The #1 Spice to Help Lower High Cholesterol, Recommended by Dietitians
Not only is this spice nutritious, it’s versatile and can be added to sweet and savory dishes.
Culinary spices elevate the flavor of foods and amplify the nutrition profile of your dishes. Variety is the spice of life (pun intended), especially when it comes to transforming a food’s flavor, texture, aroma and, most importantly, taste. Known for their nutritional properties, spices have been studied for years for health and medicinal purposes. Using spices to flavor foods allows for less salt and fat in cooking. This is advantageous for many health conditions, particularly those with high cholesterol.
While no single food or spice can cure high cholesterol, some spices may have a greater impact on cholesterol than others. Read on to learn more about which specific spice dietitians recommend for high cholesterol and why.
What is High Cholesterol?
High cholesterol is one of the precursors of heart disease. Cholesterol is a waxy substance; the liver makes cholesterol, and it is needed to produce hormones, vitamin D and other compounds that aid digestion, per MedlinePlus. Cholesterol is also found in foods. Elevated cholesterol increases the risk of developing plaque. Plaque can narrow the arteries, causing atherosclerosis, which increases the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Regular physical activity, smoking cessation, stress reduction and diet can all impact cholesterol. In fact, fiber-rich diets are associated with heart health and a reduced risk of heart disease. Spices may also enhance the body’s ability to keep cholesterol in a healthy range.
Renee Korczak, Ph.D., RDN, CSSD, LD, a practicing dietitian nutritionist, says, “Spices contain unique bioactive plant-based compounds that may work to reduce cholesterol levels, increase blood flow, and even help to support blood sugar levels,” citing a 2023 review in Nutrients.
The #1 Spice to Reduce High Cholesterol
Cinnamon is our number one spice for high cholesterol. Partly because high cholesterol is often associated with high glucose levels, and cinnamon has been shown to help reduce blood sugar in people with diabetes. Cinnamon also contains anti-inflammatory properties, and using it as a substitute or replacement for fat, sugar and salt is part of a heart-healthy diet.
Jordan Hill, RDN, CSSC, a registered dietitian at Top Nutrition Coaching, recommends that people with high cholesterol “Incorporate spices like cinnamon, cayenne pepper, garlic, ginger and turmeric if they’re not already.” Korczak agrees and notes that those spices “Are often described in the scientific literature to improve the taste of foods and beverages while providing some health benefits; however, not all spices are created equally.”
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) comes from the bark of various species of cinnamon trees. It has been studied for its therapeutic effects, from lowering blood sugar and cholesterol to reducing inflammation, per a 2019 systemic review in Clinical Nutrition. Cinnamon contains the compounds cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid, which are present in the oil. Cinnamon bark has other bioactive compounds, catechins and procyanidins, which may have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, per a 2022 article in the Journal of Functional Foods.
Most of the research regarding cinnamon and cholesterol has been studied using cinnamon supplements in people with diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Doses range from about 1500 mg to 6 grams daily, with standard recommendations of about 1500 mg to 4 grams daily (¾-2 teaspoons) and larger doses >1500 mg daily associated with more favorable effects on HDL (good cholesterol).
In a 2017 small randomized clinical control trial published in Lipids in Health and Disease, researchers investigated the effect of oral cinnamon supplementation (3 grams daily) versus 2.5 grams of wheat flour for 16 weeks in Asian Indians with metabolic syndrome. They found that the supplement group had a significantly higher decrease in weight, abdominal adiposity, total cholesterol, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and blood pressure compared to placebo.
While this is promising, the study has some flaws; the population is not generalizable, and the study was short in duration. In addition, the participants were educated on healthy eating and exercise. Therefore, more research is needed to determine the dose and length of treatment to have a positive effect.
In a 2022 meta-analysis and systematic review published in Frontiers in Physiology, researchers examined 15 randomized clinical control trials in which participants received cinnamon powder or cinnamon extract at doses ranging from 1 to 6 grams based on previous diet, physical activities and medicines. Among the 15 studies,1,020 participants with type 2 diabetes were included, with follow-up ranging from 40 days to up to 4 months. Compared to placebo, the group given cinnamon experienced reduced levels of LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Should You Take Cinnamon Supplements?
If you take medication to manage high cholesterol or glucose-lowering medication, be sure to discuss supplements with your health care provider before starting. Korczak notes, “It’s difficult to say that certain spices lower cholesterol levels completely as the research is a bit inconsistent due to different study designs, populations studied, and amount or form of spice.” Therefore, cinnamon supplements should be used as an adjunct to lifestyle modifications, a fiber-rich diet, regular physical activity, adequate sleep and weight loss (if indicated), not as a replacement.
Culinary use of cinnamon can be beneficial. Cinnamon powder at a dose of 1/4-1 teaspoon daily may be used. Note that Cassia cinnamon has more coumarin, a compound that can affect the liver if taken in large doses, than Ceylon cinnamon. If you plan to consume cinnamon regularly, you may want to search for Ceylon cinnamon.
How to Include Cinnamon in Your Diet
Adding spices to your eating plan is fun, tasty and beneficial for health. Hill says, “The possibilities are endless when it comes to using spices.” She recommends “Adding cinnamon in baking, to coffee grounds before brewing, in pancake batter, or sprinkled in Greek yogurt.” Use cinnamon to flavor chilis, soups, stews, dry rubs for protein sources or cinnamon bark to make tea for a delicious beverage. If you’re looking for a mouth-watering way to start, whip up these Banana-Bran Muffins.
Other Ways to Lower Cholesterol
Overall, diet quality is important for lowering cholesterol. Eating a wide variety of plants, including whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruits and vegetables, increases fiber intake, which is key for lowering cholesterol.
“Choose proteins that are low in saturated fat,” says Hill. “Opt for chicken, turkey, fish, and plant-based proteins like tofu and tempeh.” She also recommends moderating red meat, cheese and alcohol and incorporating regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.” Lastly, “Check in with a qualified health care professional if you are looking to lower your cholesterol levels,” says Korczak.
The Bottom Line
While the data on cinnamon and cholesterol is promising, simply adding cinnamon to your diet without changing your overall dietary pattern won’t reduce your cholesterol. But replacing salt, sugar and saturated fat with spices is a great way to improve health. Using cinnamon as an addition to your lifestyle changes can be a complementary tool to lowering your cholesterol.
If you are interested in the benefits of supplementing with cinnamon, reach out to a registered dietitian or other qualified health care professional for individualized advice. It’s important to examine any medications that can cause drug-nutrient interactions.