Spice Up Your Diet: Cinnamon
This week, I'm dishing diet secrets and tips you can use to maximize your health. I thought I'd start at the ending, so to speak. I'm talking about herbs and spices. For many cooks, these are ingredients used as finishing touches. The flavor of delicate herbs, such as fresh basil, for example, shine through best when added at the end of cooking, or immediately before serving. Others, like bay leaf, are removed right before serving.
Of course, herbs and spices add flavor, interest, and zest to food. The right combination of spices can take an ordinary dish from bland and blah to complex and enticing.
But herbs and spices provide so much more than flavoring.Take cinnamon.
Cinnamon has long been prized for its spicy heat and comforting zing. Make from ground tree bark, cinnamon blends equally well with savory or sweet dishes, adding a Middle Eastern or North African note to many savory dishes, and a celebratory note of homey comfort to sweet dishes like fruit compotes or roasted sweet potatoes. Cinnamon is a health food in its own right. People with blood sugar issues can add a teaspoon or more to foods such as applesauce or cooked, steel-cut oats for better blood sugar control.
Research shows that adding cinnamon—particularly the Ceylon variety—is effective at reducing blood sugar levels by about 3 to 5 percent. Ceylon cinnamon is somewhat milder than the more common cassia variety. It's also more expensive. But it may be worth the extra expense to invest in this variety. Cassia contains coumarin, a compound that some individuals do not tolerate well. In sensitive people it can provoke reversible liver toxicity. Ceylon cinnamon features far less of this compound.
A recent meta-analysis—the kind of study that compares results from many different studies—concluded that cinnamon also helps lower blood lipid levels, including "bad" LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Higher levels of these lipids are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Cinnamon can't help diabetics avoid taking medication, but it may be useful for the millions of Americans believed to suffer from prediabetes; an undiagnosed form of slightly high blood sugar levels that often goes undetected for years before progressing to full blown type 2 diabetes.