Believe the hype, and you might actually think yerba mate could give you the energy to run 10 miles when you haven’t really gotten off the couch in the past year.
But is this “natural energy drink” really all that?
What is yerba mate?
Yerba mate is a tea made from a plant—mate—that’s popular in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. It contains about a third of the amount of caffeine that you’d get from a cup of coffee (30 mg versus 100 mg of caffeine per eight ounces) along with other chemicals that stimulate the brain, heart, muscles, and blood vessels.
Like many teas, yerba mate is also packed with antioxidants. “It’s even higher than green tea,” says nutritionist Christy Brisette, R.D., president of 80 Twenty Nutrition.
Yerba mate benefits
Some human studies suggest that yerba mate might boast a number of health benefits, although the jury is still out on just how effective it is. Yerba mate may help:
- Boost focus and energy. “Anything high in caffeine, like coffee or tea, boosts energy levels, mental concentration to help you study or focus, and exercise performance so you’re able to exert more effort while feeling like you’re giving less effort,” says Brisette. It’s also sometimes used to relieve chronic fatigue syndrome, although there are no studies proving it actually works.
- Ease constipation. Yerba mate contains caffeine—and we all know caffeine can make you poop. If you really have to go, a cup of coffee (or a laxative) might be a more efficient choice, though.
- Lower bad cholesterol. One study found that drinking a cup and a half of yerba mate each day for 40 days helped people to significantly lower their levels of LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad kind). “They think it’s due to the antioxidants found in mate,” says Brisette.
- Burn fat. While you’ve heard all about the fat-burning potential of green tea, yerba mate can also help your body incinerate flab. One small study in overweight people who took three grams of yerba mate supplement every day (without making any other changes) found they lost on average a pound and a half over 12 weeks. Another very small study
of normal weight adults who took one gram of yerba mate right before exercising found they were able to work out harder and burned a higher percentage of body fat versus stored carbs (glycogen). “But researchers still don’t know the right dosage before exercise, and more research needs to be done,” cautions Brisette.
- Lower blood sugar if you have diabetes (maybe). Early research suggests that drinking yerba mate tea three times a day for two months might help lower your blood sugar if you have diabetes. However, this was a very small study and should be taken with a grain of salt, especially since large amounts of caffeine can make blood sugar harder to control for diabetic people.
- Boost your immune system. “Antioxidants are anti-inflammatory, and we know yerba mate is rich in antioxidants,” says Brisette. “It has the potential for preventing disease, supporting heart health, and boosting the immune system, but it hasn’t been studied—so this is just a hypothetical.”