Pumpkin pie. Apple crisp. Chai tea. Hot cocoa and coffee.
What do they all have in common? They can often include cinnamon, one of the most popular spices during the holiday season.
And like many spices, cinnamon is—gram for gram—one of your best options when looking to add antioxidants to meals or drinks, Kristi Veltkamp, RD, registered dietitian at Spectrum Health, said.
“Cinnamon is a natural antimicrobial and (it) can help with lowering cholesterol and blood sugar,” Veltkamp said.
It has phytonutrients, too. The two main types of phytonutrients are cinnamaldehyde and proanthocyanidins, or PACs.
“PACs get into your colon, and microbes digest it and break it down,” Veltkamp said. “The byproduct of this creates beneficial compounds that help decrease inflammation, protect you from cardiovascular disease and also help with metabolism.”
It’s important to keep moderation top of mind when you’re sprinkling on the cinnamon.
“Some people go crazy with cinnamon,” Veltkamp said. “I would say half a teaspoon a day is the safest amount to have. Anything more than that might lead to issues with consuming too much of a compound that is bad for the liver.”
If you’re trying to limit your sugar intake, cinnamon is a good alternative. It’ll add a bit of sweetness and you might not even notice the lack of sugar.
“Try it in coffee, tea or in your oatmeal,” Veltkamp said. “It’s also delicious in chai tea, which has other spices like cloves, ginger, cardamom.”
When the holidays hit, that’s often the cue for all things pumpkin spice.
“Pumpkin spice snacks usually have cinnamon in them, too,” Veltkamp said.
Energy bites, warmed seasoned nuts and chickpeas are some of her favorites. She’ll often season them with cinnamon and spices.
“Pancakes or baked apples are absolutely delicious, too,” she said. “Shake a little cinnamon on top and your taste buds will thank you.”
Baked apples are an easy snack that can deliver on nutrition. Cinnamon has a place here, too.
“Just add some water and cinnamon with your sliced apples and warm in the microwave,” she said. “You can also add a little oatmeal or granola on top for a little crunch.”
While many folks will opt for cinnamon powder in recipes, cinnamon sticks are just as useful for taste and nutrition.
“I use the cinnamon sticks when I’m steeping my tea,” Veltkamp said.
Veltkamp shared two of her favorite recipes from the Spectrum Health Lifestyle Medicine team:
Keep in mind that cinnamon isn’t just for sweet treats—it can be savory, too. Many Indian dishes, such as garam masala, contain quite a bit of cinnamon, Veltkamp said.
And the benefits of cinnamon may be realized beyond more than just nutrition. Researchers have found that odor-evoked memories may boost psychological and physiological health, which may help disrupt cravings, reduce stress and improve mood.
Given cinnamon’s place as a staple scent at the holidays, it’s all the more reason to add this favorite spice to your hot cocoa and festive foods.