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Yerba mate (Ilex paraguariensis), a species of the holly family (Aquifoliaceae), is a South American plant whose leaves are used to make a beverage called mate. Yerba mate is traditionally consumed like coffee or tea in South America, where it is often called 'The tea of Gods'. The drink is gaining popularity worldwide due to its incredible health benefits.
Yerba mate contains vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin B1, vitamin B2, vitamin B3, potassium, calcium, magnesium, manganese, iron, selenium, zinc, phosphorus, amino acids and beneficial plant compounds, such as polyphenols and flavonoids. It also contains saponins, theobromine and caffeine . Interestingly, the antioxidant content in yerba mate tea is higher than green tea .
Yerba mate is made from the dried leaves and twigs of the plant. They are dried over fire and then steeped in hot water to make the herbal tea. The tea is greenish colour and has an earthy, herbal aroma. The beverage can be either served hot or cold.
The yerba mate benefits are plenty and are backed by science. Let's read on to know the health benefits of yerba mate.
Health Benefits Of Yerba Mate
1. Boosts immunity
Yerba mate leaves contain saponins; they are phytochemicals found abundantly in this plant. Saponins have been found to boost the immune system and protect the body from disease-causing germs like bacteria, virus, fungi or parasites  . Additionally, the presence of vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc and selenium in yerba mate can help strengthen your immunity and promote overall health.
2. May aid weight loss
There are some research studies that show the effects of yerba mate on weight loss. Animal studies have shown that the presence of saponins in yerba mate can help reduce body weight . Another study also showed that yerba mate can reduce appetite and boost metabolism, which can aid in weight loss .
A study published in the BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies found that yerba mate supplementation decreased boy fat mass and waist-hip ratio in overweight people. The study findings concluded that yerba mate supplementation may be effective in preventing obesity .
3. Increases energy and mental focus
As yerba mate contains a good amount of caffeine, drinking this beverage will boost your energy levels and prevent fatigue. Caffeine can also help improve your mental focus. A 2017 study showed that 12 healthy young women, who consumed 2 g of yerba mate during exercise, resulted in greater focus, energy and concentration during the exercise .
4. Improves physical performance
Caffeine, a well-known stimulant is known to reduce fatigue, improve muscle contraction and improve sports performance . A study reported that participants who were given 1 g capsule of ground yerba mate leaves right before exercise burned 24 per cent more fat during moderate-intensity exercise .
5. Supports heart health
Research studies have shown that consumption of yerba mate tea can lower cholesterol levels. The presence of antioxidant compounds like polyphenols and caffeoyl derivatives in yerba mate may help protect against heart disease . A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that participants who drank 330 ml of yerba mate thrice a day daily for 40 days lowered their bad cholesterol levels .
6. Reduces blood sugar levels
Consuming yerba mate may help decrease blood sugar levels and reduce the complications of diabetes. A study published in the Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology found that yerba mate improved insulin resistance .
7. Lowers inflammation
Yerba mate is rich in beneficial plant compounds like saponins, which is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Consumption of yerba mate can reduce inflammation and certain markers of normal ageing. A 2018 study found that regular consumption of beverage including yerba mate, chamomile tea, coffee blend and coffee-like substitute beverages provide ample amount of polyphenol antioxidants that have the potential to prevent oxidative stress-related disorders .
8. Protects against infections
Yerba mate may help prevent bacterial, fungal and parasitic infections. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Food Protection reported that yerba mate extract have the ability to inhibit Escherichia coli, a type of bacteria responsible for causing food poisoning .
Another study showed the anti-fungal activity of yerba mate in preventing the growth of Malassezia furfur, a fungus which causes dandruff, skin rashes and scaly skin .
9. Enhances bone health
Consuming yerba mate may help lower the risk of osteoporosis, a bone disease that causes your bones to become weak and brittle. A 2012 study showed that postmenopausal women who drank one litre of yerba mate tea daily for four years had less bone loss in their spine and neck compared to women who did not drink yerba mate tea .
10. May manage colon cancer risk
Yerba mate has anti-cancer properties that may stop the growth of colon cancer cells. A 2011 study showed that the caffeoylquinic acid in yerba mate can help treat colon cancer .
Side Effects Of Yerba Mate
Although this beverage offers a number of health benefits, consuming large amounts for prolonged periods can also have some risks. They include a high risk of pregnancy loss when consumed at high doses, temporary rise in blood pressure, and increased risk of oral, larynx and oesophageal cancers. Drinking very hot yerba mate tea is associated with an increased risk of oesophageal, larynx, and oral cancers .
Note: Consult your doctor before you start consuming yerba mate.
How To Prepare Yerba Mate Tea
- Place a tea infuser containing 1 tsp of loose tea leaves in a tea cup.
- Heat water and do not bring it to a boil.
- Pour the water over the infuser and allow the tea leaves to steep for few minutes.
- Remove the infuser and you can add milk, honey, lemon juice or sugar to sweeten it.
- Serve it cold.