, including kidney and nerve damage, problems with your bones and joints, teeth infections and heart disease (1).
There are many medications to help combat high blood sugar – but they come with their own side effects.
As a result, many people look for ways to lower blood sugar naturally, with the help of various foods and their diets. One ingredient that can help with this is the spice cinnamon.
For that matter, you may have already heard about cinnamon and blood sugar. In this post, I will show you why the relationship is so important.
What is Cinnamon?
As you are probably aware, cinnamon is a common kitchen spice and already has a key place in modern diets. For example, it is often used with cinnamon rolls and is an especially prevalent flavor in the colder months.
Cinnamon is also frequently used as part of healthy hot drinks, like turmeric golden milk and as an addition to coffee or tea. I’ve also seen it used in keto dessert recipes and in fat bombs – so it makes for a highly versatile spice.
Cinnamon itself is actually the inner bark from a handful of trees in the Cinnamomum genus. The bark is dried and minimally processed before being sold in either stick or powder form.
There are two main types of cinnamon to consider.
The first is Cassia cinnamon, which comes from the species Cinnamomum cassia. This is the most common type of cinnamon and also the least expensive.
The other type if Ceylon cinnamon. The species here is Cinnamomum vernum and the cinnamon itself tends to have a finer texture when crushed.
Additionally, the stick of cinnamon contains many thin layers (like in the image), making it easy to identify visually. Ceylon cinnamon also has more antioxidants, which could mean it offers more health benefits (2).
However, the main difference between the two is the compound coumarin, which is much more concentrated in Cassia cinnamon. This compound acts as a natural blood thinner and may also cause liver damage (3).
As such, consuming too much Cassia cinnamon may cause harm, especially for people on medications. Levels of coumarin vary across products but a good general rule is to have no more than half a teaspoon of Cassia cinnamon per day.
So, if you want the health benefits from cinnamon (of which there are many) or its impact on blood sugar – Ceylon cinnamon is always going to be a better choice. Thankfully, there is no shortage of good Ceylon brands to choose from.
Cinnamon and Blood Sugar
Nutritionally, cinnamon doesn’t look amazing but this is a fairly common pattern for spices (turmeric and ginger are other examples). This happens because cinnamon’s health advantages come from plant-based compounds, including antioxidants (4).
The antioxidants alone can contribute to health benefits, potentially lowering disease risk and inflammation (5). Research has also shown that cinnamon is significant for reducing fasting blood sugar – and the various compounds may play a key role in that effect.
For example, one meta-analysis of research considered outcomes for 543 different patients (6). In it, the authors found that cinnamon significantly reduced levels of fasting glucose, along with triglycerides and total cholesterol.
Despite those limitations, research has also shown that cinnamon is well-tolerated (13), meaning that there are few risks associated with using it. This is good news, as it means that you can try cinnamon for yourself and see whether it helps your blood sugar levels.
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Other Impacts on Diabetes
Cinnamon’s main advantage for diabetes is the process of decreasing blood sugar levels. However, there are some other outcomes as well.
For example, some research suggests that cinnamon could help reduce hemoglobin A1c (also called HbA1C or just A1C). However, the results vary, with some studies finding positive results and others failing to do so (17,18,19).
With this in mind, cinnamon may help with HbA1C levels but there isn’t enough evidence to know for certain yet.
Additionally, cinnamon may help to decrease the risk of complications from diabetes. In particular, research shows that it can help decrease overall cholesterol levels and levels of LDL cholesterol (which is the ‘bad’ kind) (20).
At the same time, cinnamon can help increase levels of beneficial HDL cholesterol (21). By doing so, cinnamon could help to lower heart disease risk, which is normally higher in individuals with diabetes (22).
These areas add to the potential that cinnamon offers, showing that it is powerful for treating diabetes and the symptoms that go with it. Nevertheless, the strongest evidence comes from impacts on blood sugar. In contrast, more research is needed in these other areas to verify that the outcomes are indeed occurring.
Still, cinnamon is well-tolerated, so there is no need to wait for all of the evidence to come in.
Using Cinnamon Effectively
It’s clear that cinnamon can have some impact for people with diabetes, particularly in terms of blood sugar. But, how much should you be taking?
Well, there isn’t a simple answer – as the various research studies have all looked at different amounts. However, one found that 1 g/day, 3 g/day or 6 g/day of cinnamon resulted in roughly the same level of impact for blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol (26).
This suggests that as little as 1 gram per day of cinnamon may be enough to see significant health benefits. Likewise, you could go up to around 6 grams of cinnamon safely.
Estimates of grams of cinnamon per teaspoon vary considerably and there are also differences across brands and types of cinnamon. As a result, the best approach is to weigh a teaspoon of any cinnamon you buy, so that you know how many grams you are consuming.
Beyond dose, another consideration is the type of cinnamon. As mentioned previously, Ceylon cinnamon is safer and has greater potential for health benefits.
But, you do have to think about whether you want cinnamon as a spice or as a supplement. Many of the studies mentioned previously were conducted with a supplement and this may be a good way to go.
However, there are additional considerations with a supplement. For example, some will use different species of cinnamon entirely (like Cinnamonum burmannii) or may not mention the type of cinnamon. Likewise, supplements come from an unregulated industry, so the products do not always match up to the company’s claims.
If you are going to use a supplement, there are two main options that I recommend. The first is below, which comes from the brand Ceylon Cinnamon Shop
A second one comes from the brand NutriFlair and you can check that out here.
Supplements can work well, as you don’t have to worry about including cinnamon in your cooking. This might be especially appealing if you don’t actually like the flavor of cinnamon.
Still, using a supplement shouldn't the first choice. Instead, relying on whole foods and ingredients is always a healthier stance and gives you greater potential for benefits. If nothing else, it forces you to find new recipes to incorporate cinnamon and there is no shortage of these.
After all, cinnamon works well in both savory and sweet dishes, often providing an attractive balance of flavor. Additionally, many people choose to include cinnamon in hot drinks or in smoothies. For that matter, if you’re trying for weight loss, using cinnamon as part of a meal replacement smoothie or shake, could be a great idea.
Plus, when you use cinnamon in cooking, it gives you the chance to incorporate other healthy herbs, spices and ingredients. There is no doubt that doing so has many positive implications for wellbeing.
There is significant research supporting the impacts of cinnamon on blood sugar – more than enough to make the spice worth trying. If you do plan to, Ceylon cinnamon will always be the better choice, as it is safer and you can take a higher dose.
With Ceylon cinnamon, you should be able to take around 6 grams per day safely. This could be in your food, although there are also supplements out there. If you’re relying on Cassia, keep your intake lower, ideally less than half a teaspoon.
The power of cinnamon makes it well worth using, especially as it offers a range of other health benefits.
Nevertheless, it is only one aspect of keeping your blood sugar low. You will still need to have a healthy eating plan and pay close attention to the food that you eat (27).
For people with type 2 diabetes, a ketogenic diet can also help to ease many of the symptoms of diabetes. This is no surprise, as the diet contains hardly any carbs and these play a large role in blood sugar spikes. However, if you do so, it is important to monitor your ketone levels throughout and prevent them from getting too high (28).
Want to Improve Your Health?
Better health starts in the kitchen, with the food that you eat and the meals you prepare. Getting the best outcomes involves making good choices about the food and the ingredients that you use.
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