Nutritional Value Of Boba Tea: Is It Really Healthy?

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High in both, sugar and carbs, boba tea is a calorie-dense beverage that tends to offer very little nutritional value. Just 16-oz-glass of boba has a minimum of 299 calories and a whopping 38g of sugar which nearly accounts for maximum daily intake of sugar for men and over 150% of that for women. The key is to limit indulgences to rare treats!

Boba, bubble tea, bubble milk tea, pearl milk tea, BBT, tapioca tea, ball drink, momi… there are sundry names for boba milk tea. Originated in Southeast Asia, the drink that was discovered in the early 1980s is now available all over the world. Bubble tea or boba was the result of a Taiwanese lady pouring a traditional sweetened tapioca pudding called Fen Yuan into iced tea. A lot of experiments have been done since then on the beloved boba, which now comes in a variety of flavors and with different toppings.1

Bubble tea is a sweet, cold, chewy beverage served with a fat straw so that the tapioca pearls can pass through into your mouth. It gets its name from the bubbles you can see on top of the glass as a result of shaking the beverage before pouring, and from the bubbles of tapioca pearls at the bottom. The white or black tapioca pearls used in boba milk tea are made out of the cassava plant and are soft and chewy to eat. Black, green and jasmine teas are usually used as the base, along with milk and a variety of fruit and other flavors.

How Nutritious Is Boba Tea?

Tea equals good health. Or is it? Unfortunately, it is not the case with boba. Bubble tea is high in carbohydrates, starch, and sugar. According to a study, the tapioca pearls are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, while the jelly is sweetened with cane or beet sugar. The US Department of Agriculture defines sugar-sweetened beverages as liquids sweetened with various forms of sugars that add calories. As far as these guidelines are concerned, boba milk tea is right up there with soda, fruit-ades, fruit drinks and sports beverages. Despite the presence of milk and tea, it cannot be called a health beverage for sure. In fact, research indicates that a 16-ounce (473 ml) glass of bubble tea packs in a minimum of 299 calories and a whopping 38 grams of sugar. They can also increase depending on flavorings and toppings. This takes care of the maximum daily intake of sugar for men and over 150 percent of that for women.2

Worse still, sometimes sweetened condensed milk is used instead of regular milk to impart a creamy texture to the tea. This makes the sugar content even higher. You can try to make a healthier version at home by using low-fat milk or coconut milk and choosing brown sugar in place of white sugar.

Health Hazards Of Bubble Tea

In 2012, German researchers from University Hospital Aachen claimed that bubble tea tapioca pearls may contain cancer-causing substances. Traces of the carcinogen polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs were found in the tapioca balls from an unnamed Taiwanese manufacturer of the same. However, the University of Berkeley refuted the conclusion of the German research and was even backed by the FDA.3

Bubble tea is especially popular among small children. A study by The Federal Institute of Risk Management (BfR) in Germany has found that the potato pearls in the tea could expose the children to “aspiration”, which means children could accidentally suck the bubbles into their lungs. This is especially true among children below four years of age.4

With so much sugar, bubble tea is definitely in the category of sugar-sweetened beverages or SSB. Added sugars in these type of beverages are strongly linked to increased body weight, type 2 diabetes, metabolic disease, and sundry other obesity-related comorbidities.5 The carbohydrates in boba milk tea mainly come from starch and act as simple sugars that provide us instant energy. Unfortunately, it also leads to a spike in blood sugar.

Sure, bubble tea is a delicious drink, but it is by no means a replacement for your daily cuppa. It is best described as a dessert beverage. Make it an occasional indulgence–not an everyday affair.

References   [ + ]

1. Teo, Tang Wee, and Rong Lun Khoh, eds. Teaching Science in Culturally Relevant Ways: Ideas from Singapore Teachers. World Scientific, 2014.
2, 5. Min, Jae Eun, David B. Green, and Loan Kim. “Calories and sugars in boba milk tea: implications for obesity risk in Asian Pacific Islanders.” Food Science & Nutrition (2016).
3. Tapioca Pearl Problems. University of California.
4. Trend Drink Bubble Tea: Health Risk for Small Children. The Federal Institute of Risk Management