Yerba mate tea boasts some surprising health benefits and may even replace your morning cup of Joe. Much like green tea, yerba mate tea is rich in polyphenols and antioxidants, and is quite tasty to boot.
Coffee Is King!… Or Is It?
Coffee is the undisputed king of all morning beverages. Readers ask my secret to getting things done and the answer involves at least 60% coffee! (But pretty healthy coffee, I promise…)
Kidding aside, we all crave that delicious, robust flavor (which is why many people even get out of bed in the morning). And if you’re in a midday slump (or just tired from staying up all night with a fussy baby), an afternoon cup can often provide enough energy to help make it through the rest of the day without falling asleep. Oh yeah, and it even has some antioxidants that provide health benefits!
Then there’s the social aspect … sipping a latte with friends, or sharing a pot with coworkers.
But as I learn more about all things health, I’m more and more convinced that variety is key to a healthy diet and lifestyle. Changing up your form of exercise, taking a break from certain supplement, or cycling off coffee can go a long way to keeping the body in balance.
For this reason I put down the coffee every once in a while and reach for coffee alternatives instead.
What’s in Yerba Mate?
Yerba mate tea is made from the leaves of the ilex paraguariensis plant. In South America, drinking yerba mate tea (often from gourds) is a common social pastime. It has an impressive host of health benefits and can satisfy in much the same way that coffee does. It has a unique, rich flavor that’s similar to black or green tea.
Yerba mate does contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine (also found in chocolate). Coffee contains about 85 milligrams of caffeine per 5 ounce cup, and yerba mate has slightly less at about 78 milligrams.
Yerba mate also contains anti-inflammatory saponins, chlorophyll, and potent antioxidants.
The Benefits of Yerba Mate
This tasty drink has some surprising health benefits!
Yerba mate protects DNA from free radical damage and has a high antioxidant capacity. It’s been shown to help protect against breast and colon cancers and has anti-tumor properties. One study found that those who consumed the most yerba mate tea, were least likely to have breast cancer, even when other factors like antioxidant consumption from other sources were accounted for.
Yerba mate not only protects against cellular damage but also protects the heart. This tea benefits the entire cardiovascular system. It works in part by dilating the blood vessels for better circulation.
Yerba mate stimulates the central nervous system to bring about both energy and focus. The tea protects the brain, improves memory, helps reduce depression, and can even help protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Yerba mate was even shown in one study to reduce the amount and length of epileptic seizures, while reducing oxidative damage in the brain.
Yerba mate drinkers can also improve hypothalamus function, a part of the brain that produces and regulates hormones in the body.
When sugar is consumed, a process called glycation happens. Glycation causes damage to the body’s proteins, which can result in inflammatory diseases like arthritis, fibromyalgia, and dementia.
Yerba mate tea has potent anti-glycation actions. One study found it prevented glycation formation by a whopping 83%. This isn’t a free license to eat a bunch of sugary treats, but yerba mate can help prevent damage from the fructose found in fruit and other sources.
Yerba mate has long been used for weight loss, and studies have shown it prevents body weight gain and reduces total body fat. It helps the body more efficiently burn fat and curbs the appetite for a feeling of satiety.
Even more impressive, yerba mate also inhibited visceral fat, the kind that collects along the waistline and abdominals. Visceral fat can surround vital organs like the liver and heart, and can contribute to heart disease, diabetes and other serious issues.
Protects Against Diabetes
Not only does yerba mate reduce potentially diabetes causing visceral fat, but it also improves insulin levels.
In one study diabetics and pre-diabetics drank yerba mate, and some of them made diet changes. Blood glucose levels improved across the board for all groups, but even more so for those who tried to eat healthier. The “healthy” diet they adopted followed food pyramid guidelines and was low in healthy saturated fats, so maybe if they ate a traditional foods diet they would have had even better results.
Yerba mate works in much the same way to protect the liver. It helps to reduce oxidative damage to the liver’s cells. It also helps protect the liver against fatty liver disease and pancreatitis by balancing triglyceride levels.
The Darker Side of Yerba Mate
There are a few things to be aware of before switching ditching the coffee for a yerba mate, however.
Yerba mate contains something called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These hydrocarbons are the same cancer-causing compounds found in tobacco and charred foods.
Depending on growing conditions, yerba mate can also contain varying levels of heavy metals like aluminum and lead.
To put this in perspective though, the average lead concentration in yerba mate tea is less than half of what the EPA considers safe for drinking water. Green tea, coffee, and even fruits and vegetables also contain varying amounts of heavy metals in them, since it’s naturally abundant in soil.
And while yerba mate tea does contain low levels of certain carcinogens, it’s also very high in cancer-fighting antioxidants.
How to Prepare Yerba Mate Tea
Traditionally, yerba mate tea leaves are brewed in hollowed out gourds and sipped through bombillas, a metal straw with a strainer at the bottom. The gourd is passed around and the water refilled up to 20 times. The traditional recipe results in a very strong beverage, as the gourd is packed with leaves.
But never fear, gourds not required! You can make yerba mate at home in a French press, coffee pot, or with a simple household strainer.
Generally, for every 1 cup of water use a heaping 1 teaspoon of ground yerba mate.
- To make yerba mate tea in a coffee pot, use 4 TBSP of the leaves for a 12-cup coffee pot and brew as usual.
- If using a French press, add yerba mate tea to the press, then pour very hot but not boiling water over it. Let this steep for 3-8 minutes, depending on preference.
- If using a strainer, add the yerba mate to a pot of very hot water, cover, and let steep for 3-8 minutes. Use a fine mesh strainer to filter out the leaves and pour into a cup.
Yerba mate tea can be enjoyed with a little raw cream or milk. It can also be sweetened with maple syrup, raw honey, or stevia if desired. You can even serve it cold, traditionally called tereré.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Shani Muhammad, MD, board certified in family medicine and has been practicing for over ten years. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor or work with a doctor at SteadyMD.
Are you a yerba mate tea drinker? Do you think you’ll start now after learning the benefits?
Discussion (38 Comments)
“I welcome open discussion and disagreement in comments,”
No, you don’t.
Katie - Wellness Mama
Not sure what you’re referring to?
Does it taste like green tea? I love coffee and black tea but not green tea. I’d have to really hunt it out, so if would be good to know ahead of time. Thanks.
Katie - Wellness Mama
It tastes more like black tea but slightly more earthy to me. Definitely a different flavor than green tea.
Thanks! Worth trying.
I’m probably one of the few people on earth that don’t like coffee. I don’t like the taste and this is the reason I don’t like tiramisu. I’m the crazy one, yeah! I love green tea and black tea. I’ll try this tea and let you know what I think of it.
@sharon: it is closer to green tea with a full body flavor. If you are looking for a coffee substitute that tastes like coffee try teccino. It is a blend of herbs, They even carry flavored ones..
does it taste like coffee? or at least close? that is what I’m looking for.
I’ve not tried this, but Dandy Blend is sorta kinda similar to coffee and not bad.
Not at all. I love the taste of coffee but my body was so addicted to the caffeine causing migraines if I didn’t have my cofffee at the same time every morning. If I slept in one morning I woke up with a migraine and confined to bed the rest of the day. Not fun. I switched to Yerba about 5 years ago. Never had problems with migraines. I don’t need it every day, although I do love the flavor. Guayaki has great flavors available in cans, Enlighten Mint is my favorite. (I don’t get paid for endorsing them)
I love coffee too. I drink it purely for the flavor; the caffeine doesn’t do much for me.
Yerba mate doesn’t taste like coffee, but it’s got its own unique roasty flavor, which I also find delicious. Republic of Tea makes a Yerba Mate Latte blend that’s out of this world. It is so good brewed extra strong with hot milk and honey added. What a treat!
I also like Dandy Blend. It’s a powdered blend of roasted dandelion root, chicory, and other things. It reminds me a bit more of coffee than yerba mate, but doesn’t have the caffeine. I like to make a mocha with it by blending it with hot milk, raw cacao powder, and sweetener. It’s delightful.
I’ve been drinking it for years. I like it strong with a little lemon in it. It makes me feel great in the morning. I was reluctant to give up coffee but I just feel so much better this way and I do not crash later!
You said, ” The “healthy” diet they adopted followed food pyramid guidelines and was low in healthy saturated fats, so maybe if they ate a traditional foods diet they would have had even better results.”
Not everyone is suited to the diet that you follow and which many folks do indeed benefit from eating.
Some people do well eating non-traditionally, which includes the avoidance or minimization of saturated fats. I agree with you that prediabetics are likely more suited to your kind of diet.
Those people who do adopt the food pyramid guidelines and who may eventually, some time later, develop symptoms of ill health one way or another – it is always attributed to their diet. However, I have noticed that people who eat the low- or no-grain, healthy saturated fat, high-animal product, etc. type diet that you describe as “traditional” also eventually become ill one way or another – but they never blame their diet. It’s always “stress” or “heredity” or some drug they took long ago or this or that. Same with the high carb/adequate protein/low fat diet: nobody seems able to say, “Well, this was good for me for a period of time, but not for the rest of my life.”
I consider the “traditional” diet to be suited to some people some of the time.
I consider the more carb-centered (with adequate protein), low-fat diet to be suited to some people some of the time, too. When I use the word “suited”, I mean that previous symptoms of ill health go away or are greatly reduced.
In any case, we all have to reassess our way of eating over the years and make any necessary changes. Nothing is right for a person forever. Most of us need some kind of medicine or supplementation irrespective of our basic diet.
Thank you for considering my viewpoint.
P.S. I cannot tolerate coffee. Yerba mate is somewhat more suitable for me.
I have been drinking Yerba Mate for a few years now. Most mornings i have a large mug with two tea bags in it. Then I have my coffee with canned coconut milk and stevia. Coffee first upsets my stomach. And I love both of my morning drinks! Give it a try.
Ok, this has convinced me to kick coffee for this ( for a little while). I have Hashimotos and with some stressful events recently, it has flared big time. Which I’ve responded to by drinking copious amounts of coffee )))-;;…bad girl, I know, but hey it had collagen and grass fed butter so not all bad ;-). But I’ve tried Yerba Mate before and loved it, so I will definitely be doing this!
Do you drink all these stimulants while nursing? I do occasionally but…am concerned about nursing moms on coffee or yerba or any stimulants. What do you really think about this?
I myself am sipping Shatavari Tea.
Katie - Wellness Mama
Check with your Doctor or midwife if you’re concerned, but it’s never been an issue for me…
Hola Flora !
I’m from Argentina, here is usual drink “mate cebado” (with straw) during nursing time.
I did with my two babies and never had problem neither the boys, no sleeping problem
i breastfeeding until 2 1/2 years old.