When it comes to being both tasty and great for your health, berries edge out most other fruit as well as many vegetables. Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries – they all practically rank as medicines. Eat them daily and live long.
But there’s another berry that was once forbidden in the United States that packs a more powerful health punch than the others.
This berry possesses higher antioxidant capacity and is rich in pectin, a substance that protects the digestive system from infection.1 It also has more calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and vitamin C than the other berries I mentioned.2
What’s more, this berry does great things for blood sugar – keeping it from spiking too high if you indulge in a sweet dessert. So what is this wonder berry? It’s the black currant. Let’s take a look at its surprising health benefits.
Black currants are small, dark-colored berries with a sweet, tart taste. In the United States you hardly ever hear about them — for an unusual reason.
For nearly a hundred years, from 1911 until 2003, growing black currants in the U.S. was prohibited because experts believed the plants carried a disease called white pine blister rust that killed pine trees.
Today, this is no longer a problem due to the development of disease-resistant varieties, but as a result of the long ban, black currants are not always available in your produce aisle or at farmer’s markets. Just about the only ones I ever see are dried ones, which I use in a couple of recipes.
However, the rest of the world has been eating black currants for a long time. In fact, during World War II, black currants were encouraged in the United Kingdom to offset nutritional deficiencies from food shortages.
Thanks to their remarkable nutrient density, these berries have long been relied on in Traditional Chinese and European folk medicines– especially when it comes to balancing blood sugar.
Lowering Blood Glucose
When researchers at the University of Eastern Finland tested how eating small portions of black currants affects blood sugar responses after you eat something sweet, they found remarkable results: This berry slows the rise in blood sugar and moderates its fall afterwards.
The scientists report these benefits happen because of the way polyphenols and anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds in the black currants, behave in the digestive tract.3 It turns out that polyphenols slow down the absorption of sugar through the intestinal walls, which keeps blood sugar from skyrocketing.
Polyphenols achieve this wondrous feat by changing the function of enzymes in the intestines that break down the food we eat. They also slow down the activity of proteins in the small intestine that are designed to transport sugar out of the intestines and into the blood stream.4
At the same time, these polyphenols keep overactive immune cells from causing harmful inflammation in the intestines,5 and their antioxidant actions can also reduce destructive oxidative stress.6
These are remarkable benefits, and not just for blood sugar. Researchers also point to the ability of black currants to improve brain health.
Black Currants Boost Memory
Research in New Zealand demonstrates that these berries can improve folks’ intellectual performance by strengthening their ability to focus and remember information more accurately. In addition, they also can improve mood.
A test conducted at New Zealand’s Plant & Food Research Center in conjuction with Northumbria University in England shows that a type of black currant called “blackadder” limits the activity of monoamine oxidase enzymes which influence the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
The researchers believe that these interactions demonstrate how the nutrients in black currants could also protect against Parkinson’s disease, an illness that involves harmful changes in how these neurotransmitters are produced and function in the brain.
“Our previous research has suggested that compounds found in certain berryfruit may act like monoamine oxidase inhibitors, similar to a class of pharmaceuticals commonly used in the treatment of both mood disorders and neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease,” says researcher Arjan Scheepens. “This research has shown that New Zealand-grown black currants not only increase mental performance, but also reduce the activity of monoamine oxidases.”
This is an exciting field of study and further proves the power of food in fighting disease.
Other scientists have examined the benefits of black currants in preventing and treating additional health problems facing people of all ages. For example:
Supporting better eye health: Research reported in the journal Molecules shows that the phytochemicals in black currants can help slow the progression of glaucoma and may improve night vision.7
Aiding the skin in protecting itself against the sun’s ultraviolet rays: Lab tests in Japan show black currant berries can help the skin remain hydrated and suffer less inflammatory damage from sun exposure.8
Helping the body resist asthma: Research demonstrates that black currant berries reduce the risk of respiratory inflammation and childhood asthma.9
Adding Black Currants to Your Diet
Clearly, black currants are a great additon to your health food arsenal, whether you buy them fresh, frozen or dried.
They’re also highly versatile. While you can eat them raw, their bold flavor really shines through when you use them in sweet or savory dishes. They’re perfect for use in jams, jellies, sauces– for fish, poultry and meat– salads, deserts, smoothies, teas, even sparkling water. A quick search of the internet will no doubt turn up dozens of recipes.
I should also mention that black currant supplements are available. I’ve never tried one, but if you’re suffering from high blood sugar, an eye disease, or are worried about your memory, they might be worth looking into.
- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20229526/#:~:text=Epidemiological studies reveal%
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