Catechins belong to a family of plant-based compounds that are widely associated with a number of health benefits. Their presence in green tea and a handful of other teas in the Camellia sinensis family accounts in large part for the health claims made for those beverages. The catechins group includes not only catechin but epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate and epigallocatechin gallate, or EGCG. All share a common chemical structure but vary somewhat in their specific medicinal properties.
Significance of Catechin-Rich Foods
All members of the catechins family fall within the broader category of flavonoids, specific types of which number in the thousands and all of which occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and certain beverages. In recent years medical researchers have focused increased attention on flavonoids -- and catechins in particular -- because of their reputed antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help to counter the effects of free radicals -- atoms or molecules with unpaired electrons. Free radicals are byproducts of metabolism, your body’s conversion of food into energy. Consuming foods and beverages rich in antioxidants such as catechins helps to avoid some of the cellular damage that free radicals can cause if their numbers are allowed to outstrip those of antioxidants in your body, according to Rice University’s SportsMedWeb.
Camellia Sinensis Teas
Because it is brewed from unfermented leaves and buds, green tea boasts the highest levels of catechins of all the teas in the Camellia sinensis family. While its catechin and epicatechin counts are relatively modest at 2.6 and 8.3 milligrams per 100 grams, respectively, green tea shines in terms of its high levels of epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate and EGCG with a total of 114.3 milligrams per 100 grams. Black tea, made from fermented leaves and buds, has 1.5 milligrams of catechin, 2.1 milligrams of epicatechin and 23.1 milligrams of epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate and EGCG per 100 grams, according to data from the University of California, Davis.
Fruit and Wine
If you’re not a tea drinker, you can still get the health benefits of catechins in certain varieties of fruit and fruit products, most notably red wine. Unlike green and black tea, which are highest in epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate and EGCG, fruits have relatively low levels of those members of the catechin family but rank higher in terms of catechin and epicatechin content. Most of the catechins in fruit are concentrated in the skin and seeds. Blackberries and black grapes are among the richest fruit sources of catechins, coming in at 37.1 and 10.1 milligrams of catechin per 100 grams, respectively, and 4.7 and 8.7 milligrams of epicatechin, according to the USDA Database for the Flavonoid Content of Selected Foods. Other fruits high in catechins include apples, cherries, pears and raspberries. Red wine, which gets its color from the skins of grapes, is also rich in catechin and epicatechin.
Cocoa and cocoa derivatives are also rich in catechins, most of which fall into the catechin and/or epicatechin categories. Cocoa itself has 26.2 milligrams of epicatechin per 100 grams, according to USDA data. Dark chocolate has 12 milligrams of catechin and 41.5 milligrams of epicatechin per 100 grams, while milk chocolate contains 2.1 and 6.3 milligrams, respectively.
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