Cinnamon for Weight Loss: Myth and Reality

Every few years a new miracle weight loss food hits the presses. Years ago it was grapefruit pills. Then came the açai berry craze. More recently, people are touting cinnamon as having amazing abilities to help people lose weight. The only reason you haven’t heard more about cinnamon is because it’s cheap and easily available at the supermarket, so there’s not a lot of money to be made in selling cinnamon, like there is in açai products.

The Claims

You can find article and forum posts around the web saying that cinnamon can boost your metabolism by 20 fold. You read that right. Not 20%, but by a factor of 20.

Reality Check

It should be immediately obvious to anyone, that if cinnamon boosted our metabolism by 20 fold, anyone eating cinnamon would waste away to nothing unless he or she ate non-stop, all day long. As someone who ate cinnamon oatmeal for breakfast for years, I can tell you this is not the case. If cinnamon has any effect whatsoever, it is very minimal. That said, some research suggests that cinnamon does have a very minor helpful effect in maintaining or reducing body weight.

What Cinnamon Really Does

Regular old cinnamon that you buy at the grocery store doesn’t do much except make your food taste better (or maybe worse if you put a lot of cinnamon on a cheeseburger).

However, a research team at the USDA led by Richard Anderson, isolated a substance from cinnamon that dramatically increased the ability of people who were pre-diabetic (that is insulin resistant) to move sugar into their cells. So in this context, “metabolize” doesn’t mean burn off calories and lose weight, but actually process sugars, convert them to fat, and store them. So for healthy people, this doesn’t really have a weight-loss effect. For people who are borderline diabetic, though, it helps them process sugars, which is super important for their health.

A Few Things to Keep in Mind

  • The compound that Anderson and his team used is a highly concentrated extract of a natural product. Not all natural products are good for us (arsenic, mercury and rattlesnake venom are all “natural”) and highly concentrated extracts are not, in my opinion, truly “natural”.
  • Anderson chose to use only water-soluble cinnamon extracts because of concerns over toxicity (he has no illusions about the inherent safety of “natural” products. So this may or may not be good for you, but until researchers get back to us, the jury is out on the benefits and risks.
  • Anderson’s team did find some minor effects on weight loss in a followup study, but these effects will not even come close to a good overall diet and exercise plan.
  • Know thyself! For me, cinnamon often makes food palatable with less sugar (good!), but also makes it taste better and makes me want to eat more (bad!). Plus, the smell of cinnamon wakes up my taste buds and takes me to my happy place (good or bad, depending on how much I’ve already eaten that day and what food is available for me at the moment).

So you might as well keep eating cinnamon, since it tastes great. But don’t expect the pounds to melt away.

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