One of the things I learned from reading How Not to Die is that there are two different types of cinnamon. This seems like a thing I should have been aware of, but I was not. What is commonly sold simply as “cinnamon” is more properly called cassia cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon lowers blood sugar levels, and is also toxic in large amounts. The second variant is ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon probably has no effect on blood sugar, but is also not toxic, so that’s a win. From the book:
There are two main types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon (also known as Chinese cinnamon). In the United States, anything simply labeled “cinnamon” is probably cassia, since it’s cheaper. This is unfortunate, because cassia contains a compound called coumarin, which may be toxic to the liver at high doses. Unless it’s specifically labeled Ceylon cinnamon, a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon even a few times a week may be too much for small children, and a daily teaspoon would exceed the tolerable upper safety limit for adults. Can’t you just switch to Ceylon cinnamon and get the benefits without the risks? Without the risks, yes, but we’re no longer so sure about the benefits.
Nearly all the studies showing blood sugar benefits of cinnamon have been performed with cassia. We’ve just assumed that the same would apply for the safer Ceylon cinnamon, but it was only recently put to the test. The nice blunting of blood sugars you see in response to cassia cinnamon disappeared when the researchers tried using Ceylon cinnamon instead. In fact, all along it may actually have been the toxic coumarin itself that was the active blood-sugar-lowering ingredient in the cassia cinnamon. Thus, sidestepping the toxin by switching to Ceylon cinnamon may sidestep the benefit. So, in a nutshell, when it comes to lowering blood sugars, cinnamon may not be safe (cassia), or it may be safe, but apparently not effective in reducing blood sugar (Ceylon).
I still encourage Ceylon cinnamon consumption, given that it is one of the cheapest common food sources of antioxidants, second only to purple cabbage.
I consume some cinnamon daily in my Standard Issue Oatmeal. After running out of cassia cinnamon a few months ago, I switched to ceylon cinnamon. It tastes different-but-similar. I am not concerned about my blood sugar levels – I’m in it purely for the flavor – so cassia cinnamon does not seem to have a place in my life.
The book also advocates strongly for the regular consumption of ground flaxseed. The author cites studies that show flaxseed to have anti-cancer properties and to be more effective than both drugs and aerobic exercise at lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure. After reading the book I began to add a teaspoon of ground flaxseed to each of my oatmeal capsules. It does tend to make the oatmeal a bit more runny, but its impact on the taste is barely noticeable.
Also discussed in the book are goji berries. These are small dried fruits, sort of similar to raisins, that have unusually high levels of melatonin and antioxidants. I use goji berries to supplement my raisin consumption. Occasionally I substitute them into my oatmeal capsules, and I like to keep some on hand (in one of my preferred Sistema Klip It 1520 capsules) for an easy candy-like snack.