Add This Spice to Your Life

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When I think of foods that contain cinnamon, carb-heavy favorites like gooey cinnamon rolls and fresh apple pie are often the first to come to mind. I imagine that my mid-winter, hibernating self is curled up on the couch, wrapped in my black sweater-poncho and two quilted blankets, sipping on a hot cider and dutifully indulging in a Law and Order marathon whilst delighting in these holiday leftovers as the snow falls outside my frosted windows.

With daydreams like these, it’s no wonder cinnamon is usually thought to be a winter spice—you might bust it out when it’s your turn to host the company Christmas party, or you’ll see it added to your local bar’s seasonal drink menu—but this spice doesn’t have to hide when temperatures begin to rise. In fact, the fragrant, potent ingredient can actually play an important role in your summer dishes—and offer a ton of health benefits in the process. Read on to see why there’s no reason to shun cinnamon this season.

1. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
Essential oils found in cinnamon bark help to regulate blood flow, prevent clumping of blood platelets, and lower the release of certain cell membrane acids that contribute to inflammatory diseases—particularly arthritis. Additionally, a recent study published in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that athletes who regularly ingested cinnamon powder showed a decrease in muscle soreness; so, cinnamon can encourage you to keep those activity levels up! And if those reasons don’t convince you to embrace this spicy ingredient, did you know that cinnamon may help ease menstrual symptoms? Cinnamon contains the natural chemical cinnamaldehyde, which helps to balance hormones, reduce heavy bleeding, and alleviate cramps.

2. Controls Blood Sugar
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that adding cinnamon to carb-heavy meals increased the time it took to empty the stomach after eating; thus, the spice was effective in reducing the rise of blood sugar that is normally associated with those meals. The researchers also noted that previous studies indicate that cinnamon lowers total cholesterol concentrations. Regulated blood sugar levels work to stabilize both energy levels and mood, too—adding cinnamon to your diet may not only reduce your risk for chronic diseases like diabetes, but also prevent the onset of fatigue or depression.

3. Anti-Microbial Properties
Cinnamon has the ability to stop the growth of bacteria and fungi, making it a natural food preservative.

4. Brain-Booster
Research has shown that simply smelling cinnamon can increase cognitive functions such as memory and visual-motor speed, so even using it as a garnish for dishes or drinks can have beneficial effects. When ingested, cinnamon is metabolized into sodium benzoate—and elevated sodium benzoate levels in the brain have been linked to stimulated brain activity and a reduced risk for the development of brain disorders, according to a report published in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.

5. Contains Essential Nutrients
Cinnamon provides the body with fiber, calcium, vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and more—which all help to improve overall body and heart health.

So, are you ready to spice up your summer? For a quick cinna-jolt, add a few pinches to your cereal, stir into oatmeal, or sprinkle over peanut butter toast. Craving some time in the kitchen? Check out these delicious recipes and get ready to feel the heat.

>>Cinna-Coffee Sinful Smoothie
This tasty, caffeinated smoothie is an all-in-one breakfast delight. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend from low to high until smooth.

1 cup vanilla almond milk, unsweetened

1 scoop instant coffee grounds

1 banana, frozen

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¾ cup ice

Helpful hints:

– Peel banana first, then place it in freezer-safe container. When ready to use, chop the banana into 4-5 pieces for easier blending.

– Substitute 1 shot of espresso or strong coffee for coffee grounds if you prefer a less gritty texture.

– For an extra burst of protein, add 1 tablespoon natural peanut butter.

>>Cinnamon Spice Sweet Potato Chickpea Salad
This mix is the perfect side dish to accompany any meal, or it can stand alone as an afternoon snack.

1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into ½ inch pieces

1 ½ cups cooked chickpeas

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon coconut oil, divided

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment or a non-stick liner. Peel and chop sweet potato. In a large bowl, add the cooked chickpeas, uncooked sweet potato, chopped onion, cinnamon, salt, and ½ tablespoon coconut oil. Mix well. Spread onto prepared baking sheet and place in the oven for 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and place into a large bowl. Add the remaining ½ tablespoon of coconut oil and stir well to coat. Add additional sea salt if preferred.
Source: Angela Liddon

Helpful hints:

– This recipe makes for a great pre-workout fuel, so aim to eat it 30-45 minutes prior to your workout.

– For additional spice, add green onions or scallions.

>>Roasted Cinna-Almonds
Adding cinnamon to this healthy treat supersizes its superpowers without sacrificing your waistline.

1 egg white

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups whole almonds, raw

½ cup organic palm sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Lightly grease a 10x15 inch pan. Lightly beat the egg white, then add vanilla and beat until frothy but not stiff. Add almonds and stir until well coated. Mix the sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a separate bowl, then sprinkle this mixture over the nuts. Toss to coat, and spread evenly on the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour in the preheated oven, stirring occasionally, until golden. Allow to cool, then store nuts in airtight containers.

Helpful hints:

– Mixing ½ cup brown sugar with the dry ingredients will add a maple flavor to the recipe.

– An additional ½ to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon may be added to taste.

– Bake almonds for an extra 30 minutes to increase crunchiness.

**Erica Tasto is an editor for Natural Solutions and Alternative Medicine and the author of "The Natural Suite" blog. Follow her on Twitter @editorerica.