I have drunk organic unsmoked yerba mate since discovering it at age 21. This herbal tea is made from the leaves of Ilex paraguariensis, a relative of the holly tree. The plant is native to South America and has gained worldwide popularity due to its exceptional nutritional profile. Maté offers profound health benefits because of its plant compounds, polyphenols, vitamins and minerals. I enjoy drinking it instead of coffee most mornings. It enhances the quality and experience of my yoga and meditation practice, taking it to new levels.
What is Yerba Maté?
Yerba maté (eIlex paraguariensis Saint Hilare) is an indigenous tree from the subtropical regions of South America. It has been consumed in Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil since the 15th Century. Natives of this region, known as guaranies, macerated the leaves to drink the infusion as medicine for many diseases including rheumatics, intestinal disorders and others.1
Yerba mate contains a wide variety of phytochemicals and nutrients including vitamins C, B1, and B2.2 The minerals Iron (Fe), Calcium (Ca), Magnesium (Mg), Manganese (Mn), Sodium (Na), Potassium (K), Zinc (Zn), and Copper (Cu) are also found in yerba mate.3
Regarding plant compounds, maté has 11 polyphenols, xanthines, saponins, and caffeoyl derivatives. Compared to renown green tea of the leaf camellia sinensis, maté is equally beneficial because of its unique set of properties. I personally enjoy drinking yerba mate in the morning during meditation and yoga. It makes me feel vibrant, calm, and refreshed. It also seems to increase my flexibility and ability to breath during yoga, which I believe is due to the magnesium and theobromine.
Let’s define yerba mate’s phytochemical compounds:
Polyphenols are natural plant compounds that give fruits and vegetables their color. They act as antioxidants to the body, providing anti-aging properties due to their role in deactivating harmful free radicals at the cellular level. A high consumption of antioxidants in the diet promote youthfulness and suppress the harmful effects of DNA damage over time.
Xanthines are plant compounds that act as stimulants to the nervous system, but can also provide a calming effect. Caffeine is present in mate, but not as high as coffee (about one-third). It’s casually referred to as “mateine” because of a slight molecular difference. Yerba mate also contains theobromine which can promote heart health by lowering blood pressure, and possibly lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol. Theobromine is also significantly present in cocoa.
Saponins are unique bitter compounds that have anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects. Saponins are also present in legumes, garlic and red wine. Additionally, they show to have cytotoxic effects against cancer cell lines4
(4) Caffeoyl Derivatives
Caffeoyl derivatives are a class of antioxidant compounds that are also present in green tea. They have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties.
Polyphenols in Yerba Maté
Yerba mate has 11 polyphenols that can be found in both the leaves and stems, with most found in the leaves.5 Though maté does not contain catechin, found in green tea, it has other beneficial polyphenols that green tea doesn’t have such chlorogenic acid, which is also present in coffee.
“Chlorogenic acid reduces food cravings, reduces daily calorie intake, and induces body fat loss by thermogenesis (Greenberg et al., 2006) by acting as a peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor alpha (PPARa) agonist, just like statins used for treatment of cholesterol and triglycerides disorders.”6
Polyphenol Comparison Chart: Green Tea, Black Tea, and Yerba Maté
|Polyphenol||Green Tea||Black Tea||Yerba Maté|
Yerba maté has 6 polyphenols in common with green tea and 5 that are not. Black tea and white tea come from the same leaf as green tea (camellia sinensis). The difference is in the fermentation duration; black tea is fermented more, which removes more antioxidants. White tea is the least processed, which retains more of the plant’s polyphenols.
Why Yerba Maté is Ideal for Morning Yoga
Though green tea is great and nutritious, there is something special about yerba maté. I have experimented with matcha during my mornings of doing yoga and meditation. It doesn’t have the same effect. Green tea has less magnesium and different constituents. Yerba mate, like cocoa, contains theobromine, which can enhance breathing and the cardiovascular system.
“Theobromine is useful in asthma and in other respiratory tract problems such as cough for which no definitive drug has been developed.”7
Matcha makes me more wakefully alert, which is great if I’m out working, but for the golden hours upon waking I am more peaceful and invigorated with a delicious hot cup of mate in my French Press. Yerba mate wakes me up and calms me down simultaneously, supercharging my yoga practice with vigor and flexibility.
Don’t get me wrong. I love matcha but enjoy it at other times. Yerba mate seems unique in its ability to promote my ability to get in the zone during yoga and meditation.
I Drink Maté on an Empty Stomach with Vitamin-C
Though I enjoy drinking this tea with or without food at virtually any time of day, for yoga practice I obviously fast. One should never have undigested food in her stomach when doing yoga. It interferes with hormone production, like HGH, and can cause bloating.
When I make my first cup of yerba mate in the morning I always have a tablet of 1,000 mg of vitamin C. Studies have shown increased polyphenol absorption when tea is combined with lemon or some agent that contains vitamin C (ascorbic acid).8 Though this study involved the class of polyphenols known as catechins, which are only found in green tea, I wouldn’t be surprised if a follow-up study showed increase absorption of yerba mate’s antioxidants via intake of vitamin C. Such research needs to be done.
Yerba Maté Suppresses Hunger
In addition to getting a fix of antioxidants and minerals to boost my practice, yerba maté is an excellent appetite suppressant.9 It makes me feel amazing after hours of not eating. I’m like many health biohackers who enjoy the occasional intermittent fast, where I skip breakfast and lunch to go about 18 hours on-end until deciding to eat around 3:00 or 5:00 pm.
I Only Consume the Unsmoked Variety
Yerba maté can be prepared in two traditional ways according to South American growing methods. One involves smoking the leaves to increase the drying phase after being picked. This, in my opinion, is the sole cause of the so called carcinogen scare that shocked the headlines by researchers a few years ago.10 Apparently the claims that maté contains PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons)—the same toxic compounds found in grilled meat—make it an automatic no-go.
This is false. Aside from mate’s abundant supply of trace minerals and antioxidants, the worries of consuming this tea which have been a staple among South Americans for ages, is ridiculous. Perhaps the researchers should do further studies on the non-smoked prepared leaves specifically, rather than blanketing the claims on vague studies. We don’t know the details of the participants’ brews, whether a non-smoked variety was tested. Therefore, the jury is still out.
We must confirm that smoking the leaves causes carcinogen formation, which intuition and common sense implies. I don’t know how a raw leaf from nature could ever possess the same carcinogens found in fire-grilled steak—unless of course you smoke the leaves.
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- Major Phenolics in Yerba Mate Extracts (Ilex paraguariensis) and Their Contribution to the Total Antioxidant Capacity
- Yerba Mate Tea (Ilex paraguariensis): A Comprehensive Review on Chemistry, Health Implications, and Technological Considerations
- Minerals content of Paraguayan yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis, S.H.)
- Saponins in pulses and their health promoting activities: A review
- Souza, A.H.P.; Correa, R.C.G.; Barros, L.; Calhelha, R.C.; Santos-Buelga, C.; Peralta, R.M.; Bracht, A.; Matsushita, M.; Ferreira, I.C.F.R. Phytochemicals and bioactive properties of Ilex paraguariensis: An in-vitro comparative study between the whole plant, leaves and stems. Food Res. Int.2015, 78, 286–294.[Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
- Learn more about Chlorogenic Acid via ScienceDirect
- The relevance of theobromine for the beneficial effects of cocoa consumption
- Stabilizing Effect of Ascorbic Acid on Green Tea Catechins
- Yerba Maté (Ilex paraguariensis) Metabolic, Satiety, and Mood State Effects at Rest and during Prolonged Exercise
- High levels of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in mate drinks