Nutritional Value Of Boba Tea: Bursting The Flavor Bubble

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Boba Tea Has Low Nutritional Value

Boba or bubble tea has minimal nutritional value. A 16 oz glass gives 299 Cal, thanks to the starchy tapioca pearls, which are also a choking hazard for kids. Added sugar, high-fructose corn syrup to sweeten the pearls, condensed milk, and artificial fruit jellies raise the sugar count to 38 g/16 oz or higher and counter the effects of tea antioxidants. Make your own with brown sugar, low-fat milk, and fresh fruit.

Boba, bubble tea, bubble milk tea, pearl milk tea, BBT, tapioca tea, ball drink, momi – there are sundry names for boba milk tea. This accidental Taiwanese culinary invention is available worldwide in a variety of flavors and with different toppings.1 Bubble tea is a sweet, cold, and chewy beverage served with a fat straw so that the tapioca pearls made from cassava can pass into your mouth. Black, green, and jasmine teas are usually used as the base, along with milk and a variety of fruit, fruit jelly, and other flavors. 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.

History has it that boba tea was what happened when a Taiwanese lady accidentally poured a traditional sweetened tapioca pudding called Fen Yuan into iced tea.

Unfortunately, boba tea does not have the good benefits of tea. It is too high in starch and sugar for the tea antioxidants to have any beneficial effect. Many claim that it is their favorite thirst-quencher. But the nutritional value of boba tea is nearly nil, if not negative.

1. Boba Tea Sugar Exceeds The Recommended Intake

According to a study, the tapioca pearls are sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, while the fruit jelly is sweetened with cane or beet sugar. With so much sugar, bubble tea is definitely in the category of sugar-sweetened beverages or SSB. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines SSBs as liquids sweetened with various forms of sugars that add calories.

If you make it at home, use brown sugar or just fruits, not fruit jelly, to sweeten your tea.

As far as these guidelines are concerned, boba milk tea is right up there with soda, fruit-ades, fruit drinks, and sports beverages, with a 16 oz glass serving 38 g sugar. The quantity of sugar can also increase depending on flavorings and toppings. This takes care of the maximum daily intake of sugar for men and over 150% of that for women.2

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.3 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.

2. Boba Tea Has A Lot Of Empty Calories

Research also indicates that a 16 oz (473 ml) glass of bubble tea packs in a minimum of 299 Calories.4 Most of it comes from the tapioca pearls and can be considered empty calories.

Use fewer and unsweetened tapioca pearls. And to add to the nutritional content, use fresh fruit chunks or unsweetened juice.

The tapioca pearls in themselves have no significant nutritional value other than a high calorie content. Though derived from cassava, the pearls have no vitamins, minerals, or fiber to boast of. Further, to make them taste better, the tapioca pearls are often soaked in sugar syrups, even if not the high-fructose corn syrup kind.

Also, while boba milk tea may offer some protein and fat, the milk-less fruit jelly version has none of these but quite a bit of sodium.

3. Boba Tea Milk Is Often High-Fat And Sweeter

When you make your own bubble tea, use low-fat milk, soy milk, or coconut milk.

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, soy milk, or coconut milk and choosing brown sugar in place of white sugar.

4. Tapioca Pearl Sweeteners May Cause Cancer

In 2012, German researchers from University Hospital Aachen claimed that bubble tea tapioca pearls may contain cancer-causing substances like polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs. However, the FDA refuted this claim saying that the chemicals in tapioca balls do not fall under the PCB category.5

Do note, however, that while the tapioca pearls do not contain carcinogens in themselves, sweetening them with high-fructose corn syrup has several health risks, including obesity, diabetes, and cancer.

5. Tapioca Pearls Can Be Risky For Kids

Bubble tea is especially popular among children and teenagers. A study by The Federal Institute of Risk Management (BfR) in Germany has found that the tapioca 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 4 years of age.6

Make It At Home For A Healthful Version

Sure, bubble tea is a delicious drink, but it should by no means be your daily cuppa. It is best described as a dessert beverage. Make it an occasional indulgence, not an everyday affair. And even then, make it at home and escape the ill effects.

References   [ + ]

1. Teo, Tang Wee, and Rong Lun Khoh, eds. Teaching Science in Culturally Relevant Ways: Ideas from Singapore Teachers. World Scientific, 2014.
2, 3. 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).
4.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).
5.Tapioca Pearl Problems. University of California.
6.Trend Drink Bubble Tea: Health Risk for Small Children. The Federal Institute of Risk Management.

Disclaimer: The content is purely informative and educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

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