Is it worth trying matcha, yerba mate, yaupon, or other teas that offer similar health and energy benefits when you are low on energy? These coffee alternatives are often marketed as health drinks according to the International Food Information Council.
How do these popular options stack up nutritionally? Are they dependent on caffeine for energy? Are they able to contain potentially harmful (or healthy) plant compounds?
Here are the basics of coffee and tea
A National Coffee Association survey found that 70% of Americans drink coffee daily. Observational studies show that coffee beans contain compounds called polyphenols, and antioxidants, which have health benefits. These include a lower chance of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease, as well as neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. But most people don’t drink coffee for these reasons.
Avoid chronic inflammation
Science has shown that chronic, low-grade inflammation can lead to a silent death. This could be a contributing factor in the development of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diseases. Experts at Harvard Medical School share simple ways to combat inflammation and remain healthy.
Protect yourself against the effects of chronic inflammation.
Coffee lovers love the caffeine energy boost. They also enjoy the rich, deep flavors and aromas. However, not everyone loves coffee. Some people find it too stimulating and can feel jittery.
Tea, coffee’s cousin, is second in popularity globally after water and is consumed by about a third of Americans. Teas contain half the amount of caffeine as coffee, while herbal teas contain less. They also have lower acidity. Flavanols, which are health-promoting antioxidant compounds found in tea, are one example.
Comparison of Caffeine: 8 ounces of brewed coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine, instant coffee around 60 mg, black tea 47 mg, and green tea 28 mg.
What you need to know about yerba mat
Yerba Mate (or mate) herbal tea is made from the Ilex Paraguariensis plant in South America. It has a more earthy, bitter taste than other teas. It is rich in antioxidant polyphenols, such as chlorogenic acid, and as much caffeine (80-175 mg per cup). Although preliminary research suggests that it may promote weight loss and lower cholesterol, studies are not conclusive. Users report more focus and less fatigue, likely due to its caffeine content. However, it does not cause jitteriness.
The downside: Some processing methods for mate, like drying leaves with smoke, can introduce polycyclic aroma hydrocarbons (the same carcinogenic substances found in grilled meats). Research shows that consuming large quantities of mate over time is linked to an increased risk of certain types of cancer. This includes the stomach, stomach, bladder, and lungs. Unsmoked mate, which is dried by air drying, may be safer.
Here are some facts about yaupon tea
Yaupon, like mate, is a herbal tea. It is native to the US and has a mild, grassy taste similar to green tea. It is rich in antioxidants and chlorogenic acids, which are said to reduce inflammation and increase energy. The tea contains 60mg of caffeine and theobromine. This compound is structurally similar to that found in many teas and cocoa beans. Theobromine can increase blood flow and may increase alertness and energy. However, this boost is slower to begin and lasts longer than that provided by caffeine, which gives a short but temporary boost.
Side effects: Caffeine and theobromine can increase heart rate and interfere with sleep, particularly if you consume a lot of yaupon before bed or drink it close to bedtime.
Matcha tea: What you need to know
Matcha is made from the same Camellia Sinensis tree as green tea. Matcha, however, is grown in shade. This protects the tea from oxidation and sunlight and gives it a brighter green color. Matcha is made from whole tea leaves and matcha stems. The powder is then ground into a fine powder that can be mixed with hot water or milk. Matcha has approximately 40 to 175 mg of caffeine per cup. It also contains the same antioxidant polyphenols found in green tea, including theanine (catechins) and theanine (catechins). Matcha may have higher levels of caffeine than regular green tea because it is made from whole leaves.
The downside: Although green tea can contain low-to-moderate amounts of caffeine, matcha may have much higher levels than coffee.
What you need to know about chicory espresso
Chicory is the root of the Chicorium Intybus tree. It is dried, roasted, and ground to make a beverage. Inulin, a prebiotic fiber, caramelizes during roasting and gives Chicory a dark brown color. It has a sweeter, nutty, and less bitter taste than traditional coffee. Chicory coffee tastes the same as regular coffee, but it does not provide the same energy boost. For a lower caffeine level, chicory coffee can be mixed with brewed coffee. Research on animals has shown that chicory root is anti-inflammatory. Although inulin might be beneficial to the microbiome of the bowel and improve bowel health, the small quantities found in chicory coffee will not provide this benefit.
Downside Chicory coffee can cause allergic reactions in those who are sensitive to ragweed pollen.
The bottom line
The plant compounds in coffee-alternative wellness drinks could be similar to those found in regular green or black tea and regular coffee. You can choose them if they appeal to you. You shouldn’t assume they are healthier. There is no evidence to support claims of weight loss, heart disease prevention, or even cancer prevention.
These drinks are best enjoyed plain, or with a little honey, unsweetened or plant milk. Any health-promoting effects of naturally-occurring plant compounds can be negated by processing and adding ingredients. Some research has shown that adding fat and protein to tea via creamer can decrease antioxidant properties and deactivate flavonoids. Even if the natural compounds are intact, adding sugar, half-and/or syrups, syrups, or cream to a beverage can make it into a dessert. This negates any health benefits.