Ditch Coffee for These 6 Yerba Mate Benefits
Coffee is a staple of many morning routines in America. We wake up, jumpstart the day with a cup of joe and often consume it throughout the day to keep up our energy. However, in other corners of the globe like South America, people start their day with a drink you may not know much about — yerba mate.
Yerba mate is a South American drink that provides an excellent alternative to coffee and has legendary health benefits. This tea has ancient origins and is often referred to as the "tea of the gods."
Popular in places such as Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, this brewed tea is also gaining popularity in the United States.
What is Yerba Mate?
So what exactly is Yerba mate and what makes it so special? Yerba mate is made from the Ilex paraguariensis plant using both the leaves and twigs. After harvest, the leaves are dried over a fire to speed up the oxygenation process.
Yerba mate contains high levels of tannins giving it a strength of flavor similar to that of coffee or black teas. Yerba mate is often described as tasting chocolatey, earthy, lemony and nutty. Blends made with a predominance of twigs will have a more woodsy taste than those with a higher concentration of yerba mate leaves. In South America, yerba mate is consumed unsweetened, whereas in the U.S. it is common to add honey or other sugars to make the taste more appealing to American palates.
Studies have shown that yerba mate is jam-packed with seven of the nine essential amino acids along with almost every mineral and vitamin the human body needs to survive. While yerba mate infusions won't serve as a cure-all, adding this tea to your daily routine can have several health benefits.
Yerba mate contains antioxidants and minerals that have shown potential when it comes to fighting chronic illness and supporting general health and wellbeing. Like many teas, yerba mate has polyphenols that help fight disease, xanthines that provide an energy boost, and saponins which help protect heart health.
Health Benefits of Yerba Mate
1. Boosts Energy and Increase Mental Acuity
While coffee contains 95 milligrams of caffeine in every 8-ounce cup, yerba mate tea comes close with 85 milligrams per cup, making it just as an effective energy boost in the morning or afternoon.
Yerba mate tea also contains another xanthine derivation known as theobromine. Found in chocolate and other substances, theobromine is a naturally occurring stimulant, known for a smoother, longer-lasting energy boost than caffeine. This means that yerba mate does not have the jittery effects that a strong cup of coffee can have, so you can start your day with some caffeine without the negative side effects.
2. Aids in Weight Loss
Yerba mate has powerful health benefits that can help individuals lose weight by speeding up metabolic rate. A study published in Nutrition and Metabolism showed that participants who were given a 1-gram capsule of yerba mate before a workout burned 24 percent more fat while completing moderately intense exercises (1).
Yerba mate has also shown to increase the body's reliance on using fats during exercise, which can enhance performance. By burning more fats initially than carbohydrates, the human body has greater stores of energy for higher intensity exercises, thus increasing endurance. The same study also demonstrated the potential effects of yerba mate on reducing muscle fatigue and a faster recovery time between exercises.
A second 12-week study showed that individuals who consumed 3 grams of yerba mate each day had an average weight loss of 1.5 pounds over the period of the study. The participants who were only given a placebo demonstrated an average weight gain of 6.2 pounds during the same time period. While more research is needed, yerba mate has shown strong potential when it comes to helping people lose weight and shed fat.
3. Protects Overall Health
Yerba mate tea has anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties that help keep your immune system healthy and fight off bacteria and colds. One study performed on cells in a lab showed that high levels of yerba mate can combat the E. coli bacterium that causes food poisoning (2).
Yerba mate also has strong anti-fungal properties and has shown potential when it comes to treating skin diseases. One study found that 1000 milligrams of yerba mate tea can treat the growth of certain types of fungus that cause dandruff, rashes and dry skin (3).
Packed full of essential amino acids, vitamins and minerals, yerba mate can help support a healthy immune system. Drinking one cup a day can help keep the doctor away and speed up recovery if you do catch the common cold or flu virus.
4. Prevents Heart Disease
If you suffer from high blood pressure, drinking yerba mate regularly can help prevent more severe heart disease. The high levels of theobromine, a vasodilator, in yerba mate allow this infusion to increase blood flow by relaxing the smooth muscle in blood vessels. Relaxing constricted blood vessels, and increasing blood flow can result in lowering blood pressure and protecting overall heart health.
Yerba mate helps further prevent heart disease when consumed regularly by lowering LDL cholesterol, known as bad cholesterol. A 40-day study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that when participants consumed 11 ounces per day of yerba mate, LDL cholesterol levels could be reduced by 8-13 percent (4).
5. May Prevent and Regulate Diabetes
For people who suffer from diabetes, consuming yerba mate tea can help to regulate blood sugar levels. High concentrations of polyphenols work to regulate glucose in the body. Chlorogenic acid in particular has shown the ability to modulate glucose, preventing dangerous blood sugar spikes (5).
6. Cancer Fighting Potential
Several compounds in yerba mate have shown potential cancer fighting effects, although this health benefit has been extremely controversial. A study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Researhc added yerba mate extract directly to human colon cancer cells in a test tube, with results showing the cancer cells self-destructed (6).
Yerba mate also contains high levels of known cancer-fighting compounds such as chlorogenic acid, tannins and saponins. While more research is needed for a conclusive analysis, there is hope in the scientific community when it comes to preventing cancer using yerba mate.
Yerba Mate Side Effects
For individuals who consume yerba mate only occasionally, there are few side effects outside of caffeine sensitivity. However, for individuals who consume yerba mate regularly, there are studies that have shown some negative side effects.
Since yerba mate contains caffeine, it should be avoided or only consumed in small amounts if you have caffeine sensitivity. Pregnant women should also limit their consumption to a maximum of three cups per day since high levels of caffeine can increase the risk of miscarriage.
Several studies have studied the effect of consumption of high levels of yerba mate with increased risk of cancer. Most of these studies have focused on the presence of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in yerba mates teas. PAHs are found in grilled meat and smoke and are known carcinogens (7).
Other studies have shown a connection between increased cancer levels and the high temperatures at which yerba mate is consumed. Most cancers associated with yerba mate are in the larynx, esophagus and mouth with many researchers believing the connection is due to the high water temperatures associated with consumption. If concerned, try to consume small amounts of yerba mate at cooler temperatures (8).
As with most teas, yerba mate can have adverse interactions with certain medications. Yerba mate contains compounds that are MAOIs, so individuals who take MAOI drugs should consult their physician before drinking yerba mate. As always, it's important to check with your doctor to ensure any medications won't be affected by tea consumption.
How to Brew
Traditionally, yerba mate tea is brewed and then consumed using a gourd or a calabash. If you do not have a gourd, you can brew yerba mate using a French press. Special metal straws that have filters on one end are used when consuming to filter out the leaves. Many South American societies pass around gourds as a show of communal friendship and as a bonding exercise.
Step 1: Prepare Leaves
If using loose tea, fill one third of the gourd with leaves. In general, you should use 1 tablespoon for every cup if water. If using a tea bag, brew as you would any other tea bag.
Step 2: Simmer Water
To avoid some of the side effects of yerba mate tea, it is recommended to avoid consuming the beverage using extremely hot water. With this in mind, bring your water to a simmer rather than a boil. Using higher water temperatures can also result in a more bitter taste. Yerba mate is typically consumed hot, but you can also drink mate leaves cold for a refreshing beverage if preferred.
Let the tea steep for 3 to 5 minutes.
Step 3: Sweeten to Taste
While traditionally consumed as-is, you can flavor your yerba mate using lemon juice, mint, milk, or burnt sugar.
Drink Yerba Mate
With caffeine content similar to that of a cup of coffee, yerba mate has quickly become a replacement when it comes to kick-starting the day or getting an energy boost in the afternoon. While widely known for these stimulating effects, yerba mate also has extensive health benefits when it comes to preventing disease and living a healthy, happy life.
Drink mate tea to build a healthy immune system, prevent heart disease and protect your overall health. With a delightfully earthy flavor and hints of chocolate and lemon, this tea has an acquired taste that develops fully with prolonged use.