Yerba Mate Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Yerba mate

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis) is a South American plant whose leaves are used to make a beverage called mate. The beverage is consumed like coffee or tea predominantly in Central and South American countries. Yerba mate is also consumed around the world in energy drinks, weight loss supplements, and other beverages.

Yerba mate comes from a shrub. It was originally used by Guaraní—ancient people who occupied parts of Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina. They used its leaves as a drink and currency in their exchanges with other prehistoric cultures.

Today, yerba mate is generally not consumed as a sole ingredient. Some of the beverages that contain yerba mate may be reasonably healthy, but others contain additional ingredients that consumers should be aware of as some may elicit certain side effects.

Yerba Mate Nutrition Facts

The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for one cup (12g) of a branded yerba mate beverage (Mate Revolution) that lists just organic yerba mate as an ingredient.

  • Calories: 15
  • Fat: 0g
  • Sodium: 0mg
  • Carbohydrates: 3g
  • Fiber: 0g
  • Sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 0.5g

Carbs

There are very few calories in this yerba mate beverage, and most of them come from carbs. According to the USDA, there is no fiber in a yerba mate beverage, so the carbs come from sugars or starch.

Keep in mind that not all yerba mate beverages are the same. Some yerba mate beverages contain added sugars or other ingredients that change the nutritional profile. Added sugars are those that are added during processing. They are considered less healthy than naturally-occurring sugars (such as fructose or lactose) that are in fruit and dairy products.

For example, one commercial beverage that claims to help you focus your attention (FocusAid) contains 11 grams of carbohydrate and 9 grams of sugar. And another berry-flavored yerba mate drink (Guayaki Yerba Mate) contains 14 grams of carbohydrate, all of which are sugar. But low-sugar yerba mate beverages are likely to provide about 8 grams of carbohydrate, all of which are sugar.

There is no estimated glycemic index for yerba mate. And the glycemic load of a single serving of yerba mate is unknown.

Fats

There is no fat in yerba mate and no fat in most beverages that contain yerba mate (unless other ingredients are added).

Protein

There is a small amount of protein in yerba mate. You'll gain about a half gram in a beverage containing yerba mate (unless other ingredients are added).

Vitamins and Minerals

There are few micronutrients in yerba mate unless a branded beverage includes other ingredients.

According to the USDA, a beverage containing just organic yerba mate provides 7.8 milligrams of vitamin C or about 13% of your daily recommended intake. You'll also get about 48 milligrams or 12% of your recommended daily intake of magnesium, and 0.6 milligrams or about 4% of your daily intake of zinc.

Health Benefits

Yerba mate is purported to provide several health benefits. Not all benefits are supported by strong scientific evidence. In some cases, the risks may outweigh the benefits.

Increased Energy and Focus

Yerba mate naturally contains caffeine. Caffeine is a known stimulant. It stimulates the central nervous system, heart, and skeletal muscles. It may also help to improve focus.

In one small study, researchers had 12 healthy young women consume 2 grams of yerba mate or placebo during exercise. Those who consumed the supplement reported greater focus, energy, and concentration during the workout.

Improved Exercise Efficiency

The same researchers who conducted the research on focus during exercise found that the women who consumed yerba mate were able to burn more fat during exercise. In their published report, they concluded that combining yerba mate intake with steady-state, prolonged exercise at targeted ”fat-loss”’ intensities improved fatty acid oxidation during the workout. They also found that it improved measures of satiety and mood state.

Another study by the same researcher had similar results. The report published in Nutrition Metabolism concluded that consuming yerba mate helps to promote the exercise-dependent increase in fatty acid oxidation (fat burning) and energy expenditure when exercising at submaximal exercise intensities.

The researcher noted that yerba consumption did not negatively affect maximal exercise performance and suggested a potential role for yerba mate consumption to increase the exercise effectiveness for weight loss and sports performance.

It should be noted, however, that the research was questioned by other scientists who conducted a study on cyclists. Their research found that yerba mate ingestion (5 grams daily for 5 days and 1 hour before experimental trials) led to a 23% increase in fat oxidation, on average, compared with placebo during cycling at intensities between 30% and 50% VO2max.

But they also found that during submaximal exercise, there were metabolic differences in fat oxidation with no differences in gross efficiency. They noticed that during testing there was a clear dependence on carbohydrate use indicating that the performance improvements in the yerba mate group were due to factors other than a shift in fat utilization. They concluded that yerba mate may be useful for manipulating the substrate use during training in conditions of low carbohydrate availability.

Weight Loss

There is some evidence that yerba mate may be able to help with weight loss.

In one study, participants either took 3 grams of yerba mate capsules or a placebo daily for 12 weeks. Researchers found greater decreases in body fat mass and body fat percent among those taking yerba mate. Those who took yerba mate also reduced their waist-to-hip ratio. Study participants recorded no substantial adverse effects.

The caffeine in yerba mate also increases gastric and colonic activity and acts as a diuretic. This may help those consuming yerba mate to achieve quick weight loss results, but only from the loss of water weight.

However, the NIH states that although yerba mate may have a modest effect on body weight or decreased weight gain over time, there may be adverse effects especially if taken for a long period of time or during pregnancy.

Better Heart Health

There is some evidence that yerba mate supplementation may provide a protective effect on the cardiovascular system.

A 2018 study published in the Brazillian Journal of Medical and Biological Research included a post hoc analysis of 99 postmenopausal women. Women filled out a questionnaire designed to evaluate the consumption of yerba mate and the prevalence of hypertension, dyslipidemia, and coronary diseases. Study authors found that the ingestion of more than 1 liter per day of a mate infusion was associated with fewer self-reported cardiovascular diseases and lower serum levels of glucose.

Researchers also advised, however, that longitudinal studies are needed to further evaluate the association between consumption of yerba mate and reduction of cardiovascular diseases.

Reduced Inflammation

Yerba mate provides a healthy dose of vitamin C. This vitamin—also known as L-ascorbic acid—acts as an antioxidant in the body and may even be able to regenerate other antioxidants in the body, including vitamin E. Our bodies don't make vitamin C, so it is important to get this important nutrient from the foods and beverages we consume.

Researchers don't fully understand the role of antioxidants in the body, but it is believed that they can reduce inflammation and certain markers of normal aging. Antioxidants help to reduce or prevent damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals promote oxidative stress, a process that causes cell damage. Our bodies make free radicals but we are also exposed to them through environmental toxins, such as cigarette smoke.

One study investigating the polyphenol content of popular beverages (including those with yerba mate) found that regular consumption of beverages including chamomile tea, yerba mate, a coffee blend, and coffee-like substitute beverages provides considerable amounts of antioxidants which are relatively stable after simulated digestion. Study authors concluded that these antioxidants have the potential to prevent oxidative stress-related disorders.

Other Possible Benefits

Yerba mate is sometimes used to treat:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Kidney and bladder stones
  • Low blood pressure
  • Urinary tract infections

There is not enough evidence to know if yerba mate can treat any of these conditions.

Allergies

Published reports of yerba mate allergy are lacking. However, yerba mate contains caffeine and there are rare reports of caffeine allergy. One report published in 2015 showed that caffeine can induce anaphylaxis.

Adverse Effects

Yerba mate is a stimulant. Some people (even those who are not allergic to caffeine) may experience adverse effects when consuming stimulants even in small amounts. The National Institutes of Health reports that adverse effects from yerba mate and other stimulants may include nervousness, jitteriness, vomiting, and tachycardia (rapid heart rate).

Yerba mate may also cause problems if it is combined with other ingredients—especially stimulants. In one study, following acute ingestion of a weight loss supplement containing yerba mate, caffeine, yohimbine, hordenine, and other ingredients, young, healthy individuals experienced elevations in heart rate and blood pressure for three hours along with increased feelings of tension and confusion.

According to the NIH, consuming more than 12 cups daily of yerba mate can cause headaches, anxiety, agitation, ringing in the ears, and irregular heartbeats.

Limited scientific studies have found that yerba mate is associated with an increased risk of certain cancers, including bladder, esophageal, lung, and head and neck cancers. This elevated risk is especially high for people who smoke or drink alcohol. Heavy alcohol use combined with long-term yerba mate use can increase the risk of cancer from three-fold to seven-fold.

Studies have shown that that yerba mate contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons—compounds that are known to be carcinogenic. A study published in 2009 found high concentrations of these compounds in yerba mate leaves and in hot and cold beverages infused with yerba mate. Researchers found that steeping yerba mate (such as in yerba mate tea) may increase the level of absorption.

Yerba mate beverages are not recommended for children and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Varieties

Yerba mate is usually consumed as an ingredient in commercial beverages. But some people wonder if they can buy yerba mate in bulk.

You can buy bulk loose leaf yerba mate for tea, but vendors are limited. Also, you may be required to buy large quantities that are not conducive to home use.

Yerba mate leaves are usually air-dried but other methods are explored by commercial producers to impart flavor. For example, wood-dried yerba mate is known to provide a rich and full-bodied flavor profile.

When It’s Best

Yerba mate is an evergreen tree (or bush) that grows in South America. The tree blooms between October and December. But the tea is available year-round.

Yerba mate seeds are harvested from January until April. New yerba mate plants are started between March and May. Some people grow yerba mate on their own, but it most often purchased in pre-packaged teas.

Storage and Food Safety

Store yerba mate tea leaves the same way that you would store any other tea leaves. In general, experts advise that you avoid heat, moisture, light, air, and odor. So you should store your dried tea leaves in an air-tight container in a cool, dark place, away from spiced and other odors. Use an opaque jar or packaging if you can.

Tea generally starts losing flavor after about six months. You should consume dried tea within a year. Loose-leaf tea can be frozen but it is usually not recommended.

How to Prepare

Prepare yerba mate tea as you would prepare most traditional teas.

  1. Place a tea infuser containing about one tablespoon of loose tea leaves in a teacup.
  2. Heat water to 90-95 C or 194-205 F. If you don't have a temperature-controlled teapot, bring water to a boil and then let sit for a minute to reduce the temperature just slightly. 
  3. Pour eight ounces of water over the infuser.
  4. Let tea leaves steep for as long as desired.
  5. Remove the infuser.

Some tea drinkers like to add a small amount of milk, honey, or sugar to sweeten their tea.

Recipes

If you're looking for a tea recipe to provide energy or to calm you at the end of your day, consider any of these recipes. Adding yerba mate will provide an energy boost.

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Article Sources
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