Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Forget the Coffee: Stimulate Your Mind and Get Healthier with Yerba Maté!

Delicious as it is, the coffee addiction doesn’t provide any nutrition for the body and definitely has the ability to blow out your adrenal glands, make you jittery if you’ve had more than your normal quota, and cause a whopping headache the minute you decide to go cold turkey!

Yerba maté, otherwise known as the “Drink of the Gods” is, on the other hand, able to keep you awake and alert while simultaneously nourishing your body with no known side effects! 

Let’s explore!

What exactly is Yerba Maté?
Ilex Paraguariensis is its scientific name and it is found throughout the subtropical climes of Argentina Uruguay, Paraguay, and Brazil.  A member of the holly family, yerba maté was introduced to South American settlers by the Guarani Indians who made a tea of the leaves and stems to keep up their endurance during long treks through the mountains.  

Yerba maté rapidly became the national drink of Uruguay and Argentina where it is consumed daily by aficionados who recognize its potent qualities. 

What are the components of Yerba Maté?

Yerba maté contains similar health factors as green tea, but has many more nutrients.  Maté in fact contains 196 active chemical compounds, including:

  • ·      11 polyphenols (anti-oxidant chemicals that strengthen the immune system to fight the destruction of cells)
  • ·      Saponins (phytochemicals that stimulate the immune system to fight against disease)
  • ·      15 essential amino acids
  • ·      Vitamins: A, C, E, B1, B2, Niacin, B5, B-complex, pantothenic acid, and inositol
  • ·      Minerals: calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron selenium, manganese, zinc, and trace minerals
  • ·      Other healthful components: carotene, fatty acids, chlorophyll, flavonols, polyphenols, tannins

What are the Powers of Yerba Maté?
One of the primary abilities of yerba maté is to awaken the mind without causing a sensation of nervousness.  Maté contains a substance known as matéine, which helps to stimulate the nervous system, relax the smooth muscles to reduce blood pressure, increase urination through its mild diuretic properties, and keep the mind alert.  Though matéine is related to caffeine, it has a different chemical structure, which causes it to be absorbed into the body differently, allowing maté drinkers to enjoy alertness and clarity without creating a depressive state once the feeling wears off.
Because of its nutritious properties, maté energizes, invigorates, and stimulates the body in its function as a whole-body tonic.  This has been documented at both the Pasteur Institute and the Paris Scientific Society where scientists have claimed that yerba maté contains almost all the vitamins necessary to sustain life.

A reference list of the benefits of Yerba Maté:

  • ·      Enhances mental clarity
  • ·      Enhances focus
  • ·      Elevates mood
  • ·      Sustains energy levels
  • ·      Reduces fatigue
  • ·      Helps in weight loss by depressing the appetite
  • ·      Helps the body maintain a greater state of balance

  • ·      Boosts the immune system
  • ·      Helps to detoxify the blood
  • ·      Helps to relieve allergies by opening respiratory passages
  • ·      Stimulates the adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids that reduce inflammation and heighten immune response
  • ·      Improves digestion by lessening gastrointestinal disorders
  • ·      Helps excrete wastes
  • ·      Increases the supply of oxygen to the heart
  • ·      Helps the body use carbohydrates as fuel when exercising
  • ·      Helps reduce symptoms of irritability when withdrawing from caffeine
  • ·      Fights bad breath due to the abundance of polyphenols

Additionally, yerba maté may be helpful in cases of depression, attention deficit disorder, diabetes, and in reducing excess sugar in the bloodstream.

Studies of Yerba Maté
In a study published in 1996 by “Biochemical and Molecular Biology International,” it was stated that water extracts of yerba maté “were more potent antioxidants than either ascorbic acid or butylated hydroxytoluene.” Another study conducted in March 2000 and published in “Biochemical and Biophysical Research   Communications” states that the “ingestion of extracts of Ilex paraguariensis could contribute to increase the antioxidant defense of an organism against free radical attack.” The 2001 issue of “Fitoterapia” claims that yerba maté contains a “higher content of flavonoids and caffeoyl derivatives than any other assayed species.” 

Tips for Yerba Maté enjoyment!
Maté is an acquired taste and many people unaccustomed to its rather bitter flavor reject it before experimenting with sweeteners.  Though sugar is the common antidote, I prefer using natural stevia, which does the trick without creating acidity.  You can also always use a bit of organic honey.  There are also many distinct varieties of loose maté that vary in flavor, including some that are mixed with orange, lemon, peppermint, and other fruits or herbs.

It is becoming easier to find the tea in bags, or already prepared and bottled yerba maté in many health food, specialty, and gourmet stores.  

If you want to drink it the way the natives do, its best to have a native maté drinker show you how to prepare the tea, as it is not something traditionally common in North America or Europe.  There are many Argentine or Uruguayan grocery stores in almost all cities where you can buy loose yerba maté, as well as the gourd used to hold the herb and the “bombilla,” which is the silver or wooden straw that is used to sip the tea once it is placed in the gourd.  Note: When adding water to the tea, make sure it is at drinking temperature, as if it is too hot, it will burn your mouth and throat when sipped through the straw.

Drinking yerba maté prepared from the loose tea is beautiful social ritual where the gourd is passed from one person to another, sharing the tea as it stimulates conversation and conviviality. Developing a taste for the tea may take time, but it is well worth it in view of all the incredible benefits it brings. 

So away with the coffee and on with the yerba maté!  Be alert, be healthy, and enjoy!

Food for thought:  Albert Einstein was known to enjoy yerba maté.  Could that be the secret of his genius?

Note:  As with coffee, don't overdo it!
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