When you’re low on energy, is it worth trying yerba mate, yaobon tea, matcha, and other coffee and tea drinks that promise similar energy and health benefits? Coffee substitutes like these are often marketed as healthy drinks, according to the International Food Information Council.
So how do some popular alternatives stack up nutritionally? Do you rely on caffeine for an energy boost? Or does it contain potentially healthy (or unhealthy) plant compounds?
Basics of coffee and tea
According to a survey conducted by the National Coffee Association, 70 percent of American adults drink coffee, and 62 percent drink coffee on a daily basis. Observational studies have linked the polyphenols and antioxidants in coffee beans with health benefits, including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. However, most of us do not drink it for these reasons. Coffee lovers enjoy the caffeine energy boost that improves clarity and focus, and enjoy its rich, deep aroma and flavour. However, not everyone is a fan of coffee, the caffeine makes some people jittery, and the caffeine and acidity can irritate sensitive stomachs.
Tea, a cousin of coffee, is the second most popular beverage in the world after water, and is enjoyed by a third of Americans. Most teas contain about half the caffeine of coffee (herbal teas contain little or none) with less acidity. Tea contains antioxidant compounds that promote health, such as flavanols.
Caffeine comparison: 8 ounces of brewed coffee contains about 95 mg of caffeine, instant coffee about 60 mg, black tea about 47 mg, and green tea about 28 mg.
Information about “Yerba Mate”
Yerba mate, or Paraguayan yerba mate, is a herbal tea from the Ilex paraguariensis tree that grows in South America. It has a more pungent and bitter flavor than other types of tea. It contains antioxidant “polyphenols” such as chlorogenic acid, in addition to an amount of caffeine equal to coffee, or maybe more (from 80 to 175 mg per cup). Preliminary research suggests it may promote weight loss and lower cholesterol, but studies are inconclusive. Users report reduced fatigue and better focus – likely from the caffeine content – but without the jitters. Downside: Some yerba mate processing methods, such as smoke-drying the leaves, can lead to the use of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the same carcinogens found in grilled meats. Some research links high intakes of yerba mate over time to an increased risk of certain cancers, including those of the head, neck, stomach, bladder and lung.
Information about yawbon tea
The Yawpon is an herbal tea such as «Yerba Mate». Since it is native to the United States of America, it has a mild herbal flavor similar to green tea. It contains chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant purported to reduce inflammation and boost energy. Yawpon tea contains 60 mg of caffeine per cup, and it also provides theobromine, a compound that is structurally similar to the caffeine found in cocoa beans and many teas. Theobromine increases blood flow and may increase energy and alertness, but this boost is slower onset and longer lasting than caffeine, providing a quick but short-term boost.
Negative effect: The combination of theobromine and caffeine may increase your heart rate and interfere with sleep, especially if you drink a large amount of yaopon or have it too close to bedtime.
Information about matcha tea (tea powder)
Matcha comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, as green tea.
But unlike green tea, matcha is grown in the shade, which protects it from sunlight and oxidation, and contributes to its bright green color and high polyphenol content.
Whole tea leaves and matcha stems are ground into a fine powder, then whisked with hot water or milk. Matcha contains about 40-175 mg of caffeine per cup, and has the same antioxidant “polyphenols” as green tea, particularly theanine and catechins. However, because the whole leaves are used to make matcha tea, it may contain higher concentrations than standard green tea.
Negative effect: While green tea contains low to moderate amounts of caffeine, matcha tea can contain extremely high amounts, even more than coffee.
Dandelion Coffee Information
Chicory is the root of the Securium antibus plant, which is dried, roasted, and ground to produce the drink. Chicory contains a prebiotic fiber called inulin that caramelizes during roasting, giving the beverage a dark brown color with a nutty flavor that is sweeter and less bitter than traditional coffee.
It tastes like regular coffee, but it doesn’t give the same boost of energy, since it’s caffeine-free. (Some people mix chicory coffee with brewed coffee for a drink with less caffeine.) Animal studies indicate that dandelion root has anti-inflammatory properties.
Inulin may benefit the beneficial ‘intestinal flora’ and gut health, but the small amounts found in chicory coffee are unlikely to provide this benefit.
Negative effect: The dandelion plant comes from the same family: “damcysia” or pig’s herb, so dandelion coffee may cause allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to pig’s herb pollen.
The bottom line
Coffee alternative health drinks may contain plant compounds similar to those found in regular coffee and green or black tea. It’s okay to choose it if you like the taste. Just don’t assume it’s healthier, because there’s no solid evidence to support claims for weight loss, heart health, or cancer prevention.
These drinks are best enjoyed without the additives or with just a touch of lemon, honey, unsweetened milk or plant-based milk. Processing and added ingredients can eliminate any health-promoting effects of naturally occurring plant compounds.
For example, some research suggests that adding protein and fat to tea through milk or creamer can reduce the antioxidant properties and may inactivate the flavonoids. Even if the natural compounds remain intact, saturating a drink with sugar, syrup, or whipped cream turns it into a dessert, forfeiting any potential health benefits.