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Boba Tea: Are There Health Benefits?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on October 22, 2020

Boba tea, also known as bubble tea, is a drink native to Taiwan that has recently risen in popularity across the world.

Made out of a tea base (black, green, or white), the drink is mixed in a cocktail shaker with milk and tapioca pearls. These pearls — which look like bubbles as they come up through the straw — are known for their slippery and chewy texture, as well as their sweet flavor. 

Boba tea can come in a variety of flavor combinations. Different fruits, syrups, and other add-ons can be mixed into boba tea, including fruit jellies, pudding, ice, and chunks of fruit. This drink is typically served cold with a wide straw to allow you to drink the boba along with the tea. 

Nutrition Information

According to the USDA, 8 ounces of boba tea contains:

  • Calories: 120
  • Protein: 0 grams 
  • Fat: 1.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 28 grams
  • Fiber: 0 grams
  • Sugar: 28 grams

Keep in mind that these nutrients only account for the average boba tea. Many boba teas are prepared with pudding, yogurt, fruit, jellies, syrups, and more. 

Boba tea provides few vitamins and minerals. However, it contains small amounts of: 

Potential Health Benefits of Boba Tea

Unfortunately, boba itself provides very few health benefits, though its calories and carbohydrates can provide you with a boost in energy. In most cases, boba tea contains high levels of sugar, which is linked to long-term health conditions like diabetes and obesity

However, the tea contained in these beverages can offer the following health benefits:

Lower Blood Pressure

One study that drinking green tea — a common base for boba tea — can lower blood pressure and total cholesterol, which can lower the risk of developing serious conditions like heart disease and stroke.

Decreased Risk of Cancer

Green tea has also been shown to have an impact on certain cancers. In a study examining green tea’s antioxidants, substances that prevent or slow damage from unstable oxygen molecules in the body, researchers found that green tea can lower the risk of liver, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers. However many bubble tea mixtures don’t use green tea as a base.

Potential Risks of Boba Tea

While there are some health benefits to consuming the green tea in some bubble team mixtures, most forms of boba tea also contain high levels of sugar. The amount of sugar you drink along with your boba tea can pose potential risks. 

Increased Risk of Obesity and Diseases

Consuming high levels of sugar has been linked to serious health complications like obesity, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), cognitive decline, and some forms of cancer.

Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is also linked to higher body fat in young children. 

Allergic Reactions

As the boba tapioca balls are made from cassava, you should also avoid boba if you’re allergic to root vegetables. Some people with latex allergies may also have a reaction to products made from cassava. 

Healthier Alternatives

Like many sugary drinks, boba tea is best enjoyed in moderation. However, there are some alternatives and substitutions that can make boba tea much healthier. 

Lower Levels of Sugar

When ordering boba tea or making your own, look for lower-sugar alternatives. While the boba tea will be less sweet, you can still enjoy the flavor with less sugar. 

Other alternatives for sugar can include honey or other sweeteners

Dairy Alternatives 

Soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, or non-dairy creamer can cut down on calories while providing more health benefits than whole milk or cream. These are also a great alternative for those with dairy allergies

Fewer Toppings

The boba tapioca pearls themselves contain a lot of sugar, so asking for fewer tapioca pearls can help you cut down on sugar. 

Many tea shops will give you the option of adding toppings to your boba drink, like jellies, pudding, or yogurt-filled tapioca pearls. Asking for fewer toppings — or none at all — can significantly reduce your sugar intake. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Archives of Toxicology: “Antioxidative and anti-carcinogenic activities of tea polyphenols.”

Eunice, S, C., Han, N. S. Teaching Science in Culturally Relevant Ways. World Science Publishing, 2015.

European Journal of Nutrition: “Green tea catechins and blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” 

FoodData Central: “BOBA, BUBBLE TEA, GREEN TEA, LYCHEE BOBAS.”

Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology: “Allergy to cassava: a new allergenic food with cross-reactivity to latex.”

Nutrients: “Relationship between Added Sugars Consumption and Chronic Disease Risk Factors: Current Understanding.”

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