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Is Yerba Mate the New "It" Superfood?

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Move over, kale, blueberries, and salmon: there's a new superfood on the health scene. Yerba mate tea is coming in hot (literally).

Native to the subtropics of South America, yerba mate has been an integral part of diet and culture in that part of the world for hundreds of years. In fact, people in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southern Brazil consume yerba mate just as much as coffee, if not more. "Many people in South America consume yerba mate on a daily basis,” says Elvira de Mejia, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana. 

Packed with 24 vitamins and minerals—including vitamin A, B, C, and E, as well as calcium, iron, potassium, and zinc—amino acids, and antioxidants, yerba mate is a nutritional powerhouse. This near-magical combination of nutrients means mate packs a big punch. “It can help to increase endurance, aid in digestion, ease the signs of aging, eliminate stress, and relieve insomnia,” says Professor de Mejia.

Evidence even shows that mate contributes to weight loss and weight maintenance, according to a study published in The Journal of Food Science. This impact on metabolism has given it growing popularity among U.S. athletes in the past few years, including avid users such as U.S. ski racer Laurenne Ross

But the superfood qualities of yerba mate don’t stop there. Mate also stimulating—a combo that sets it apart from the likes of coffee and green tea. And, while it has a nearly equal caffeine content as coffee, its benefits go far beyond a quick energy boost. Hailed as a brain food, this tea increases attention, focus, and concentration, but doesn’t leave you feeling jittery or anxious after a cup or two. (Add it to our list of 7 Brain Foods to Eat Every Day!)

Traditionally, yerba mate leaves are served communally in a mate gourd. Mate purists believe that this method allows the person drinking it to effectively receive the healing properties of the leaves, and symbolizes the strength of community. Recent years have brought the commercialization of the yerba, creating versions of the tea that the average person can drink on the go. Companies such as Guayaki, one of the first to bring yerba mate to the United States and is sold in Whole Foods stores throughout the country, now offers the tea in a variety of forms and flavors—glass bottles and cans, sparkling versions, and even mate shots (similar to a 5-Hour Energy drink). The company works with local farmers in yerba mate hotspots across Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay to ensure that consumers are getting the real stuff.

But, be warned: Yerba mate on its own might not be the tastiest thing you’ve ever tried to guzzle down for the sake of the health benefits—the distinct flavor has even been said to taste a little grassy. “For maximum health effects, you should buy the leaves and brew them strong in a french press or coffee maker,” says David Karr, co-founder of Guayaki. “But if you can’t handle the taste of the yerba on its own, make a mate latte by adding a little sugar and some almond milk or soy milk.” If buying the leaves feels like a little much, head to the organic section to find pre-packed tea bags or flavored single serving options.

Yerba mate really could be the mightiest of superfoods—bringing you the strength of coffee, the health benefits of tea, and the euphoria of chocolate, all in one mighty punch. So, really, the only question you should have left is why haven't you tried it yet? (Reap the benefits of The New Wave of Superfoods.)

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