If by “good” you mean “addictive and strangely delicious,” then yes. If you are among the uninitiated in one of Argentina’s most sacred cultural and gastronomic traditions (OK Southern Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay also get to lay claim too) and have never tasted mate, here’s what you might be missing out on.
Apart from its trademark earthy, concentrated green tea flavor, it turns out that mate has a whole host of components that scientists insist are good for us. Drinking the infusion offers a healthy dose of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, sodium, zinc and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B5, C, E. Here in Argentina, where mate is defined by law as the official “national infusion”, it’s consumed in a reported 92% of all households. Based on sales seems to be gaining traction with consumers in North America and Europe.
Drinking yerba mate is good for you
According to Examine.com, an independent source of nutritional information with a team of health professionals analyzing the peer reviewed research on the subject feeling comfortable saying that there are positive indicators that yerba mate is a healthy tea with a unique composition of nutrients. That being said it looks like it is not necessarily healthier than other plant-based drinks, like coffee or tea. Still, advocates believe it’s a great substitute if you want to reduce the amount of coffee you are used to drinking by providing a boost in energy while enhancing mental clarity – it has caffeine as well – without causing the usual jitteriness. Caffeine is one of three energy boosting substances called xanthines. Yerba mate also contains theobromine and theophylline at a ratio different than coffee and tea, which could be one of the factors behind its trademark “cleaner” energy buzz. At one point the caffeine in mate was called “mateine” but has since been found to not have enough of a difference on a molecular level to differentiate itself from everybody’s favorite stimulant.
But will it make me skinnier?!
Based on the information available to date, yerba mate’s “fat burning effect” is most likely linked to its caffeine content. It has not been shown to be a more effective fat burner than green tea for example, though it has been shown to help reverse some of the adverse health effects associated with obesity. Many drinkers report feeling less hungry after drinking a few rounds of the brew. It’s also pretty agreed upon that yerba mate has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Multiple peer-reviewed studies showed it is able to reduce LDL cholesterol with regular consumption. It looks like yerba mate is pretty good for your heart. The debate is still going strong over its effect on your waistline.
It also seems that the general indication is that, to some degree, mate is good for people with type II diabetes, thanks to a slight decrease in blood glucose that has been noted with mate consumption. You can read more on the study which supporting this here. Moreover, according to another study, an increase in HDL-C (the “good cholesterol”) has been noted with regular mate consumption.
Alleged links to cancer
The region had a bit of a collective freak out when a study showed an increased risk for oral, neck, throat and esophageal cancers in mate drinkers. Subsequent studies, like the ones used by the World Health Organization seem to indicate that temperature, not the chemical makeup of the mate being consumed puts people at an increased risk for developing cancer. Although a positive correlation does exist between mate consumption and esophageal cancer, this appears to apply to any (scalding) hot beverage and is not associated with cooled mate (terere in the north of Argentina and Paraguay for example).
Of all the reasons for drinking Argentina’s signature beverage, the social aspect should also be highlighted. In Argentina, sharing mate with friends and family is the norm. While weight loss, positive impacts on cholesterol and improved mental clarity are all things to shoot for, the reinforcement of social bonds and the go-to excuse for when you need to hang out in a park and do nothing with your friends shouldn’t be overlooked.