When living with diabetes, people may tell you what to eat and drink on a regular basis. Boba tea, also known as bubble tea, is known for it’s tapioca pearls that give a fun, sweet and chewy aspect to the drink. Considering that the are often soaked in a sugar syrup before being added to boba tea, it is often written off as not safe for diabetes. However, we are here to help you find a healthy lifestyle balance that allows diabetics to eat and drink all foods- even boba tea!
Boba Tea Ingredients
The following ingredients are typically the base of boba tea:
- Black, green, or oolong tea
- Tapioca pearls
- Sugar or sweetened syrup
- Milk (can be made with or without a milk alternative)
Most tea shops provide customers with the option to select their preferred ice level, sugar (sweetness) level, and quantity of boba.
Boba Tea Nutrition
The nutrients and calories in your boba tea will vary depending on where you buy it or how you make it. For example, if you visit a boba tea chain restaurant, a standard 16.5-ounce boba tea with brown sugar and tapioca pearls provides:
- Calories: 270 calories
- Total fat: 7g
- Total carbs: 45g
- Dietary fiber: 0g
- Sugar: 43g
- Protein: 6 grams
Nutrition content information from USDA FoodData Central.
While that is the base nutrition being provided from just the drink itself, there are a variety of topping options available as well; though many will add to your total sugar content.
- Aloe vera jelly – 19 g
- Egg pudding – 19 g
- Crystal boba -22 g
- Herb jelly – 17 g
- Lychee jelly – 50 g
- Red bean – 17 g
Nutrition content information from ShareTea
Comparatively, other toppings such as homemade aiyu jelly can be a lower sugar, diabetic-friendly topping option.
Last, but not least, the most popular topping for boba tea are the tapioca pearls. Typically a 12-oz cup of boba tea will contain 2 scoops of tapioca pearls, with each scoop containing 23 g of sugar.
How Diabetics Can Improve Their Boba Tea Drink Order
While boba tea can be a tasty treat, it’s important to be mindful of its high sugar content. Many boba tea beverages are made with sweetened fruit or milk syrups, which can contain a significant amount of added sugar. For diabetics, it’s best to enjoy a sugary drink like boba tea in moderation. Here are a few tips on how to make healthier choices for your diabetes when ordering boba tea drinks.
- Adjust the sugar content.
Many tea shop locations have the option to adjust sugar: they offer 100%, 75%, 50%, 25% or 0% sugar. If you want full-strength sweetness, consider choosing a smaller beverage size if the option is available, or drink a portion of a larger size and save the rest for later.
- Choose a location that serves that serve fresh, handmade boba.
Handmade boba usually doesn’t contain any additives or preservatives. We enjoy OneZo,which originates from Taiwan. They have locations in California, New York, Georgia, and Texas. https://www.onezo.us/
- Ask for less boba.
You can often request for a 1/2 scoop or any variation of boba, which can reduce the sugar by around 10-20 grams.
- Explore milk alternatives.
Cow’s milk naturally contains around 12 g of sugar per cup. Some milk alternatives, such as almond and coconut, may contain 0 g of sugar. However, be sure to ask whether or not the milk alternative is unsweetened, or just simply ask for the brand so you can look up the nutrition label on your own. Many “original” or “regular” versions of milk alternatives can contain more sugar than regular cow’s milk, so it’s important to know all the information you can before making a decision.
- Don’t make it an everyday habit.
Although boba tea is a delicious treat, it’s also not something that you want to get in the habit of having regularly. Tired of drinking water? Read about more healthy drink swaps here.
- Choose clear boba that comes straight from the cassava root.
Tapioca is made from crushed cassava root. Clear boba is indeed tasteless on its own, which is why it is commonly used in milk-based boba teas. The tapioca pearls do a great job of absorbing the milk and flavor of the tea, which makes them blend perfectly with the flavor of your tea. Brown sugar or caramel coloring creates the dark black color of boba. In other words, black boba is simply tapioca with added coloring that makes it sweeter. Therefore, if you plan on ordering a chai boba tea, the black or clear boba pearls will taste like chai as well.
- Make your own boba tea.
Of course, at home you are going to have the most control over all of your ingredients, making it the safest choice for having boba tea with diabetes. If you decide to give it a try, choose a low-glycemic alternative sweetener like monk fruit or stevia.
Boba or bubble tea is a popular Taiwanese drink that consists of tea, sugar, tapioca pearls, and oftentimes milk. Boba tea can be completely safe to consume in moderation or with modification for those who live with diabetes. While it is typically a high-sugar beverage, there are simple adjustments you can make to your order that can reduce the sugar content to avoid a negative impact on your blood sugar. All in all, boba tea can be a perfectly acceptable drink to enjoy for diabetics.
This post was written by Asia Jackson, Dietetic Intern while she was competing her community rotation. This post was reviewed and edited by Edith Yang, RD, CSR, CLT, FAND.