Mediterranean Diet 101

Currants Health Benefits

Currants are known to most people as a fruit that can be eaten fresh or made into jams, marmalades, marinades and fruit tarts, or can be added fresh or dried to baked goods or even yogurts, either to replace sugar or raisins.

However, not many people know exactly what currants are, how they are produced and used, what types they have and whether they are grapes or a different fruit.

Published: July 24, 2020.

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What are Currants?

In the US, currants began to be grown only recently. So, what were people in the US calling as currants? The answer is Zante currants which are actually raisins i.e. dried grapes that have no relation with real currants. Some prominent differences between currants and grapes are:

- Currants grow on bushes and are quite tart to taste, while grapes grow on vines and are usually sweet.

- The botanical family of currants is Saxifragaceae and the genus is Ribes, while the botanical family of grapes is Vitaceae and the genus is Vitis.

- Most importantly black currants have a lot of antioxidants that have undergone a lot of research and are not present in raisins or dried grapes.

Since the cultivation of real currants was banned in the USA for many years (because they were believed to cause a fungus that killed pine trees which in turn threatened the logging industry), an ancient Greek grape variety, named Black Corinth, in the dried form was shipped to the USA and at the first shipment, the word “Corinth” was wrongly translated as “currant” at the pier.

Since these grapes came from the 3rd largest Ionian Island named Zakynthos, which is usually called Zante, they became renowned as Zante currants.

All in all, Zante currants are not actually currants. On the other hand, currants are far more packed with health benefits than Zante currants.

Are Black and Red Currants the Same?

After understanding the difference between currants and Zante currants, people may get confused about red currants and black currants, because although currants come in a range of colors, black and red ones are the most popular.

Black and red are just two varieties of currants but both are currants. Black currant’s botanical name is Ribes nigrum while that of red currant is Ribes rubrum. Both can offer exceptional health benefits because both have a rich composition of minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and potassium.

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Also when compared to other small-sized fruits, currants were found to be important sources of micronutrients. In general, however, black currants have a higher proportion of nutrients than red currants. So, we’ll consider the health benefits of black currants. Still, one can even consume red currants for the desired health benefits.

Health Benefits of Black Currants

High Antioxidant Content

Currants are packed with a variety of polyphenol antioxidants which have been found to prevent cancer, diabetes and obesity, and promote heart health. Currants greatly reduce oxidative stress and seem to be beneficial to fight against gastric inflammatory diseases because of their capability to benefit human gastric epithelial cells.

A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Physiology has shown that blackcurrant fruit extract may help protect against oxidative stress. The study was done on human cells and the authors found that anthocyanins in blackcurrant extract may help suppress oxidative stress and improve immune response to infections.

Soothing for Stomach and Improve Digestion

With their beneficial effect on stomach epithelial cells and abundance of flavonoids, which are known for smooth muscle relaxation, black currant extracts could relieve contractions in the GI tract, as per animal studies.

Research proves the antispasmodic effect of black currants. Myricetin, quercetin and other flavonoids in these fruits have an ability to inhibit spasms in stomach and intestine. Blackcurrant leaves have been used traditionally to relieve diarrhea.

Anti-inflammatory Effects

Inflammation is a highly potential cause of heart, kidney and liver diseases. It may even cause arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Black currants contain a type of polyphenols called anthocyanins due to which black currant extract help suppress the activation of pro-inflammatory substances in one’s immune system.

Anthocyanins target specialized cells such as macrophages due to which several inflammatory diseases are prevented from worsening.

Blackcurrant seed oil consists of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a type of omega-6 fatty acid that’s known to ease inflammation in the body. The high anthocyanin and GLA content can reduce pain, damage, soreness and stiffness in muscles and joints.

Protect Heart

So far, grape-based drinks such as grape juice and wines are known to help reduce arterial plaque buildup and heart protection. But blackcurrant juice (and even pomegranate juice) is far more potent in this regard. Blackcurrant is rich with potassium and gamma lenolenic acid (GLA) which can help lower one’s blood pressure. GLA also helps heart cells fight damage and slow down platelet accumulation in one’s blood vessels.

A study has shown that blackcurrant powder improves blood flow towards the heart and reduces peripheral resistance. This indicates that blackcurrant may help one recover soon after exercise.

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Reduce Blood Cholesterol

According to research, diets rich in anthocyanins in blackcurrants cause a reduction in the levels of LDL (bad) as well as total cholesterol and an increase in serum HDL (good) cholesterol levels.

A 2010 study from Phytotherapy Research in which 2,154 participants with abnormal cholesterol levels were given blackcurrant seed oil every day for six weeks, found that regular use of blackcurrant seed oil may help reduce levels of total cholesterol and triglycerides.

The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry too published a small study in 2005 which found that blackcurrant seed oil reduced LDL cholesterol levels more efficiently than fish oil. However, it should be remembered that the study was conducted on only 15 patients and for 4 weeks, whereas many other studies are available that show that omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil may be more effective in controlling cholesterol levels.

According to animal studies too, blackcurrant extracts significantly lowered cholesterol levels.

Furthermore, blackcurrant juice is rich in antioxidants. Therefore it prevents the oxidation of lipids in the human body. Thus it can prevent/delay the commencement of obesity and chronic disorders like atherosclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Prevent Diabetes

Phytochemicals called anthocyanins in blackcurrants like peonidin 3-rutinoside, delphinidin 3-glucoside and cyanidin 3-rutinoside when consumed in remarkable quantities improve insulin sensitivity, especially in type 2 diabetes.

Anthocyanins target carbohydrate-metabolizing enzymes such as pancreatic α-amylase and α-Glucosidase and block their activity, due to which breakdown of carbohydrates is slowed down. Thus anthocyanins can prevent abrupt spikes in blood sugar/glucose.

Protect Brain

Blackcurrants contain four times more vitamin C than oranges and double antioxidants as that in blueberries. Vitamin C in blackcurrants stops lipid peroxidation in the human body up to around 65% owing to its antioxidant properties. This phenomenon is extremely beneficial for the protection of one’s central nervous system (CNS).

If this phenomenon won’t occur, free radicals will go on building up in one’s system. They are known to give rise to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Typically accumulation of free radicals causes inflammation of the brain cells (neurons). Blackcurrants reduce this inflammation because they consist of anti-inflammatory ingredients. These ingredients cumulatively cause improved memory, and cognitive and learning abilities.

Improve Liver Health

Alcohol addiction can cause permanent changes in the structure as well as the function of liver cells. Proteins and phospholipids are structurally modified which may cause a direct effect on the functionality of the liver.

Another problem of alcohol abuse can cause is the generation of free radicals/reactive oxygen species. These ROS can react with phospholipids in the membranes of liver cells and cause inflammation.

Including polyphenol-packed foods like blackcurrants in one’s diet can pause/prevent such harmful effects. Blackcurrants protect the structural lipids as well as proteins from the ROS attack.

Many animal studies have shown that the skins of blackcurrants have anti-proliferative effects on cancerous liver cells.

Strengthen Kidneys

The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of blackcurrants strengthen kidneys and prevent chronic kidney diseases. They also protect one’s overall excretory system from infections and inflammation. Blackcurrant extracts also prevent the formation of kidney stones.

Blackcurrant juice/tea makes one’s urine more alkaline (by increasing its pH). It also facilitates the excretion of excessive oxalic acid and citric acid from one’s body. When these two acids collect in the body, they help in forming kidney stones.

100gm of blackcurrants have around 4.3mg of oxalate which makes these fruits safe for patients of kidney disorders and bladder stones.

Have Antimicrobial Properties

According to recent studies, leaves of wild blackcurrants have potent antiviral properties. Their extracts can eliminate influenza A viruses (IAV) that give rise to extremely contagious human diseases. Common symptoms of IAV infections are sore throat, fever, nasal inflammation, muscle pain and headache.

The leaf extracts stop the entry and internalization of these viruses at the genetic/molecular level. Essential oil of these leaves also have antifungal and antibacterial properties.

This oil has also shown to contain potent compounds like ocimene, terpinolene, sabinene and caryophyllene. Microbes like Trichophyton mentagrophytes, Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus faecalis and Escherichia coli can be treated with blackcurrant seed oil.

Strengthen Immune System

Blackcurrants are loaded with many other antioxidants and anthocyanins in addition to vitamin C, all of which help strengthen one’s immune system, ease flu symptoms and soothe sore throat.

According to one study, blackcurrant supplements improved the immune response in people who exercised regularly. These people can even train harder and for longer periods of time.

According to another study, blackcurrant seed oil strengthened the immune system of the participants.

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Help Prevent Eye Disorders

Anthocyanins further improve the function of one’s vision/eyes. They increase the blood flow towards the eyes and optical nerves. Regular consumption of blackcurrants may slow down the loss of vision or related symptoms in glaucoma patients.

A 2012 study published in Ophthalmologica was done on 38 participants with open-angle glaucoma in which they were given either blackcurrant anthocyanins or a placebo once in a day for two years. They were also given anti-glaucoma drops throughout the period. It was seen that patients who were given blackcurrant anthocyanins had a significant increase in ocular blood flow as compared to those who were given the placebo.

Anthocyanins may also benefit chronic eye diseases including retinal artery occlusion, retinal vein occlusion and diabetic retinopathy.

Anthocyanins are active molecules that are absorbed and moved across the blood-retina barrier when consumed orally. They reach ocular tissues and help in their functioning.

Studies show that linolenic acid and GLA in blackcurrants may help treat dry eyes.

Clinical trials with blackcurrants have found that these fruits improve eye functions like:

- Blood flow towards eyes

- Eyes’ ability to adapt to the darkness

- Reduction of visual fatigue

- Slowing down of the progression of visual field deterioration in glaucoma patients

Repair and Nurturing of Skin

Infections, inflammation and aging can give rise to various skin diseases. They can cause lesions, dry skin, scabs, redness etc. Atopic dermatitis is such a serious skin disorder occurring in kids as well as adults.
In such a scenario, one’s skin needs powerful repairing and conditioning. Vitamin C in blackcurrants metabolizes protein and produces collagen which is important for skin health and is anti-aging.

It has also been found in clinical studies that blackcurrants contain a particular polysaccharide that causes anti-inflammatory effects. This molecule controls the formation of inflammatory compounds by one’s immune system.

Even seeds of blackcurrants consist of a significant amount of fatty acids like linolenic acid. Their oil subdues the inflammation mediators in one’s skin. Thus blackcurrants and the seed oil can nurture one’s skin without any side effects.

The National Psoriasis Foundation recommends blackcurrant seed oil to help mitigate psoriasis symptoms. When taken orally, blackcurrant seed oil can help reduce the growth and development of psoriasis patches. One can even apply it directly to dry, stinging or itchy skin.

Blackcurrants Nutritional Profile

1 cup i.e. 112gm of blackcurrants contains:

- Water: 91.8gm

- Calories: 71 kcal (3% DV)

- Protein: 1.57gm (3% DV)

- Fat: 0.2gm (0% DV)

- Carbohydrates: 17.23gm (5% DV)

- Fiber: 4.8gm (19% DV)

- Vitamin A: 13mcg (258 IU) (5% DV)

- Thiamin: 0.056mg (4% DV)

- Riboflavin: 0.056mg (4% DV)

- Niacin: 0.336mg (2% DV)

- Pantothenic acid: 0.446mg (7% DV)

- Vitamin C: 203mg (318% DV)

- Vitamin E: 1.12mg

- Calcium: 62mg (6% DV)

- Iron: 1.72mg (20% DV)

- Magnesium: 27mg (6% DV)

- Potassium: 361mg (8% DV)

- Phosphorus: 66mg (9% DV)

- Zinc: 0.3mg (2% DV)

- Sodium: 2mg (0% DV)

- Copper: 0.096mg (10% DV)

- Manganese: 0.287mg (12% DV)

- Cyanidin: 70mg

- Petunidin: 4.3mg

- Delphinidin: 100.4mg

- Pelargonidin: 1.3mg

- Peonidin: 0.7mg

- Catechin: 0.8mg

- Epicatechin: 0.5mg

- Isorhamnetin: 0.1mg

- Kaempferol: 0.8mg

- Myricetin: 6.9mg

- Quercetin: 5mg

- Daidzein: 0.01mg

- Genistein: 0.07mg

- Total isoflavones: 0.08mg

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Risk Factors

Blackcurrant berries and seed oil have shown no side effects so far and their consumption has been considered safe if taken in moderate quantities. However, supplements have been found to cause side effects like mild diarrhea, soft stools and intestinal gas.

Since blackcurrant supplements can slow down blood clotting, people with bleeding disorders or about to undergo surgery should not take them.

Also, regarding their safety in pregnant and breastfeeding women is not fully available; therefore these women should consult their healthcare provider before including blackcurrants in their diet.

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