A favorite household spice, cinnamon has been traded as currency. In fact, the spice was once more valuable than gold and it has been prized for its medicinal properties since medieval times.
In the depths of winter, there’s nothing like tucking into a cinnamon-spiced dessert. And who doesn’t enjoy entering a kitchen filled with the warm, welcoming smell of this spice?
But beyond making you feel all cozy inside and helping a batch of muffins burst with flavor, the ancient spice is increasingly being studied for a string of potential health benefits. As much as we use and love cinnamon, few give much thought to how it may improve well-being and performance.
Here’s why this versatile spice may benefit cyclists—and some healthy ways to add cinnamon into your daily meal and dessert rotation.
What are the Health Benefits of Cinnamon?
Not only does cinnamon make so many different foods more delicious, but it may also bring with it some evidence-based health perks.
Perhaps the most robust science is related to cinnamon and improved blood sugar management. A handful of studies—including this one and this one—have found that higher intakes of cinnamon can improve blood sugar numbers in people with prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. In these individuals, fasting blood glucose levels are more likely to be lowered when consuming more cinnamon, so cinnamon may help diabetics better manage their condition and keep people with prediabetes—where their blood sugar levels are higher than normal—from developing the condition.
Fewer ups and downs in blood sugar numbers could improve how energetic you feel throughout the day with less brain fog, which can leave you more motivated to hop on the saddle for a hard-charging ride, but there has been little research regarding the role that cinnamon can play in blood sugar management in those who aren’t diabetic or prediabetic.
There is also data that has shown cinnamon use can improve cholesterol numbers, including lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and raising HDL (“good”) cholesterol in individuals with type 2 diabetes. This would certainly offer a degree of protection against heart disease, but again, we don’t know if this cinnamon-cholesterol link would transfer to people without metabolic problems like diabetes. This meta-analysis of some previous research found that while cinnamon supplementation can improve triglyceride and total cholesterol levels in both diabetics and non-diabetics, there isn’t enough robust evidence to say that cinnamon can improve LDL and HDL numbers. Likely, a cyclist with cholesterol numbers that are in the healthy range won’t glean major benefits from cinnamon in this case.
However, there is some definitive research on cinnamon that may benefit cyclists specifically. Cinnamon contains several bioactive compounds, including antioxidants such as phenolics and cinnamaldehyde (the substance that lends the spice its signature flavor and aroma). These compounds are likely responsible for the beneficial metabolic effects.
Cinnamaldehyde may improve insulin sensitivity, which would help with blood sugar management by shuttling more sugar out of the blood and into tissues. This could benefit cyclists because the better that muscles are at taking in glucose from the blood, the more of it that can be burned for fuel.
The antioxidants may have potent anti-inflammatory properties by scavenging cell-damaging free radicals, which may lower the risk for certain conditions like heart disease. These free-radical combating antioxidants that diminish cell damage and inflammation may also help cyclists recover better. In a study that compared the antioxidant activity of more than two dozen spices, cinnamon was found to be a front runner.
How Much Cinnamon Should You Consume?
The effective dose used in research is typically 1 to 6 grams, or around 0.5 to 2 teaspoons of cinnamon per day, which is an easy amount to add to your diet. At these levels, no serious side effects have been reported. But we don’t yet know if different varieties of cinnamon have differing health impacts at different intake levels.
Since cinnamon can make foods like oatmeal and baked goods taste sweeter, using it more liberally can help you cut back on the amount of added sugars you need to add to these items. One study in the Journal of Food Science found that people rated a low-sugar apple crisp dessert that was made with extra spices (including cinnamon) as being just as delicious as a higher sugar version that was lacking in spices.
Though cinnamon appears to have some positive impacts on our health, these will likely be canceled out if your main source for the spice is heavily processed foods like cinnamon rolls and raisin bread. Your best bet is to add it to healthier options like oatmeal and homemade baked goods that are prepared with whole-grain flour and less added sugar.
How to Add More Cinnamon to Your Diet
It should go without saying that nearly every dessert from cookies to crisps to pudding to muffins can benefit from the inclusion of cinnamon. But you can also use it in your breakfasts (pancakes, oatmeal, etc.), postride smoothies, and homemade energy bars and balls. Or, sprinkle it over any nut butter you slather on toast.
Don’t overlook its potential to add a depth of flavor to savory dishes, such as chili and stews, as well. You can also sprinkle it on winter squash and sweet potatoes before roasting. Cinnamon can also be included in a rub mixture for chicken, turkey, and steak.
Cinnamon sticks are great for infusing warm, sweet flavor into drinks, such as cider and mulled wine. Any recipe where you simmer or slow-cook the dish for an extended timeframe, such as a braised beef stew, is also well suited for whole cinnamon. When cooking with cinnamon sticks, gently smash them with the back of a knife so they release more flavor into the dish. You can even grind a cinnamon stick with your coffee beans.
Keep cinnamon (whole or ground) in a cool, dry spot in an airtight container. If you have a spice grinder, you can purchase whole cinnamon sticks and grind them into a powder to assure the greatest freshness.
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