What is a bubble tea?
Legend has it that a teahouse manager in Taiwan, bored during a long meeting, dumped tapioca pudding into an iced tea, decided it actually tasted pretty good, and added their concoction to the menu. The new tapioca tea became their biggest seller, and a trend was born, spreading throughout Taiwan and beyond. Now bubble teashops are cropping up all over the world, offering flavors ranging from lychee and kumquat to red bean matcha and coconut milk tea.
Bubble tea–also known as boba tea or milk tea–is typically made by adding a scoop of black tapioca “pearls” to the bottom of a cup, pouring in cold green or black tea, and mixing in fruit juice, fruit puree, chocolate, milk, and other flavorings. It’s vigorously shaken (the “bubbles” in bubble tea actually refer to the bubbles that form when it’s mixed) and served with a wide straw that allows room for the pearls to be sucked up along with the tea. You drink the tea, then chew the pearls.
Bubble tea is made from tea, milk, sugar, and tapioca pearls. Let’s start with those “bubbles” or pearls found at the bottom of your drink, which are actually round pieces of tapioca. They’re made from starch extracted from cassava root, a nutty-flavored vegetable that grows in South America. And as it turns out, those little balls contain starchy carbs—and not the nutritious, fiber-rich kinds found in whole grains, either.
Cooking tapioca pearls only makes it worse. They’re typically cooked in hot water, along with even more added sugar, for up to three hours. By that point, these balls could have nearly 160 calories per ¼ cup serving.
Effects of drinking bubble tea on the skin
One bubble tea contains as much as 50 grams of processed sugar and around 500 calories. Apart from the negative impact bubble tea has on overall health, it has damaging effects on the skin as well (deGuzman, 2006).
Some of the negative impacts of bubble tea on the skin have been discussed below:
1. Drinking too much bubble tea may cause acne breakouts
Bubble tea or Boba Milk tea is more than a chemical cocktail full of empty calories. It comprises of ingredients like sugar, tapioca and dairy that are associated with causing acne. Dairy items like milk does not directly result in acne breakouts. Cow’s milk can result in inflammation. Your skin may not be lactose intolerant and hormones in milk can react with the testosterone in your body. This increases the sebum production (oily substance that is responsible for clogging the pores) in the skin resulting in acne breakouts.
Sugar has high glycaemic index, that apart from resulting in insulin spikes, increases androgen secretion, inflammation and oil production, all of which play a significant role in acne development (Han, 2018).
2. Tapioca pearls in bubble tea offer no benefits to skin and overall health
The “tapioca pearls” in bubble tea are starch extracts from the roots of cassava plant. These little black balls at the bottom of the bubble tea are as bad for your health as actual candy. These bouncy tapioca balls are high in carbs and low in well-being promoting nutrients like vitamins, minerals, proteins and fibres. These become worse when they are boiled in sugar. Sugar triggers insulin levels to spike, resulting in clogged pores and a bunch of annoying skin issues (Min, Green & Kim, 2017).
Overconsumption of bubble tea results in the appearance of pimples. Excess bubble tea creates an imbalance and generates extreme heat in the body that triggers outbreak of zits (annoying pimples). The most affected areas include the neck, face, and the chest (Kucharska et al, 2016).
4. Sugar in bubble tea makes skin rough and skin tone uneven
High sugar content in the bubble tea cancels out any nutritional benefits to the skin and overall health. Some of the ill effects of sugar-laden tapioca balls in the bubble tea include;
Excess sugar in the bubble tea produces a surge of insulin, that is helpful in stabilizing your blood sugar levels. When insulin spikes, so do inflammation. This inflammation can worsen existing inflammatory and infectious skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, psoriasis, and acne.
6. Causes breakouts
Acne breakouts thrive well in the environment created by a sugary diet. Sugar and excessive sweetness spike chronic inflammation throughout the body triggering more pain and redness in the skin blemishes. Excessive sugar also suppresses WBC’s (White Blood Cells) – soldiers that kill infectious agents. Low white blood cells in the body make you vulnerable to acne breakouts-causing bacteria that lurk on your skin. Increased inflammation increases the production of stress hormones like cortisol that augments oil production from the skin, providing acne-causing bacteria with the oleaginous environment they require to populate and thrive.
7. Breaks down collagen and elastin
Excessive sugar consumption results in an increase in insulin levels that triggers chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. Too many carbs from foods like refined sugar get attached to collagen proteins and fats in our skin in a process known as glycation. During the process of glycation, a new category of substance is formed – AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). These AGEs are extremely destructive. These are enzymes that break down and weaken elastin fibres and collagen (collagen is responsible for skin strength and elastin enables the skin to stretch, is responsible for giving youthful skin its plump and bouncy texture) leaving skin rough, dull, discoloured, leading to wrinkles and sagging.
The process of glycation is also responsible for increasing the skin ageing process and worsening skin conditions like rosacea and acne. Glycation process makes the skin more susceptible to breakdown and damage, especially from the sun (Danby, 2010).
8. Worsens allergic reactions
Sugary foods flare up allergic reactions and inflammatory skin conditions like eczema. Also known as atopic dermatitis, increase in eczema condition results in skin irritation, leathery skin patches appearing over time, itchy rashes and oozing blisters. Since sugar suppresses white blood cells and stimulates inflammation, the body’s ability to fight off infection carrying agents declines and the body is unable to fight strongly with even mild allergens. Allergies become worse on excessive sugar consumption for people who already suffer from food sensitivities and intolerances
In addition to all the above, the more sugar you eat, the more you develop insulin resistance. Insulin spikes result in a condition called hirsutism – excess hair growth and dark patches on the body and neck.
The hospital compared the sugar level in seven types of bubble tea orders, and found that the unhealthiest option by far was brown sugar milk tea with pearls.
This drink contained 18.5 teaspoons of sugar.
The second most unhealthy option was winter melon tea, at 16 teaspoons of sugar.Toppings for bubble tea make them even more sugar and calorie dense.
The daily recommended sugar intake for children and teenagers is 5 teaspoons, while it is 8 to 11 teaspoons for adults.
And while fruit-based drinks might seem healthy, they were in fact worse choices: passion fruit green tea (8.5 teaspoons) and jasmine green tea with fruit toppings (8.5 teaspoons) outranked milk tea with pearls (8 teaspoons) in sugar content.
Toppings for bubble tea make them even more sugar and calorie dense.
5 tips ordering healthier bubble tea
The hospital offered these suggestions for enjoying the drink with less risk to your health.
- Choose a smaller cup size
- Pick “plain” green tea, oolong tea or black tea
- Ask for 30 per cent sugar levels or less
- Ask for fresh, low-fat or skimmed milk instead of non-dairy creamer
- Avoid toppings, or pick lower-calorie options such as aloe vera and white pearls