Barking up the Right Tree? (The Benefits of Dietary Cinnamon for Diabetics) + Recipes

By: Connor Dawedeit

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 1, about 28 million Americans are currently struggling with diabetes 1. With its numbers increasing, it is largely due to the influence of sedentary lifestyles, overeating, and poor nutrition. These factors do not directly cause diabetes, but it does increase a person’s risk of becoming diabetic. Poorly managed diabetes can increase an individual’s risk of developing cardiovascular, renal, and other diseases, due to their lack of blood glucose control or from high blood lipid content 2. Many diabetics follow a treatment plan that includes a nutritious dense diet consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats followed by an exercise regimen. However, even individuals who diligently manage their diabetes can experience complications and may look for other methods to maintain their health and well being. One method is using a spice derived from the bark of a Cinnamomum tree, more commonly known as cinnamon. In a study, researchers investigated the effects of a daily dose of cinnamon in Type 2 diabetics and discovered daily cinnamon supplements taken over a 40 day period decreased fasting blood glucose, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol levels3. Furthermore, HDL cholesterol levels were not affected, which is beneficial as HDL prevents cholesterol accretion in arteries 4. Besides the effects of the cinnamon supplements on blood glucose and lipids, two significant observations were made. Although the experimental groups in the study consumed a range of daily cinnamon doses (1, 3, and 6 grams), similar effects were observed across all three groups, indicating that cinnamon is beneficial even when not eaten in large quantities. Additionally, twenty days post-study, participants’ blood glucose and lipid levels indicated the effects of cinnamon were sustained, demonstrating it’s not necessary to eat cinnamon every single day in order to reap its benefits.

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Diabetes is characterized by the body’s inability to self-regulate blood glucose and if left untreated it can induce severe effects. Over time, sustained hyperglycemia, or high blood glucose, can cause damage to blood vessels in the body. In extreme cases, it can cause a condition called diabetic retinopathy where the blood vessels in the retinas can lead to blindness. Hyperglycemia also increases one’s risk of developing mild to severe kidney damage and nerve damage (neuropathy) over time. These dangerous consequences are avoided most effectively with early preventative actions and diligent monitoring of one’s blood glucose. The benefits of taking such actions were demonstrated in the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial (DCCT). In this randomized clinical trial, they observed the effects of intensive versus conventional management of type 1 diabetes. Researchers found risk factors for developing retinopathy, kidney damage, arterial damage, and cardiac events (such as heart attacks) were markedly lower in the group receiving intensive therapy, which achieved a much lower hemoglobin A1c level (an indicator of average blood glucose) than the “conventional therapy” group 5. Eight years after the study, the “intensive therapy” group displayed significantly less progression of developing kidney and cardiovascular disease 5.

Control of blood lipids is important for any individual, but it is also critical for those with diabetes who are at a much higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases 4, such as high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and heart failure. These diseases are caused by an accretion of fats in arterial walls when high concentrations of LDL and triglycerides are present. Diabetic individuals will therefore benefit greatly from maintaining healthy blood lipid levels and will also benefit from maintaining healthy HDL levels. For this reason, cinnamon is a doubly beneficial dietary component for these individuals. As it lowers total cholesterol without negatively affecting HDL levels.

Although many Americans may be most familiar with cinnamon being used in baked goods, there are many delicious ways to include it in one’s diet. For a simple and nutritious breakfast, one can prepare delicious apple cinnamon oatmeal:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup rolled or steel-cut oats 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ apple, chopped

Directions:

  1. Pour the water into a medium-sized saucepan, add the apple pieces, and bring to a boil. Add the oats and cinnamon, reduce heat, and simmer the uncovered pan until the oatmeal reaches the consistency you prefer, with occasional stirring. If desired, lightly sweeten with brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Milk, chopped nuts, or Greek yogurt could also be added for additional flavor.

To prepare a dinner with cinnamon as well as many other delicious flavors and nutritious ingredients, try this chicken curry recipe 6:

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated ginger (or 1/8th teaspoon ground ginger)
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • ¾ cup coconut milk
  • Juice of ½ lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne powder
  • Salt

Directions:

  1. 
Add the olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it begins to caramelize and turn brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, curry powder, cinnamon, paprika, bay leaf, sugar, and a dash of salt. Stir the contents of the skillet for two minutes. Stir in the chicken, tomato paste, yogurt and coconut milk. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for 20-25 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and stir in the lemon juice and cayenne. Makes four servings. Remember to taste before serving and add additional salt, lemon juice, cayenne, or other flavors to your taste. This curry can be served over rice, however for diabetics and for individuals watching their glycemic load can replace the rice with roasted cauliflower, squash, carrots, or with sautéed spinach. This is a highly versatile dish, and can be made to each chef’s preferred tastes!

 

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2014). National Diabetes Statistics Report: Estimates of Diabetes and Its Burden in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data/statistics/2014statisticsreport.html.
  2. Nelson, J. (2016). Healthy eating especially important for those who have diabetes. Retrieved from http://healthletter.mayoclinic.com/editorial/editorial.cfm/i/398/t/Healthy%20eating%20especially%20important%20for%20those%20who%20h ave%20diabetes/
  3. Khan, A., Safdar M., Khan M., Khattak K., Anderson R. (2003). Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People with Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care,39(10). 3215-3218. http://dx.doi.org/10.2337/diacare.26.12.3215
  4. National Kideny Foundation. (2016). What You Should Know About Blood Lipids. Retrieved from https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/bloodlipids
  5. Skyler, J. (2004). Effects of Glycemic Control on Diabetes Complications and on the Prevention of Diabetes. Clinical Diabetes, 34(4). 162-166. http://dx.doi.org/10.2337/diaclin.22.4.162
  6. Fetters, A.(2016). Indian Chicken Curry II. Retrieved from http://allrecipes.com/recipe/46822/indian-chicken-curry-ii/
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