Facts about Bubble Tea: Is Boba Bad for You?

Last Updated On : March 2022
Author: Nick
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Is Boba Bad for you?

Are you obsessed with bubble tea, like us, and wondering: is boba bad for you?

The refreshing taste of bubble tea is perfect, especially on a hot day. With its mix of flavors from classic milk tea, to strawberry, and honeydew milk tea that pairs with the chewy texture of the tapioca pearls.

You might think because it has a tea base like black tea, green tea, or jasmine, that it would be a nutritious drink since teas are well-known for their health benefits.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Most bubble teas contain a lot of sugar and fat which take away from any health benefit you may get from the tea.

Fear not, you don’t suddenly have to go on a boba tea detox. You can make your bubble tea or boba healthier by doing a number of things including choosing certain toppings. And like all sugary drinks, it’s best not to drink them every day.

When taken as a tasty treat, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy boba tea. Find out what’s actually in your beloved boba tea (or your child’s go-to drink), its nutrition information, and how you can make it healthier.

Is Boba Bad For You?

In a nutshell, (or any type of shell), yes boba isn’t great. You’re not going to see any athletes drinking it after training.

And if you drink it a lot, it won’t be good as it has a high number of calories and sugar.

Obesity and diabetes are big problems that you don’t want to deal with. All that sugar and fat in boba tea could make them your problem.

Plus, there can be additives and certain chemicals in boba tea, especially if the powdered flavoring is used instead of fresh ingredients.

The main negative health problems of boba can be:

  • Obesity risk
  • Diabetes
  • Possible issues with decreased fertility and growth development because of a chemical known as DEHP (1).
  • Skin problems
  • Controversy around cancer-causing chemicals.

Let’s dive deeper into the negative health impacts of milk teas. I know you may not want to but knowing what’s in your boba and how you can make it healthier means you can enjoy your favorite boba without wondering if the next sip is going to leave you with some sort of health condition. Plus, it’s no worse than other fizzy drinks.

 Calories

Classic milk tea can contain 212 calories in 16 ounces. Black tea with whole milk and one sugar has 43 calories.

Other teas by themselves including black, green, chamomile tea (2), and others all contain less than that, most containing none.

That’s like the difference between throwing a pebble in the ocean and throwing a whale in (not that you could throw a whale, plus it would be mean).

And that’s just for a classic milk tea. A study at Mount Alvernia Hospital (3) found the unhealthiest boba tea was brown sugar milk tea with pearls with nearly 300 calories. One tablespoon of boba tapioca pearls alone can have 34 calories (4).

That’s nearly the same calories in the Burger King Bacon Cheeseburger Deluxe, a McDonald’s hamburger, or a Taco Bell Gordita Supreme Steak (5)...

...but in a drink!

Sugary Syrups

Sugars

The classic milk bubble tea can contain 37g of sugar in a 16-ounce serving whereas black tea with whole milk and one sugar has 4g of sugar.

 The bubble tea with the highest sugar was brown sugar milk tea with 18.5 teaspoons of sugar (6).

 That’s the same as a Boston cream pie (7) or sponge cake!

The amount of sugar in a typical 16-ounce boba milk tea exceeds the upper limit of added sugar intake recommended by the US Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee. This classes boba tea as sugar-sweetened beverages.

The total calories and sugar in a boba milk tea drink is the whole of the recommended maximum daily intake of sugar for men (8) and over 150% for women.

Too much sugar can cause all sorts of health problems like diabetes. It also has a high glycemic index which creates spikes in insulin, increases in inflammation, and oil production. This could lead to outbreaks of spots and possible weakening of the collagen (9) which provides elasticity to your skin for a younger complexion.

Chemicals

There has recently been controversy regarding chemicals added to boba tea by some manufacturers importing to the U.S.

The chemical is known as DEHP (10) or di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate is used to enhance the color of the drink but is more commonly used to soften plastics.

 It can be harmful as it could cause cancer, birth defects (11), and possible reproduction problems.

Myth Debunking: Does Boba Cause Cancer?

There was speculation that boba can cause cancer. This was due to a study published by the University Hospital Aachen in Germany (12).

The German study reported there were carcinogenic (cancer-causing) chemicals called polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs.

Since their study, it has been reported that the researchers and media sources identified the compounds incorrectly.

The compounds aren’t technically PCBs but the styrene (13) in them may be carcinogenic.

As yet, there has been no scientific link to any cancer-causing chemical in boba tea.

Food Science

How do I Make My Boba Healthier?

While the calories, caffeine, and carbs in boba tea can provide you with an energy boost, it is better to limit these.

There are many ways to make your boba healthier, so you don’t feel as guilty for gulping back your favorite boba tea flavors.

 

1. Reduce sugar levels

This is an obvious one but when you order your boba tea, don’t ask for full sugar. Either choose no sugar or a little sugar or even substitute for a little honey.

2. Substitute those tapioca pearls

Tapioca pearls are the go-to boba pearls in bubble tea. While they do contain a source of calcium and iron (14), but they are made with brown sugar or caramel to give them their color. And unfortunately, sugar and caramel are not healthy (I know, shocking but true). Indeed, tapioca pearls contain a whopping 360 calories per 100 grams.

Choose clear tapioca pearls instead of brown as they contain just 70 calories per 100 grams.

3. Keep it simple

When you are ordering boba tea, it’s hard not to go nuts and pick 100 different flavors. Experimenting is all part of the fun with bubble tea. But keep it simple with a classic milk tea instead of choosing that Oreo cookie boba with full sugar, boba pearls, vanilla ice cream, sweet pudding, cream, with a 10-tiered cake on top, (OK, there usually isn’t a 10-tier cake, but you get the idea...).

4. Avoid Artificial Flavors & Powders 

Instead choose a healthy tea (any tea is full of antioxidants and healthy goodness), or freshly squeezed fruits.

Yes, it seems like all bad news, but don’t start crying yet, there is hope. You can still enjoy boba tea in moderation or you can choose a healthier type of bubble tea.

Tea, after all, provides lots of health benefits. It is packed with polyphenols and antioxidants, which help reduce free radicals, proteins that fly around your body doing damage, causing chronic health problems, and aging.

 Depending on what tea you pick, it could help your heart, blood pressure, and skin among lots of other benefits.

How to choose a healthier boba tea?

  • Select the base: Any type of tea
  • Select type of milk: no milk is best
  • Select Boba type: don’t add any bubbles or boba toppings apart from fresh fruit
  • Select sweetness level: none is best, but you could ask for less sugar or little honey

Frequently Asked Questions

Is boba tea bad when pregnant?

It’s best to avoid boba teas when pregnant as it is high in fat and sugar and may contain additives that aren’t healthy.

There are lots of other teas that you can drink during pregnancy that are not only comforting but are beneficial. Peppermint tea, green tea or ginger tea are good for sickness, even just the smell of them could help.

Can you drink boba tea every day?

Just like any other drink, drinking boba tea every day is not recommended.

It does have a lot of sugar and calories, and possibly caffeine, depending on what type of bubble tea you drink.

What is a healthy boba tea?

Black tea has two calories, so if you have a classic milk tea with tapioca pearls or even better, without tapioca pearls.

Boba Calories

Bottom Line

Unfortunately, boba is bad for you if you drink it often, so it should be taken as an occasional treat. 

But it is still a tasty treat, especially on a hot day! Just make sure you use a reusable boba cup to reduce plastic waste 🙂

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Disclaimer:

This article is intended for informational purposes only. It is not meant to replace professional medical advice, treatment or diagnosis. Do not consume any type of tea if you are allergic to it. The information in this article is not intended to treat serious medical conditions. Please seek professional medical advice before using home remedies.

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