‘What’s in your boba?’: Hospital warns of unhealthy milk tea

Boba and milk tea lovers, beware: A Singapore hospital is calling for consumers to modify their milk tea orders to make them healthier.

While drinking green and black tea has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, added ingredients like non-dairy creamer and toppings increase the fat and sugar content, and thus, the risk of chronic diseases.

report by Mount Alvernia Hospital compared sugar and calorie levels among various types of boba teas and their toppings. For example, the hospital studied a medium-sized 500 ml and a larger-sized 700 ml milk tea with boba and regular levels of sugar. 

Based on their findings, the medium size has 8 teaspoons of sugar and approximately 335 calories. The larger size has 11 teaspoons of sugar and approximately 469 calories.

“The growing popularity of newer varieties such as honey pearls or brown sugar syrup would mean exceeding HPB (Health Promotion Board)‘s recommendation of 8-11 teaspoons of sugar per day for adults - all in a single drink,” said the hospital. “Kids and teenagers should be having even less, with HPB recommending less than 5 teaspoons of sugar each day.”

The hospital posted an infographic of the report onto its Facebook, due to an overwhelming response from the original post. The graphic compared the calories in different bubble tea toppings, with milk foam ranking the highest with 203 calories and aloe vera ranking the lowest with 31 calories. 

It also displayed the different sugar levels in seven types of bubble tea orders, all 500 ml. Brown sugar milk tea with boba pearls ranked the highest at 18.5 teaspoons of sugar. The drink with the lowest amount of sugar was the avocado tea with boba pearls with 7.5 teaspoons of sugar.

While the hospital highlighted the dangerous levels of sugar found in milk teas, it also acknowledged that the drink is “wildly popular” and “ubiquitous.” To help customers mitigate their sugar intake, the report offered some tips to improve the nutritional content of the drinks.

The tips included choosing smaller sizes with less sugar and limiting consumption to one or two drinks per week. The hospital also emphasized that plain teas such as green tea, oolong tea and black tea have zero calories. 

For healthier toppings, the hospital suggested that boba drinkers consider lower-calorie options like aloe vera, herbal jelly or white boba pearls instead of the classic black tapioca pearls.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.