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The Safer Cinnamon

There are four common types of cinnamon: Vietnamese, Chinese (cassia), Indonesian, and Ceylon (true) cinnamon. Which is safest in terms of the level of coumarin, which may damage the liver at toxic doses?

April 24, 2012 |
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Images thanks to photo8, Badagnani and FotoosVanRobin via Wikimedia Commons.

Transcript

Second in spice popularity only to black pepper, cinnamon is the powdered inner bark of four different species of cinnamomum trees. There’s Vietnamese cinnamom, Chinese cinnamon, Indonesian, and Ceylon. A recent review raised concerns about one of them because of a compound called coumarin, which new human data suggests may be toxic to the liver. It’s been banned as a food additive, but still can be found naturally in, Chinese cinnamon, also known as cassia cinnamon. It is not found in significant amounts in so-called true cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon, and we don’t have enough data on the other two.
Now these traffic lights are not for recreational users; these are only for people going out of their way to add like a teaspoon or more to their daily diet, which ideally should be everyone, since it appears so amazingly health promoting— anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antitumor, cardiovascular, cholesterol-lowering, and immunomodulatory effects. Especially useful for those with diabetes… or prediabeties.
So if you are eating cinnamon every day, great— just make sure it’s the right kind. In the UK, if it says cinnamon then it’s Ceylon cinnamon—Chinese cinnamon is labeled cassia. In the U.S., though, they’re both just labeled cinnamon, and since Chinese is cheaper that’s what most cinnamon is on our shelves so make sure it specifically says Ceylon.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Why would one want to go out of their way to add cinnamon to their diet? It's on my 5 Superfood Bargains and a component of The Healthiest Beverage. As with the Indian gooseberry video Amla Versus Diabetes, though, one should concentrate on reversing prediabetes and diabetes with a plant-based diet in the first place (see How To Treat Diabetes). See my 13 other videos on spices, including another cautionary one on overdoing turmeric (Oxalates in Cinnamon) and hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.

Make sure to check out Update on Cinnamon for Blood Sugar Control for the latest.

For more context, check out my associated blog post:  Cinnamon for Diabetes

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Why would one want to go out of their way to add cinnamon to their diet? It’s on my 5 Superfood Bargains and a component of The Healthiest Beverage. As with the Indian gooseberry video Amla Versus Diabetes, though, one should concentrate on reversing prediabetes and diabetes with a plant-based diet in the first place (see How To Treat Diabetes). See my 13 other videos on spices, including another cautionary one on overdoing turmeric (Oxalates in Cinnamon) and hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/TanTruong/ Tan Truong

    Thank you again.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/czainesun/ czainesun

    Thanks so much for all the information you post! Would it be possible for you to post the respective botanical names of each type of cinnamon? For instance Cassia is Cinnamomum burmannii (I think). Are ‘sweet cinnamon’ and Cinnamomum verum the same as Ceylon?

    I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have readily accessible sources for defending my lifestyle to those around me. Thank you again!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/paul3917/ paul3917

    Anyone know where we can get a bargain on Ceylon cinnamon? I’ve been buying mine at Costco, and I just checked. It’s Vietnamese. I found organic Celon cinnamon at $20 per pound at iherb.com with free shipping until the end of April 2012. Is that a good price?

    • linedive

       Thanks for the tip about iherb, Paul – that is the best price I’ve seen.  Beats amazon by $7/lb for the same product.  When I placed my order, it said I could pass along this code to others for $5 off their first order POD782 .  And, I noticed you can pick one freebie per order (click on the tab at the top of the page for choices) – bummed that they were out-of-stock on the free goji berries!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/editor-d/ editor d

    Wow this is really good to know since I put about a teaspoon or more in my oats or cream of wheat every morning. Thanks again Dr!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/andy/ Andy

    I have McCormick. Checking their web site it does not say anything for the regular product. For the ‘Gourmet’ version, is says its “Saigon Cinnamon”. I put a bunch on my cereal every morning, so I’ll switch brands to something that definitively says Ceylon.

  • Tom

    How important when buying spices is organic vs non-organic? I have been purchasing spices and herbs from PENZEYS but they are NOT organic.  

    • DrDons

       It is always preferable to buy organic. By checking product websites you can usually get information about the products and the companies policies. Occasionally you will have to email the company for some information. It is best to keep things in perspective however. Most chemical exposure to chemicals (e.g. carcinogens, pesticides, heavy metals, endocrine disruptors) occur through the consumption of animal products. 

  • Sarah

     I’m buying a 1 lb bag of Ceylon cinnamon from iherb; do you think powdered cinnamon is just as good as ground cinnamon or whole cinnamon?  Since the bag is going to last a while I wanted to make sure it’ll stay in optimal condition.  Should I refrigerate it?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/U4QMWZ5TU7VQAEVAGNV42KAONI margaret

    Penzeys.com sells cinnamon that is labeled by type.  I am a customer of theirs and am only sharing info, I do not benefit personally from this info.

  • http://nutrientuniverse.blogspot.co.uk/ JAMESKB

    UK are starting to use cassia more. Bought some today, it was just called cinnamon. Tastes horrible.

  • Yalechase

    My local herb store is a mail order company as well as a retail outlet. I checked and the cinnamon we buy from them is from Indonesia. The manager said if I could get him an article on cinnamon and blood sugar that showed the cinnamon from Ceylon is better than cinnamon from Indonesia, he would see if he could switch. Can you reply with a link to your reference article on this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Martie.says.hi Martie Anderson

    Well, this is amazing information. I consume lots of cinnamon. Put it in my Chai Tea and even take it as a supplement. Now I’m kind of worried. Last time I was at the doctor’s for a physical, my liver emzymes were up. Now I’m wondering if that might have had something to do with it. :-/ Thanks for the info.

  • lovestobevegan

    Sticks to Your Ribs Rather than Your Buns Cinnabun

    - 1 cup millet
    - 3 cups water
    - 1 heaping tbsp Ceylon cinnamon http://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-safer-cinnamon/
    - 1 heaping tsp ground ginger
    - ¼ tsp ground cloves
    - ¼ tsp nutmeg
    - 2 handfuls raisins
    - 1 tbsp date sugar
    - 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
    - Pinch sea salt

    Place all ingredients in a pot and stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and leave pot on the hot burner, covered, until millet cooked and fluffy, about 40 minutes. Serve topped with flaxseed meal, nuts, and fresh fruit.

    Mix a cup of leftovers with 2 tbsp flaxseed meal, one sliced banana, handful almonds and top with a little boiling water or rice/almond milk.

    Bookmark my new Plant-Based Emporium Facebook page for all my latest recipes. https://www.facebook.com/PlantBasedEmporium?ref=stream&hc_location=timeline

    ~Complements of lovestobevegan

  • Jean

    To buy organic Ceylon cinnamon or C. verum at a reasonable price see http://www.mountainroseherbs.com . They have many great products.

  • Michael Gerard

    I apologize for replying too late but Paul the Vietnamese “Saigon Cinnamon” from Costco is absolutely not ceylon cinnamon. It is a type of Cassia cinnamon.

  • Jay

    This was a suggested video for me this morning on YouTube as I was having a break and sipping my morning smoothie. There’s about a teaspoon of cinnamon in my smoothie recipe so I shot into the kitchen to read the label – Cassia! I’m in the UK and the brand I used is Schwartz. Schwartz are the main supplier of herbs and spices to UK supermarkets.

    Thank you for the information. Off to the local organic deli I go!!

  • pj

    I absolutely love the sweetness of Vietnamese Cinnamon. When will the data be in that one???? Anyone know. I use teaspoon or more a day on my oatmeal and other cereal. I have a plant-strong diet.

  • DaddyRob1980

    Hmm, interesting to know. Guess I’ll cut back on the Saigon for now considering I use about a quarter cup or so a day on my coffee, lol should probably cut back on that too! Thanks for the info

  • ArnsteinBjone

    Hyla Cass, M.D. (assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and chair of the Dept. of Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the American University of Complementary Medicine) write in her article “Controlling Blood Sugar with Cinnamon” (http://www.life-enhancement.com/magazine/article/1153-controlling-blood-sugar-with-cinnamon) about the coumarin problem:

    “Fortunately, Mother Nature has solved this problem nicely, by making coumarin fat-soluble, not water-soluble.”

    Extracting all the good stuff in cinnamon by boiling crushed Ceylon cinnamon (i.e making tea…), should the solve the coumarin problem..? (for those who mainly get their cinnamon via tea/lemonades)

    But, it leaves me with two questions:

    1) Is the amount of procyanidins (type A) in cinnamon connected to the amount of coumarin..?

    Is it a lot of procyanidins (type A) in the cassia, and almost nothing in the Ceylon cinnamon..?

    2) If yes, I assume I then can safely switch from Ceylon to cassia ..? (since 99% of my cinnamon intake are as tea)

  • Suranga Nalaka

    Hi.. I am from Sri lanka and one of owner of Cinnamon lands. we have very good organic Cinnamon. i would like to discus with your company for business !