Yerba Mate for the Holidays

As the holidays quickly approach, so do the casseroles, pumpkin pies, and sugar cookies. These delicious treats tempt even the most disciplined eaters among us. 

So if you’ve been ramping up your daily workouts to fend off any potential weight gain, it might help to know that yerba mate could be your best friend this holiday season.

Research shows that this popular South American herbal tea can help satiate your appetite, boost your metabolism and endurance, and even help you lose fat. It’s also loaded with antioxidants and nutrients.

What is yerba maté?

Yerba maté, Ilex paraguariensis, was consumed by the Guarani indigenous people long before the Spaniards conquered South America. The Guarani name for yerba mate is ka’a which means “a plant” or “herb.” 

The tea is commonly produced and consumed in the countries of Uruguay, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil. Traditionally, yerba mate has been shared from a gourd as a symbol of friendship and bonding and is commonly sipped through a filtered straw.

When served cold, yerba mate is called tereré in the Guarani language. It’s now enjoyed by more than a million people around the world.

Weight Loss Benefits of Yerba Mate

Research shows that yerba mate may help with weight loss by reducing appetite and boosting metabolism. The tea also appears to reduce the total number of fat cells as well as the amount of fat they can hold.

In a 12-week study, a research team analyzed the effectiveness and safety of yerba mate supplementation in Korean participants with obesity. 

According to the findings, participants who consumed 3 grams of yerba mate powder each day lost an average of 1.5 pounds and lowered their waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) by 2%. In contrast, participants who were given a placebo gained an average of 6.2 lbs and increased their waist-to-hip ratio by 1% during the same time period.

In conclusion, the research article states “Yerba Mate supplementation decreased body fat mass, percent body fat and WHR. Yerba Mate was a potent anti-obesity reagent that did not produce significant adverse effects. These results suggested that Yerba Mate supplementation may be effective for treating obese individuals.”

Another study found that yerba mate with exercise improves participants’ fatty acid oxidation (the metabolic pathway in which fats are metabolized to release energy), fullness, and mood state compared with exercise alone. 

Health Benefits of Yerba Mate

Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, yerba mate is still very healthy for you. It outrivals even green tea in its antioxidant content. It also contains trace amounts of all the vitamins and minerals your body needs, as well as seven out of 10 essential amino acids. Yerba will also give you an energy boost with its 85 milligrams of caffeine per cup. 

This is nearly twice the amount of caffeine in black tea but less than half that of coffee (100 to more than 200 mg per cup). As a bonus, many yerba mate consumers say it boosts alertness and energy like coffee but that it doesn’t have the same jittery effect.

Yerba mate contains an array of beneficial compounds including the following:

  • Saponins: Bitter compounds with anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering properties.
  • Caffeoyl derivatives: The main health-boosting antioxidants in yerba mate.
  • Xanthines: Stimulating compounds including caffeine and theobromine (These are also found in tea, coffee and chocolate.)
  • Polyphenols: This is a large group of antioxidants, linked to a reduced risk of many diseases.

Yerba mate has been shown to have antimicrobial properties. In one test-tube study, researchers found that a high dose of yerba mate extract reduced E. coli, a bacteria that can cause food poisoning symptoms. The research team concluded that “extracts from commercial yerba mate have potential to be used as antimicrobials in foods and beverages against pathogenic E. coli…”

A Social Drink

In a recent study, published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, researchers analyzed the role of yerba mate and medicinal plants in the treatment of illnesses within Paraguayan folk medicine. The research was conducted among 100 Paraguayan migrants living in Misiones, Argentina. This included 61 women (aged between 30 and 95) and 39 men (aged between 28 and 90).

In their introduction, the authors review previous evidence on yerba mate’s health benefits. They write, “Research on extracts and isolated compounds from yerba mate has provided a number of pharmacological applications.”

“Studies have demonstrated that yerba mate leaves have antioxidant, antiobesity, antidiabetic, digestive improvement and cardiovascular properties, and chemopreventative ones (preventing cellular damage that may cause chronic diseases).”

“The consumption of yerba mate infusion reduces LDL-cholesterol in parallel with an increase in HDL-cholesterol, as observed in studies on humans. Yerba mate extract also reduces acute lung inflammation, as observed in the animal model. Antimicrobial activity of Ilex paraguariensis has been recently studied as well.”

Regarding the social aspects of drinking yerba mate, the authors write, “Drinking yerba mate is social behaviour par excellence. People avoid drinking mate or tereré on their own. The afternoon mate, especially, is shared with family, neighbours, friends, and other visitors. Sometimes the addition of medicinal plants is negotiated among the participants, and in other situations the invited persons ingest the plants which the host is currently drinking with his/her yerba mate.”

How is yerba mate grown and produced?

Seeds used to sprout new plants are harvested after they have turned a dark purple color — usually between January and April. The harvested seeds are submerged in water in order to filter out any floating non-viable seeds and unwanted pieces like twigs and leaves. Seeds are planted between March and May. 

When yerba mate is harvested, the branches are typically dried by a wood fire, giving the leaves a smoky flavor. The strength of the flavor, caffeine levels, and other nutrients can vary depending on whether it is a male or female plant. Female plants, which are less common, are often milder in flavor and lower in caffeine. 

The main difference between green tea and yerba mate production is the drying method. Mate tea is dried very slowly and often using wood smoke, while green tea is dried through a fast high-temperature air drying process. This creates a very different flavor and contributes to changes in its physical appearance.

Also, green tea production removes the stems before grinding, while yerba mate has a high level of stems in the final product.


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