It probably comes as no big surprise to hear that sugar is bad for you. Refined (white) sugar is the worst, but sugar in all forms has an insulin-spiking effect that can be problematic (yes, even natural alternatives like honey and maple syrup should be used only in moderation).
Sugar substitutes can also be tricky, as many are artificially made and have their own risks and other reasons to avoid them, while others are better (like green leaf stevia) but not always the best to use in baking.
Instead of getting confused in the world of alternative sweeteners, why not opt for one that is probably already in your spice cabinet, comes directly from nature, and offers an impressive list of health benefits? What is this mystery sweetener? Cinnamon!
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon isn’t only naturally sweet and tasty, but it has been used historically for its medicinal benefits. Research shows that most of its health-promoting properties are thanks to its primary medicinal compound, cinnamaldehyde, which is the oily part that gives cinnamon its distinct smell.
Blood Sugar Lowering
Cinnamon is perhaps best known for its blood-sugar lowering properties, and has actually been used in the support and treatment of type 2 diabetes. First, studies have found that cinnamon can significantly reduce insulin resistance, making it an excellent addition both in food and supplement form for diabetics. It also works to lower blood sugar by slowing the breakdown of carbohydrates in the body.
Packed Full of Antioxidants
Antioxidants in the diet are key to fighting damage done by excessive free radicals, which is linked to a myriad of chronic diseases. Studies show that cinnamon is packed full of important antioxidants like polyphenols, which help to prevent oxidative damage by free radicals.
Chronic inflammation is linked to many diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes (among others), so including anti-inflammatory foods is important. Thanks largely to its antioxidant content, cinnamon has been found to work well as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Impressed yet? As if the above-mentioned benefits weren’t enough, cinnamon has also been shown to potentially reduce our risk of heart disease by lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and triglycerides, two factors that play a major role in heart disease.
While more research is needed, studies have shown that in therapeutic doses (supplemental usage), cinnamon can protect against cancer. This is also largely due to cinnamon’s high levels of antioxidants.
Natural Anti-Bacterial Agent
The same compound that gives cinnamon most of its medicinal properties, cinnamaldehyde, also works as a natural anti-bacterial and anti-fungal treatment. Cinnamon oil has been used to treat various types of infections, including E. coli, salmonella, and staph.
Compare these to the very real dangers of refined sugar in our diet (such as weight gain, a suppressed immune system, and increased risk of insulin resistance and diabetes, to name just a few), and cinnamon really is a perfect substitute for sugar, or at least a great way to reduce the amount of sugar and other sweeteners you use.
How to Use Cinnamon in Place of Sugar
Cinnamon certainly will not be used cup for cup, but it can be added to most things you’d use sugar in for extra taste and natural sweetness. You might be able to omit sugar entirely, but you’ll at least reduce it. This includes baked goods, smoothies, coffee or tea, and anywhere else you use sugar. Start with just a dash but add as you go.
For baking, consider combining cinnamon with other flavorful and sweet spices, like ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, and pure vanilla extract. When all of these mouth-watering flavors are blended together, you will likely find much less of a need to add sugar.