The widely praised, milky goodness we all love to drink any time of the day, popularly known as boba tea or bubble tea or milk tea, apparently contains more sugar than a regular serving of soda, according to latest study conducted in Singapore.
In the experiment, which was commissioned by Channel NewsAsia, students in the Applied Food Science and Nutrition diploma course at the Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore tested out six popular brands of bubble tea to check out their sugar content.
According to the report, the students measured the drops from each of the these boba teas using a refractometer to see the amount of dissolved sugar in the liquids. With this, the students were able to detect the sugar content, but did not test out the sugar found in the pearls and even the toppings.
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In the result posted by the publication, three of the five tested popular boba tea brands showed incredibly high numbers for sugar content, mainly: Winter Melon Tea with reportedly 80 grams of sugar (or equivalent to 16 teaspoons); Brown Sugar Boba Milk Tea with 92.5 grams of sugar (or 18.5 teaspoons), and Bubble Milk Tea ordered in 100% sugar with a measurement of 102.5 grams (or 20.5 teaspoons).
By other measurements of sugar alone, a teaspoon of sugar is equivalent to 4.2 grams of sugar. In the case of the Bubble Milk Tea with 20.5 teaspoons of sugar, that’s at least 86.1 grams of sugar in one drink, not including other added sources of sugar. By comparison, there is an average of 33 grams of sugar in a typical can of cola.
While the report explicitly stated that the experiment did not distinguish between occurring sugars and added sugars, the result still showed harmful impact on one’s body if consumed on a regular basis.
Functional Medicine Certified Health Coach at The Nutrition Clinic, Bonnie Rogers, said that most attention is given to soft drinks to help discourage Singaporeans from drinking too much of the sugary beverage, and made-to-order drinks, such as boba tea, often get excluded from public consultation.
“There is a lot of attention given to soft drinks, but it is the unlabelled products that slip under the radar,” Rogers said.
“If we look at the addictive nature of sugar it is not surprising that these drinks are popular and a lot of parents see this as a healthy option compared to soft drinks,” Rogers continued.
“When you add other sources of sugar from snacks and even complex sugars from rice and fruit, paired with more inactivity in children and adults in general it paints a scary picture,” she added.
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends that a female with a 1,800 calorie daily diet should limit her sugar intake to no more than 180 calories, which is equivalent to 45 grams of sugar.
Siti Saifa, who works as an Applied Food Science and Nutrition lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic, said that despite the option to reduce the sugar percentage of boba tea, choosing half or even a quarter percent of sugar could still be too much for a person on a single day. And this still doesn’t count the sugar content in the pearls and toppings.
Despite the often long queues at bubble tea shops, people still continue to line up to get an order of their favorite drink. Luckily, Rogers provided an explanation as to why the body craves high sugary drink like boba tea.
“It picks you up and then drastically lowers your blood sugar making you tired, hungry and in search for your next sugary pick me up,” she said.
But for those who want to reduce their intake, Saifa suggested to not rush the process. Instead of going for the usual order, she advised to opt for a much smaller cup with low percentage of sugar.
“You can’t make the change to taking less sugar overnight. You can do it step by step,” Saifa said in the report.