Q. I recently quit coffee and started drinking yerba maté tea. How are the stimulants in yerba maté different from those in coffee?
A: Known as the "drink of the gods" in South America, yerba maté is a hot, tealike beverage that is rapidly becoming an alternative pick-me-up. Despite claims that the stimulants in maté are different from those in coffee or tea, yerba maté does contain caffeine. It also contains two close relatives of caffeine, theobromine and theophylline, which are also found in chocolate and tea. Caffeine and its cousins are mild central nervous system stimulants (with caffeine having the strongest effect). When ingested, they temporarily “lift” or increase your heart rate, breathing rate, and metabolism.
According to the International Food Information Council, moderate amounts of caffeine (about 300 mg a day) are considered safe for most adults. An 8-ounce cup of yerba maté contains about 30 mg of caffeine, similar to that in a cup of brewed tea (approximately 40 mg) but less than in a cup of drip-brewed coffee (approximately 85 mg).
So enjoy drinking yerba maté in moderation, just as you would any caffeinated beverage. Check with your health care provider if you have a heart condition or high blood pressure, or suffer from anxiety or depression, because yerba maté can increase the side effects of some medications.
Bear in mind that the therapeutic qualities traditionally attributed to yerba maté, including suppressing appetite and treating headaches and depression, have not yet been proven by clinical studies. Indeed, the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City warns that taking large amounts of yerba maté for long periods of time may be unsafe, because it has been associated with liver toxicity and a possible increased risk for certain types of cancer.
This Q&A was written by Suzanne Girard Eberle, MS, RD, a registered dietitian, speaker, and nutrition coach based in Portland, Oregon.