Natural energy drinks have become more popular over the recent years and for those looking for an energy boost without artificial ingredients, yerba mate may be the answer. But is it actually better than traditional energy drinks like Red Bull? Or is it just good marketing?
What is Yerba Mate?
Yerba mate is a tea obtained from the leaves of the yerba mate plant (Ilex paraguariensis). It’s a traditional drink from Latin and South America, though it’s becoming increasingly popular in Europe and North America. Over the past several years, researchers have shown interest in its potential health benefits, from weight loss to anti-cancer properties.
While yerba mate tea can be brewed from leaf, it’s most popularly consumed in a canned form (at least in North America and Europe). It can be combined with fruit juice or other sweeteners like cane sugar to enhance flavor.
While yerba mate can be brewed from leaf, it’s commonly consumed in a canned form. Because of this, let’s look at the popular brand, Guayaki Yerba Mate (Enlightened Mint).
- Calories: 120 calories
- Added sugar: 28 grams
- Caffeine: 150 milligrams
- Ingredients: Purified water, organic cane sugar, organic yerba mate extract, organic brewed yerba mate and peppermint (purified water, organic yerba mate, organic peppermint leaf), organic honey, citric acid, organic mint natural flavor, organic caffeine
The sweeteners in this drink include organic cane sugar and organic honey. Additional caffeine is added to this drink to make it comparable to other energy drinks on the market.
Some brands also offer an unsweetened version if you are trying to limit your added sugar consumption.
Yerba mate contains caffeine, meaning there will be health concerns if you over consume. Side effects to overconsumption include insomnia, upset stomach and increased heart rate. 1-2 liters of yerba mate daily can increase risk of cancer over long periods of time and more than 10 cups daily can increase your risk of caffeine-related side effects.
If you fall into any of the following categories, be sure to speak to a medical professional before consuming yerba mate: pregnant, breastfeeding, children, alcohol use disorders, anxiety disorders, bleeding disorders, heart conditions, diabetes, diarrhea, seizures, glaucoma, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome, weak bones, smoking.
The cost of yerba mate varies depending on the brand you purchase and in what form. The Guayaki Yerba Mate costs about $3.33 per can if you buy in a case. They also offer loose leaf bags of yerba mate for $18. These contain 151 servings with 40 mg of caffeine per serving.
Other brands also sell yerba mate. These range from $2.02 per can (Yachak), to $0.37-$1.22 per ounce of loose leaf (Cruz de Malta, Kiss Me Organics). Overall using loose leaf to brew your own tea seems to be the most cost effective option. The links in this paragraph are affiliate links.
What is Red Bull?
Red Bull is one of the most popular energy drinks on the market today. You’ve probably seen countless commercials and sports sponsorships advertising Red Bull. Since its inception, they have released a variety of energy drinks including sugar free, zero sugar and organic versions.
The original Red Bull energy drink has the following nutrition facts:
- Calories: 110 calories
- Added sugar: 27 grams
- Sodium: 105 milligrams
- Caffeine: 80 milligrams
- Ingredients: Carbonated Water, Sucrose, Glucose, Citric Acid, Taurine, Sodium Bicarbonate, Magnesium Carbonate, Caffeine, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Pyridoxine HCI, Vitamin B12, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Colors
Red Bull uses a combination of sucrose and glucose to sweeten their energy drinks. As a comparison, cane sugar is mostly sucrose with small amounts of amino acids, starches, gums and coloring. Honey is a mixture of fructose and glucose with small amounts of other sugars, vitamins and minerals.
Red Bull, like any other energy drink, contains a high caffeine content which can have a variety of side effects as discussed in the yerba mate section. There are no safety concerns about Red Bull aside from the caffeine.
That being said, it’s important to remember that combining alcohol and energy drinks can be dangerous. Caffeine can mask the depressive effects of alcohol, meaning you could potentially drink more than you normally would.
While I’m not opposed to a vodka Red Bull, it’s important to understand the risks and if you do choose to combine alcohol and caffeine (which I do not recommend), make sure you are keeping track of your drinks and not drinking more than usual. Know your limits!
The cost of Red Bull varies depending on the store you purchase from as well as the size of the pack, but typically one can will range from $1.46 to $2.33 when you purchase a case. When compared to cans of yerba mate, Red Bull is the more affordable option.
How much caffeine is safe to consume?
Many people consume caffeine on a daily basis to maintain energy levels, improve physical performance and maintain weight loss. But it doesn’t come without any negative side effects.
For most adults, 400 milligrams of caffeine seems to be well tolerated without negative side effects. That being said, this amount of caffeine varies from individual to individual, so make sure you are monitoring your own intake and determining what the appropriate amount for you is.
Symptoms of overconsuming caffeine include insomnia, jitters, anxiety, fast heart rate, upset stomach, nausea, headache and dysphoria. According to the Mayo Clinic, caffeine can also cause a temporary spike in blood pressure, though this shouldn’t lead to chronic high blood pressure.
Which is lower in sugar?
Both Red Bull and Guayaki Yerba Mate contain around the same amount of added sugar, 27 grams and 28 grams of sugar respectively. If you are watching your sugar intake, neither of these would be the best option.
While there aren’t significant differences between these two energy drinks, Guayaki is sweetened with “natural sources”, which can be more appealing to some. As a dietitian, I can tell you that in the end sugar is sugar, but if you feel better choosing a more natural option, there is no problem there with me.
If you are looking for a low sugar energy drink, consider brewing your own yerba mate tea and sweetening it with fruit juices or a small amount of sugar or honey. You can also buy the sugar free version of Red Bull which is sweetened with artificial sweeteners.
In the end, if you are trying to lose weight or increase the nutrient density of your diet, less sugar is probably better. But just remember some sugar in moderation is fine and if you enjoy a Guayaki yerba mate or Red Bull every once in a while, no harm done.
Health benefits of Yerba Mate
Yerba mate has a variety of potential health benefits besides being a fun way to have a caffeine boost. And just to clarify, while there is research supporting these benefits, the research isn’t very strong or plentiful. There still needs to be more studies to determine how strong these claims are.
The current body of research suggests that yerba mate can be beneficial for weight loss, has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties and can be protective against parasitic, bacterial and fungal infections.
Again, while some positive benefits have been observed, these are mostly through animal and small human studies. If you are trying to solve any major health issues with yerba mate, please speak to your doctor beforehand.
How to brew yerba mate at home
Purchasing yerba mate tea leaves to brew at home may be the most cost effective way to enjoy yerba mate. Remember, yerba mate tea will contain less caffeine than the canned yerba mate energy drinks. But, they still provide some caffeine, around the same amount as a cup of black tea.
If you choose to brew at home, follow these instructions:
- Add tea bags or loose tea: If using tea bags, you can add these directly to the mug. For loose tea, you will need a strainer. Add the loose lead to the strainer and place the strainer in the mug.
- Fill mug with hot water: Pour hot water into the mug, making sure the tea leaves or tea bags are submerged.
- Seep for 5 minutes: Let sit for about 5 minutes. This will give the tea enough time to seep into the hot water.
- Add sweetener: Remove the tea bags or strainer and add a sweetener of choice. Honey, agave nectar or cane sugar are good choices.
- Let cool and enjoy: To avoid burning yourself, let the tea cool off a bit, then enjoy.
Examples of other caffeinated beverages
There are plenty of caffeinated beverages you can try out that aren’t Red Bull or yerba mate. Here are a few examples:
- Green tea or matcha: Matcha will provide more caffeine per cup (about 70 mg) than green tea (30 mg).
- Soft drinks or soda: The amount of caffeine depends on the type of soda. For example, a 12 oz can of coke provides 34 mg of caffeine.
- Coffee: A cup of coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine.
- Black tea: A cup of black tea contains about 47 mg of caffeine, putting it somewhere between green tea and coffee.
Most herbal teas do not contain any caffeine, so while they make for a nice evening drink, they will not help to increase your energy levels.
There are plenty of caffeinated beverages to choose from nowadays. The best thing to do is try a few and see which one fits into your lifestyle best.
Other ways to improve energy levels
Remember, caffeine isn’t the only way to improve your energy levels. If you feel like you are over reliant on caffeine, try a few of these tips to naturally boost your energy levels.
- Engage in exercise: Regular exercise can help you maintain your energy levels throughout the day. Even light activities like walking can help.
- Eat a balanced diet: Consume a varied diet with fruits and vegetables, legumes, lean proteins, whole grains and dairy or dairy alternatives.
- Make sure you are eating enough: Make sure you are eating enough calories and carbohydrates. Remember, food becomes energy in your body.
- Practice stress relieving techniques: Meditation, yoga, mindfulness and breathing techniques can help relieve stress and improve energy levels.
- Get enough sleep: Try to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep every night.
- Stay hydrated: Make sure you are drinking water or unsweetened beverages throughout the day to avoid dehydration, which may make you feel sleepy.
An overall healthy lifestyle will naturally improve energy levels. If you engage in a healthy lifestyle and still feel chronically tired, speak to your doctor.