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Argentinian Health Trends

April 6, 2011 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

This past week, Mrs. Healthy Fellow and I had the pleasure of visiting Buenos Aires in Argentina. Our brief time in this complex and intriguing metropolitan area gave us a glimpse into the generous nature of the Argentinian people or “Portenos”, and the distant and recent history that influences the present culture and political climate there. Among other things, we paid close attention to health care and nutritional trends along the way.

Perhaps the greatest historical and modern influence on Argentinian cuisine can be summarized in one word: beef. It is estimated that there are roughly two cows for every one resident of Argentina. And, as a local tour guide pointed out, the incidence of obesity in this South American destination is much lower than many would expect considering the impressive consumption of dairy and meat. The reason for this may have to do with the manner in which cows are raised in Argentina – they are allowed to roam freely, all the while grazing on green pastures. In the United States, these are often referred to as “grass fed” cattle.

The worldwide dairy and meat industry is in the midst of trying to identify the relative merits of raising cattle in a more natural way as opposed to feeding them a grain-based diet in enclosed, indoor environments. Recent scientific inquiries into this subject have resulted in the following observations:

  • Grass fed dairy products are lower in saturated fat, but higher in the beneficial fatty acid CLA and polyunsaturated fat. (1)
  • The fat contained in pasture raised cattle is yellower in color due to a higher percentage of carotenoid antioxidants. (2)
  • The omega-3 fats found in grass fed meat increase omega-3 levels in the blood and platelets of regular consumers. (3)

One of the first things we noticed upon trying a traditional Argentinian rib-eye steak is that it was considerably leaner than what we are accustomed to in the US. There simply wasn’t as much “marbling”. However, when masterfully prepared, this leaner cut of meat was supremely flavorful and tender. In fact, on our way back home we had the unusual experience of eating a “bife de chorizo” or a sirloin steak at the Buenos Aires airport using only plastic utensils! Steel knives and cutlery are not permitted once past security. Much to our surprise, even a flimsy plastic knife performed quite well on this beautifully cooked piece of meat.

No late night dinner in Buenos Aires is complete without a glass of their much-revered Malbec wine. Once you’ve tried the real McCoy, it’s easy to understand why. The intense purplish-reddish color is as dark and rich as you could possibly imagine. The full bodied flavor features a unexpectedly smooth finish that beautifully accompanies beef, chicken, lamb and even select seafood courses such as locally caught salmon. What’s more, Malbec and other core red wines are continuing to perform exceedingly well in the scientific literature. Recent studies report that these wines are excellent sources of valuable antioxidants including melatonin, the “sleep hormone”, and resveratrol which protect the cardiovascular system from age-related decline and diet-related insults. (4,5,6,7,8)

The Cardiovascular Benefits of Red Wine

Source: J Cardiovasc Dis Res. 2010 Oct–Dec; 1(4): 171–176. (link)

On the day of our departure, Fernando and Vilma, close friends of the family, presented us with a most lovely gift to bring back home as a reminder of our time in Buenos Aires – a mate gourd. Yerba mate or Ilex paraguariensis is a tea that has been traditionally consumed in South America as a means of supporting stamina, due to it’s naturally occurring stimulating components: caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. Modern research has delved deeper into its potential and revealed that it may also have a role to play in combating cardiovascular disease, inflammation and obesity. However, some evidence also exists that questions whether or not it’s safe for widespread use. For instance, some analysis has found unacceptable fungal contamination in select yerba mate samples that may endanger users with compromised immune systems. There is also conflicting research about the role that this brewed beverage may have in the development of “upper aerodigestive tract” cancers such as esophageal and oral malignancies. The exact mechanism by which yerba mate may contribute to the incidence of these cancers isn’t well elucidated. One theory is that drinking mate tea at an excessively high temperature may play a role. (9,10,11,12,13,14,15)

Wherever we travel, we always look for ways to spread the good word about evidence-based natural medicine. It is our sincere hope that this variety of health care will soon become a bigger influence in Argentina. As an example, in June 2010 an obscure medical journal known as Food Additives and Contaminants determined that processing yerba mate using high heat leads to the development of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAHs, known carcinogens. Therefore, it’s possible that an otherwise health promoting tea is being rendered dangerous because of inappropriate processing. At this point, more research is needed to confirm or refute this hypothesis. However, it’s clear that such evidence-based possibilities need to be fully explored in order to truly benefit from historically used foods that can be made more effective and safer via the application of modern science. (16,17,18)

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Estar bien!


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Posted in Diet and Weight Loss, Food and Drink, Nutrition

13 Comments & Updates to “Argentinian Health Trends”

  1. Sylvia Stewart Says:

    Dear Healthy Fellow,

    Great to read about your culinary adventures in Argentina and the merits of the mouth-watering sounding grass fed beef you enjoyed!:)

  2. JP Says:

    Thank you, Sylvia.

    It’s a beautiful place. I’m sure you’d enjoy a visit there. 🙂

    Be well!


  3. Paul F. Says:

    Hi JP

    Thank you for the education about the Argentinian healthy diet!
    It is always a pleasure to read your articles and expand our knowledge,


  4. JP Says:

    Many thanks, Paul! 🙂

    Be well!


  5. lolo Says:

    nice post. a bit of idealization. Im from Argentina and here ( at least in my city) there are million of mega FAT people all around , specially females…. like in the usa. So yhea, pandemic. Also tons of feel lot meat as well.

  6. JP Says:


    Thank you. Please keep in mind that the proclamation I referenced was coming from a tour guide – albeit a very good one. Unfortunately, Argentina is susceptible to the same unhealthy nutritional trends as the rest of the world – namely, excessive consumption of processed, refined foods. The more Portenos return to a traditional style diet and lifestyle, the less likely obesity & overweight will be as much of an issue, IMO.

    Be well!


  7. jbo Says:

    Enjoyed reading your blog. I’ve spent a lot of time in south america, mostly visiting and glad you enjoyed your stay in Argentina.
    I really enjoy Malbec wine, but never knew about the melatonin effect.

  8. Nina K. Says:

    Hi JP 🙂

    my “meat-dealer” offers now Argentinian Steaks (tenderloin, rib-eye, roastbeef) and it tastes delicous. Glad to know, that it is from grass-feed cows :-)! I like the taste of the litte fat on the side of the roastbeef, yummy!

    Nina K.

  9. JP Says:

    Sounds delicious, Nina! Enjoy in good health with a glass of Malbec. 🙂

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Update 07/02/15:


    Nutr Hosp. 2015 May 1;31(5):2131-9.

    [Lipid – lowering effect of mate tea intake in dyslipidemic subjects].

    INTRODUCTION: Mate is the national infusion of Argentina and its properties on human health have not been fully elucidated.

    OBJECTIVE: To evaluate changes in lipid profile in dyslipidemic patients supplemented with yerba mate.

    METHODS: 121 dyslipidemic subjects (total cholesterol (TC), LDL cholesterol (LDLC) cholesterol and / or triglycerides (TG) elevated) without lipid-lowering therapy, both sexes (74 women and 47 men) between 40 and 60 years old were studied. After six weeks of mate abstinence, lipid profile and atherogenic index (AI), body composition by anthropometry and recent intake of energy, nutrients and food groups by food frequency questionnaire were analyzed. Daily consumption of mate prepared with 50 g or 100 g of yerba mate was indicated, plus the instruction not to alter eating habits, smoking, medication or exercise. All determinations were repeated after six and twelve weeks. Statistical analysis was performed using Student’s T test for paired samples or Wilcoxon test according to normality of the variables (p <0.05).

    RESULTS: At the end of twelve weeks, TC fell 9.49% (21.66 mg/dL), LDLC fell 11.95% (17.96 mg/dL) HDLC fell 3.34% (1.65 mg/dL) and AI dropped 6.58% (0.31 points), p <0.001 for all cases. TG decreased 7.02% (10.74 mg/dl; p = 0.029) only in 50 g yerba mate consumers. Anthropometric and nutritional variables did not change significantly.

    CONCLUSIONS: Daily consumption of mate produces a time-dependent decrease in TC and its fractions in dyslipidemic subjects.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Update 07/02/15:


    Nutr Metab (Lond). 2014 Sep 2;11:42.

    Yerba Maté (Illex Paraguariensis) ingestion augments fat oxidation and energy expenditure during exercise at various submaximal intensities.

    BACKGROUND: Ingesting Yerba Maté (YM) has become widely popular for health promotion, obesity prevention and body weight reduction, primarily due its thermogenic effectiveness. However, the YM effects on fat metabolism during exercise, when fat metabolism is already increased several fold, are unknown. The present study investigated whether acute YM ingestion augments fat metabolism parameters of fatty acid oxidation (FAO) and energy expenditure derived from FAO (EEFAO) during exercise with several intensities.

    METHODS: Fourteen healthy males and females were randomised in a repeated measures crossover experimental design. All participants ingested either 1000 mg of YM or placebo capsules (PLC) 60 min before performing two incremental exercise ergometry tests. Power output was initiated at and increased by 0.5 W.kg(-1) of body weight every 3 min stage, until reaching peak oxygen uptake [Formula: see text]. Expired gases and stoichiometric indirect calorimetry were used to analyse FAO and EEFAO. Capillary blood samples were collected and analysed for blood lactate concentration (BLC) at rest and at each submaximal and maximal power output.

    RESULTS: YM significantly increased FAO and EEFAO by 24% in all submaximal exercise intensities below 70% of [Formula: see text] (p < 0.001, ANOVA main effects) with post hoc tests showing a higher FAO and EEFAO (p < 0.05) at the lower exercise intensities (e.g. 0.26 ± 0.09 vs. 0.35 ± 0.10 and 0.25 ± 0.12 vs. 0.33 ± 0.11 g.min(-1) at 40 and 50% of [Formula: see text] respectively). These changes were combined with a trend towards a decrease in BLC (P = 0.066), and without a significant difference in [Formula: see text], peak power, peak RER, or peak BLC. CONCLUSIONS: Acute YM ingestion augments the exercise dependent increase in FAO and EEFAO at submaximal exercise intensities without negatively affecting maximal exercise performance, suggesting a potential role for YM ingestion to increase the exercise effectiveness for weight loss and sports performance. Be well! JP

  12. JP Says:

    Updated 07/15/15:


    J Neurol Sci. 2015 Jun 24.

    Inverse association between yerba mate consumption and idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. A case-control study.

    Yerba mate tea is a very common beverage in some countries of South America. We conducted a case-control study on an individual basis using hospital records to investigate the association between Parkinson’s disease (PD) and yerba mate intake. A case was defined as an age of ≥40years with ≥1year of PD. Each case was individually matched by two controls. Exposure was measured by yerba mate consumption, coffee, tea, and alcohol intake and smoking status. The sample consisted of 223 PD patients (mean age 68years and mean disease duration 7.3years) and 406 controls. There was an inverse association between yerba mate “bombilla” consumption and PD (OR 0.64, 95% CI: 0.54-0.76, p=0.00001). A multivariate analysis with a logistic regression adjusted by sex, alcohol intake and smoking provided the following results: yerba mate (OR 0.63, 95% CI: 0.53-0.76), tea (OR 0.60, 95% CI: 0.42-0.86), coffee (OR 0.51, 95% CI: 0.35-0.73). We found an inverse association between yerba mate consumption and PD. These results led us to hypothesize that yerba mate may have a potential protective role in the development of PD.

    Be well!


  13. JP Says:

    Updated 10/23/16:


    Asian Pac J Cancer Prev. 2016;17(6):2923-33.

    Mate and Tea Intake, Dietary Antioxidants and Risk of Breast Cancer: a Case-Control Study.

    Recently, we reported an inverse association between high ‘mate’ intake (infusion of Ilex paraguariensis herb, a staple beverage in temperate South America) and breast cancer (BC) risk. Stronger inverse associations were found in high strata of tea, vegetable, fruit and energy intakes, and in overweight/obese women, suggesting possible roles for ‘mate’ mainly from its antioxidant contribution. The present study attempted to thoroughly explore possible associations among ‘mate’ and tea intake, dietary antioxidants and BC risk. Combining two databases of previous studies, 572 BC incident cases and 889 controls were interviewed with a specific questionnaire featuring socio-demographic, reproductive and lifestyle variables, and a food frequency questionnaire (64 items), focusing on ‘mate’ intake (consumer status, daily intake, age at start, age at quit, duration of habit). Food-derived nutrients were calculated from available databases. Odds ratios (OR) and their 95% confidence intervals were calculated through unconditional logistic regression, adjusting for relevant potential confounders. The highest ‘mate’ intake was significantly inversely associated with BC risk for both low and high carotenoids (OR=0.40 vs. 0.41), vitamin C (OR=0.33 vs. 0.50), vitamin E (OR=0.37 vs. 0.45), flavonols (OR=0.38 vs. 0.48) and reduced glutathione (OR=0.48 vs. 0.46) strata. High tea intake showed significant inverse risk associations only with high carotenoids (OR=0.41), vitamin E (OR=0.48) and reduced glutathione (OR=0.43) strata. In conclusion, a strong and inverse association for ‘mate’ intake and BC was found, independent of dietary antioxidant levels. Also strong inverse associations with tea intake were more evident only at high levels of certain dietary antioxidants.

    Be well!


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