Coffee is a staple of most American's morning routines. We wake up, jumpstart the day with a cup of joe and sometimes get an extra boost in the afternoon with an extra hit of java. 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 is often credited as being an excellent alternative to coffee and has legendary health benefits. This tea has ancient origins in mythological stories and is often referred to as the "tea of the gods."
This South American brew is so popular that it's the national drink of Argentina. Popular in places such as Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil, this brewed tea is also gaining popularity in the United States.
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. The tea leaves are then dried over a fire to speed up the oxygenation process.
Yerba mate has high levels of tannins so it has a bitter taste, similar to that of coffee or black teas. Yerba mate is often described as tasting chocolatey, earthy, lemony and nutty. Tea blends with higher amounts of twigs will also have a more woodsy taste than those with more yerba mate leaves. In South America, yerba mate is consumed unsweetened, although as its popularity has grown in the U.S., it's common to add honey or other sugars to make the taste more palatable.
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 teas only contain small amounts of these vitamins and won't serve as a cure-all, adding this tea to your daily routine can have several health benefits.
Yerba mate tea contains antioxidants and minerals that have shown potential when it comes to fighting chronic disease such as heart disease and cancer. Like many teas, yerba mate has polyphenols that help fight disease, xanthines that provide an energy boost, and saponins, which help protect heart health.
While coffee contains 95 milligrams of caffeine in every 8-ounce cup, yerba mate tea comes close with 85 milligrams per cup. Like coffee, this means yerba mate has the ability to increase energy levels in the morning or the afternoon.
Yerba mate tea also contains another xanthine known as theobromine. Also found in chocolate, theobromine is a naturally occurring stimulant, which has a smoother, longer-lasting energy effect than caffeine. That 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. With the smooth caffeine kick, you don’t have to worry about late-night insomnia.
Yerba mate has powerful health benefits that can help individuals lose weight by speeding up metabolism. A study published in Nutrition and Metabolism showed that participants who were given a 1-gram capsule of yerba mate pre-workout burned 24 percent more fat while completing moderately intense exercises (1).
Yerba mate was 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 belly fat.
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 the 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, which 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 tea 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.
If you suffer from high blood pressure, drinking yerba mate tea regularly can help prevent more severe heart disease. Drinking yerba mate tea can help lower blood pressure thanks to high levels of theobromine. Theobromine is a vasodilator, which means that it increases 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 prevent heart disease 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, or one and a half cups per day of yerba mate tea, LDL cholesterol levels could be reduced by 8-13 percent (4).
For people who suffer from diabetes, consuming yerba mate tea can help to regulate blood sugar levels. These health benefits are largely due to high concentrations of polyphenols, which work to regulate glucose in the body. Chlorogenic acid in particular has shown the ability to modulate glucose, preventing dangerous blood sugar spikes (5).
Several compounds in yerba mate have shown potential cancer fighting effects, although this health benefit has been extremely controversial. This study 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.
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 a few negative side effects.
Since yerba mate tea contains caffeine, it should be avoided or only consumed in small amounts if you have caffeine sensitivity. Pregnant women should also limit their consumption 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 cancer 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 tea 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.
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.
If using loose tea, fill one third of the gourd with leaves. In general, you should use 1 teaspoon for every cup if water. If using a tea bag, brew as you would any other tea bag.
To avoid some of the side effects of yerba mate tea, it is recommended to avoid consuming the beverage using really hot water. Bring your water to a simmer instead of 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.
While traditionally consumed as-is, you can flavor your yerba mate using lemon juice, mint, milk or burnt sugar.
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.
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