Is bubble tea bad for you? Your trendy new favorite beverage might be your new favorite way to drink tea (and look great on the ‘gram), but it might not be supporting your health as much as you may have thought.
So, should you skip those long lines for boba tea for good, or are there any redeeming qualities to this refreshing drink? Read more about what bubble tea really is all about and get some insight into how it affects your health.
Do Bubble Tea Drinks Have The Same Health Benefits As Regular Tea?
The tea base your go-to boba drink contains might have the same health benefits as regular tea, but it becomes quite negligible when taken in the context of what else is added to create the sweet concoction.1
While your beverage of choice might start off with a black tea or green tea base, the added ingredients – all the flavorings, sweeteners and syrups, milk or juice, and the ubiquitous boba pearls that make bubble tea the taste and texture experience that it is – rack up the calories, carbs, and sugar content that potentially have adverse effects on your health.2
So essentially, if you’re hoping to glean some of the benefits of tea (like its powerful antioxidant or digestive aid properties), you’re better off looking elsewhere or drinking tea alone. The bad additives in bubble tea likely outweigh the good.
The Chewy Culprit: Bubble Tea Pearls Calories And Nutritional Content
What makes bubble tea such an interesting drink is the mound of chewy pearls piled into the bottom of each cup. Whether you call them bubbles, boba, or pearls, they’re all pretty much the same: starch (which is why they’re so chewy). They’re created from raw tapioca, formed into little spheres, and often cooked down with water and either white or brown sugar into a gelatinous consistency, not unlike tapioca pudding. A typical quarter-cup serving of the boba alone could already rack up 160 calories.3
There is a flip side, though. Depending on the source, some bubble tea pearls could be fortified with trace amounts of iron and other essential vitamins and minerals such as zinc and manganese. These all contribute to daily health, but it isn’t really enough considering how little fiber and protein these pearls actually contain.4
Perhaps even more troubling is the recent finding that boba tea pearls might contain potentially harmful compounds. The controversy started when German researchers found bubble tea pearls contained something called PCBs, which have been linked with cancer. However, the research didn’t pick up much steam, and the FDA upheld its ruling that boba tea is generally safe to consume.5
Bubble Tea Can Really Rack Up Your Sugar Intake
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of bubble tea is how much sugar you’re actually gulping down in the guise of a “healthy” tea-based beverage. In addition to the sugar already contained in the sticky pearls, there are syrups and sweeteners depending on your chosen flavor, as well as milk added to the tea base. Other seemingly organic added ingredients like fruit jelly or aloe vera can be artificially flavored and sweetened, too.
In totality, a regular 16-ounce serving of boba milk tea can clock in at 38 grams of sugar, while bubble tea variants can reach up to 54 grams of sugar. Even at the lower limit, that’s way above what an average person’s sugar intake should be.6
It’s not a very well-known fact that it contains just as much, or even possibly more, sugar than a regular can of soda.7 So while people are well-informed to avoid soda due to its high sugar content and associated health risks, bubble tea often falls under the radar.
Studies have found that continued overconsumption of bubble tea may contribute to obesity and other health issues.8
How Might Bubble Tea Affect Your Digestion?
Given how starchy and high in carbs boba tea pearls can be, there has been some concern over how bubble tea pearls can affect your digestion. While doctors often say that bubble tea in moderation shouldn’t cause any digestive issues, an additive sometimes used to make bubble tea, called guar gum, could potentially lead to constipation.9
How Best To Enjoy Bubble Tea
Moderation and keen understanding of what bubble tea really brings to the table nutritionally are key. You can also try to reduce some of the so-called damage by customizing your bubble tea order and swapping ingredients. Most places will let you choose how much sugar content you want or what type of milk to use.
Be aware that even fruit-based bubble tea can be high in calories and sugar. Just because something is marketed as passionfruit or winter melon, doesn’t mean it won’t have added sugar comparable to milk tea or other popular variants.10
Looking for another alternative to satiate your sweet tea craving? You can try your hand at making homemade iced tea with healthier sweeteners and natural flavorings. Research lighter versions of Southern sweet tea recipes or experiment with your own milk tea concoctions using brewed tea, low-cal sweeteners, and non-dairy milk.
So while it’s fun to indulge in a sweet and chewy bubble tea treat every so often, you should now have a better idea of when to say no and choose healthier alternatives instead.
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