Should You Replace Coffee with Yerba Mate?

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    In this article, we’ll discuss what yerba mate is, how it compares to coffee, and some of the possible health benefits.

    There’s a lot of buzz about caffeine and coffee alternatives. Yerba mate is a brewed herbal beverage consumed in South America more commonly than coffee. In this article, we’ll discuss what yerba mate is, how it compares to coffee, and some of the possible health benefits.

    What is Yerba Mate?

    Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis ) is made from leaves that are dried, roasted, and used to make the traditional beverage of Paraguay, although it is consumed across much of South America. The leaves come from Ilex trees, native to the tropical regions of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Paraguay. The name yerba mate comes from two languages (Spanish and Ketchua), and references the original way that yerba mate was brewed: in vessels made from dried calabash fruits.

    What does yerba mate taste like?

    Coffee has a characteristic bitter taste that most are familiar with. Yerba mate also has a bitter component, which is why it’s frequently compared to coffee. However, yerba mate also has an earthier taste that some compare to mushroom coffee or other herbal drinks. As with coffee, the strength and level of bitterness depends on how yerba mate is roasted and brewed. Like coffee, yerba mate is an acquired taste that can have variations in flavor based on the specific type of leaves, roasting, and brewing techniques.

    Ultimately, yerba mate has more of an earthy, herbal flavor than coffee.

    Do yerba mate and coffee have the same caffeine content?

    Yerba mate contains about 1–2% methylxanthines, which includes caffeine. The caffeine is one of the reasons why yerba mate has a bitter taste, as well as stimulating properties. The caffeine content of yerba mate is comparable to the caffeine content of coffee, with about 80 mg of caffeine per 5 ounces of brew. However, the caffeine content per cup can vary based on how long the leaves were roasted and how strong the brew is. Brewing with cooler water for longer periods increases the caffeine content of yerba mate, while hotter water can result in a brew with a caffeine concentration that is 2 times lower.

    The range of caffeine in yerba mate is between 25–175 mg per gram, with cold brew preparations containing about 2.5 times more caffeine than hot brewed beverages. Some yerba mate preparations are comparable to the caffeine level of espresso and energy drinks.

    So which is healthier, yerba mate or coffee?

    There’s not a simple answer to the question of whether coffee or yerba mate is healthier. Both beverages contain antioxidants as well as caffeine. Both have the potential to offer benefits as well as negative effects, like excess caffeine intake.

    Your personal health factors will determine whether coffee or yerba mate is better for you. If you’ve tried coffee and felt jittery, it’s possible that yerba mate might provide energy without the over stimulation. The opposite could also be true. If you’re consuming either yerba mate or coffee as a brewed beverage, there’s really no right or wrong answer as to which you prefer.

    Caffeine pills and yerba mate supplements, however, are a different story. These are both more highly concentrated compared to drinking brewed beverages. Both can lead to over stimulation or other side effects, and it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider before taking caffeinated supplements, including those that contain yerba mate.

    There are several potential benefits to consuming yerba mate, which we’ll examine individually.

    Energy levels

    Increased energy levels are one of the main reasons that people choose to consume yerba mate. The caffeine in yerba mate is the same caffeine in coffee, and while the brew can affect the concentration, generally they are of comparable caffeine content. Caffeine is known to improve mental and physical fatigue, enhance memory and focus, and increase alertness and reaction times. These effects occur because caffeine stimulates the cerebral cortex and central nervous system.

    But caffeine also has an impact on metabolic functions, too, including heart rate, oxygen use by body tissues, and thermogenesis. When consumed in moderate amounts, these can lead to beneficial feelings of increased energy. When consumed in excess, too much caffeine can trigger nausea, diarrhea, fast heart rate, restlessness, sleep issues, and high blood pressure.

    Mental focus and cognitive function

    The mental focus and cognitive benefits aren’t unique to yerba mate. Caffeine is likely the sole component of yerba mate that influences mental response times and focus.

    While some who consume yerba mate state that it provides feelings of energy and focus without the caffeine jitters, the response to any type of caffeine is highly individual and based on multiple genetic and other health-related and physical factors. No clinical studies have compared coffee and yerba mate and proven that the latter produces more mental focus without the jitters or restlessness side effects.

    Metabolic wellness

    There are many aspects of yerba mate that may contribute to metabolic wellness. Caffeine can increase reaction time and thermogenesis, which means that more fat can be burned for energy during the period after it is consumed. A study found that a yerba mate supplement led to a 24% increase in fat burning during moderately intense physical activity, although there are limitations. Taking a yerba mate supplement won’t immediately increase fat-burning in people who are not highly trained or not participating in moderate or intense exercise.

    Another study in 12 fit, active, healthy persons born female found that 2 grams of a yerba mate supplement paired with exercise led to improvements in how efficiently the body burned calories for energy and decreased hunger and the desire to eat. Focus, energy, and concentration were all increased.

    Other research has looked at how yerba mate influences metabolism and body composition. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of people who had a higher body weight found that yerba mate led to weight loss across the 12-week study period. Participants took 3 grams of yerba mate per day and lost 1.5 pounds on average. The waist-to-hip ratio also decreased by 2%. The placebo group experienced weight gain and an increase in the waist-to-hip ratio. No adverse effects were noted in the group who took the supplement.

    When it comes to the healthy management of blood sugar that’s already balanced, yerba mate could have a potentially supportive effect. A pilot study divided 58 participants into 3 groups: those who received dietary counseling only, those who received yerba mate consumption only, and those who received both for a total of 60 days. Participants who consumed yerba mate showed better metabolic parameters than those who did not take it. This study was limited by not being blinded or placebo-controlled, so the results may not necessarily be repeatable. More research is needed.

    Cardiovascular health

    Heart health gets a lot of buzz, and often, caffeine isn’t considered good for it. However, antioxidants can support heart and overall wellness. Research on cardiovascular and lipid aspects is complex, since individual genetics and lifestyle often play a big role, but researchers have learned some things.

    • Yerba mate might have a positive influence on some lipid parameters. A study of 119 people born female found that daily yerba mate supported healthy LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides, when paired with a reduced-energy diet, over a 12 week period. This study lacked a placebo group and blinding, so better designed trials need to be conducted to determine whether these impacts can be replicated.

    • Yerba mate could support healthy oxidation responses. LDL cholesterol is typically only an issue when it becomes oxidized, or damaged. Some researchers have found that yerba mate, presumably because of the antioxidant components, has the ability to inhibit copper-driven oxidative processes in blood plasma. They measured blood plasma in a fasted state and again after participants consumed yerba mate. More studies need to be done, but this conceptual research demonstrates that yerba mate has some demonstrable antioxidant impacts that can relate to lipid parameters.

    • Yerba mate could change how the body absorbs certain fatty acids. Research found that 40 days of yerba mate consumption was able to support healthy lipid parameters, potentially by changing how cholesterol is managed by the small intestine and liver. These effects were attributed to caffeine and polyphenolic compounds. This study was only single-blinded, so higher quality research is needed to test these effects.

    Antioxidant properties

    Yerba mate is rich in plant compounds that have antioxidant properties. These include polyphenols, saponins, and xanthines. The antioxidant properties of yerba mate have been compared to green tea and coffee.

    A study of 14 healthy people measured antioxidant capacity based on lab measurements during a period of 60 days. They consumed 750 mg of yerba mate 3 times per day. This led to an increase in antioxidant biomarkers as well as a decrease in oxidative stress markers.

    Bone health

    Bone health is important for everyone, but is a particular issue in menopause. A study of 146 postmenopausal people looked for possible associations between yerba mate and bone health. It compared the bone density of people who consumed yerba mate for at least 4 years to those who did not consume yerba mate at all. Those who drank yerba mate had an average of 9.7% greater bone mineral density in the lumbar spine and 6.2% higher in the femoral neck compared to those who didn’t consume it. These associations need to be tested in randomized, placebo-controlled, clinical trials to verify whether they are truly linked.

    Where can you find yerba mate?

    Yerba mate as a beverage is available at specialty and health food stores, and in some cases, may be available at general markets depending on the location. It is also available as a dietary supplement in varying concentrations. In many cases, yerba mate is also paired with other ingredients.

    Side effects and things to know

    Yerba mate, like other caffeinated beverages, has the potential to cause jittery feelings. If taken as a dietary supplement, it could potentially interact with other medications or supplements. Always speak with your healthcare provider before taking dietary supplements.

    The Bottom Line

    Yerba mate is a traditional beverage that is consumed more commonly than coffee in South America. It has also been concentrated and is available as a dietary supplement. If you’re interested in coffee alternatives, yerba mate is a frequent choice, although it typically contains the same amount of caffeine as a typical cup of coffee. Yerba mate has been linked to energy and focus support, as well as other possible benefits, but how it affects you can vary based on your personal health factors.

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    Laurel Ash, ND
    Laurel Ash, ND: Medical Content Reviewer
    Laurel Ash, ND is a board-certified Naturopathic Physician. She holds additional credentials with a master’s in integrative mental health. Dr. Ash graduated from the National University of Natural Medicine in 2019. Dr. Ash practices in Oregon and Washington where ND’s scope of practice includes primary care. Using the best tools of allopathic/conventional medicine with the holistic tenants of naturopathic medicine has created a powerful force of healing for the patients in her practice. Dr. Ash focuses on combining integrative/functional health modalities with evidence-based medicine. She has experience as a medical reviewer in the holistic medicine field and partners with companies and practitioners to produce science-backed content for readers and consumers interested in holistic medicine. She is passionate about blending the strengths of allopathic and integrative medicine to transform the healthcare industry, empowering people with an understanding of all their options on their wellness journey.
    Mia McNew, MS
    Freelance Contributor
    Mia McNew is a nutrition science researcher with bachelor's and master's degrees in nutrition science and biochemistry. She holds additional certifications in clinical nutrition and formerly managed a private nutrition practice focusing on fertility and the management of chronic health and autoimmune disorders. She is currently pursuing a PhD in human nutrition with a research focus on disability, underserved populations, and inequities in popular nutrition therapy approaches. She has extensive experience as a fact-checker, researcher, and critical research analyst and is passionate about science and health communications that provide practical support.