Boba Milk Tea
Sugar content and how it affects your health
Before I answer how much sugar is in boba milk tea and how it affects your health, let’s first talk about how your body handles glucose because it is important and it matters.
According to research from Vanderbilt University looking at blood glucose homeostasis or “balance”, the body regulates glucose in the blood stream very tightly. If your blood glucose gets too low, then you will have symptoms such as shakiness, hunger, and dizziness. One of the ways to compensate for this is for your liver to release stored glucose into circulation. If your blood glucose gets too high, then you will have symptoms such as fatigue, thirst, blurred vision & weight gain to name a few. The research stated that a 70kg person will have 4 grams of glucose (or 1 tsp) in their blood circulation. Any more or less and you are not in homeostasis. You need glucose to provide the energy you need to function. For instance, your brain uses up a lot of glucose. You need glucose – just not too much and not too little. (This doesn’t mean that you should get it from sugar, though).
You consume more than 1 tsp of glucose in a day. So where does it all go? It goes into storage – in your liver which can store ~100g and your muscles which can store ~400g. This stored form of glucose is called glycogen. If there’s more glucose to be stored and your liver and muscles are at its capacity, then you store your excess as fat in your adipose tissues. Or it gets used for energy by cells, for physical activity or just be alive. There’s this contant signalling either for glucose to be stored to be used while maintaining ~4 grams of glucose most of the time. It’s a complex system.
The American Heart Association recommends that Americans limit added sugars to no more than 150 kcal/day for men, which is 37.5 grams (9.4 tsp), and 100 kcal/day, which is 25 grams (6.25 tsp), for women.
The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) recommends limiting added sugars intake less than 10% of total energy intake. They say, “A healthy dietary pattern limits added sugars to less than 10 percent of calories per day.” So if you are a person eating 2,000 calories, for example, then your intake of added sugars should not exceed 200 calories or 50 grams (12.5 tsps of sugar)
Men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day.
For women, the number is lower: 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day.
These recommendations are made because there is evidence which shows a correlation that high intake of added sugars from “sugar sweetened beverages” or SSBs can increase chronic disease such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic disease, gout, and non-alcholic fatty liver.
Common SSBs in the US are sodas, juices, and energy drinks. Boba was not included but the 2017 study from the Journal of Food Science Nutrition makes its case that boba beverages is a type of SSB.
If boba beverages are gaining popularity, then it is important that people understand that these types of sugar sweetened beverages should be consumed in moderation and see how it would fit into your diet. I don’t like to vilify any one food or entire food group because everyone is different and everyone’s situation is different, but just know that these SSBs are not nutrient dense and will affect your health if consumed regularly. In the beginning of this blog, I mentioned how your body will regulate the blood glucose in your blood circulation so it’s not too high or too low…until it can’t, then you get symptoms and then over time, you may get diagnosed with a chronic disease such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSB)
So how much sugar does boba have?
This will be a generalization since each boba store uses different ingredients and different methods for making boba drinks
If you include add-ons, it will increase the total sugar further. Tapioca pearls may add 7 grams of sugar from starch. Jelly may add 12 grams of sugar from cane or beet sugar. Egg pudding may add 18 grams of sugar from high fructose corn syrup.
A typical boba beverage:
~16oz of boba milk tea.
38 grams of sugar
Here is a comparison from Harvard University Nutrition Source:
|1 Serving size (16 oz)
|Calorific value (kcal)
|Milk tea w/ Tapioca
|Cranberry juice cocktail
|Sweetened ice tea
You can see how much these SSBs, including boba beverages, can contribute to your daily intake of sugar. The grams of sugar in boba milk tea plain and boba milk tea with tapioca pearls are the same because the tapioca pearls is made from starch and the study looked at sugar content. The starch will eventually break down into glucose though.
If your health goal is to be healthy and have a nutrient dense diet, then limit the empty calorie drinks, especially drinks full of sugar.
What is your health goal?
If you are going to order boba, do so seldomly depending on your situation and what your health goal is.
When you do have a boba beverage, then…
- choose boba tea without the milk or choose an unsweetened milk alternative such as almond milk.
- You can also ask for less sugar (1/2 sweet or ½ sugar, for example).
- Don’t order additional ingredients, such as tapioca, pudding, or jelly since these can add more sugar.
What are alternatives to boba beverages and other SSBs that are not high in sugar?
- Regular, unsweetened tea – such as green tea or Genmaicha
- Plain, ol’ water
- Mineral water, unsweetened
These would not be considered sugar sweetened beverages because they do not have high amounts of sugar (if any).
Figure out what your health goals are and see if boba beverages fit into your diet to achieve them. Since it is not a nutrient dense food, it is likely a “seldom” food that you have on occasion and if you do, there are ways to lower the total sugar content by limiting or avoiding the add-ons, opt for ½ sugar, and avoid milk. Regular unsweetened teas, such as green tea, matcha tea, black teas, oolong tea, jasmine tea, etc. are alternatives that have zero sugar and have antioxidant properties to decrease free radicals making this kind of tea a healthier choice. Plain, clean water is another good choice.
I would also recommend taking a walk after having a boba beverage so you can use some of the calories from the sugar instead of a big load of sugar spiking your blood glucose levels. I would also recommend having clean protein and healthy fat with a boba beverages to slow down the glucose load. My last recommendation would be to share it with a friend.
Can you have this sometimes – sure, it depends on your health goals and situation at the time. Should you drink this everyday? Probably not.
If you want help with an individualized nutrition plan, need guidance or want to know if you’ve reached your personal fat threshold, then you can connect with me here.
Min JE, Green DB, Kim L. Calories and sugars in boba milk tea: implications for obesity risk in Asian Pacific Islanders. Food Sci Nutr. 2016 Mar 29;5(1):38-45. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.362. PMID: 28070314; PMCID: PMC5217910.
Wasserman DH. Four grams of glucose. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2009 Jan;296(1):E11-21. doi: 10.1152/ajpendo.90563.2008. Epub 2008 Oct 7. PMID: 18840763; PMCID: PMC2636990.