A few years ago, bubble tea exploded as the go-to trendy drink for Internet foodies everywhere. Many touted this Taiwanese-inspired beverage as a guilt-free snack akin to a smoothie or cup of coffee. After all, it has the word “tea” in it, so it has to be healthy… right?
Not quite. Like coffee, bubble tea’s ingredients might not be so bad on their own, but when they’re loaded with sweetener and artificial flavor, they lose their nutritional value fast. (Learn how to make your coffee habit healthier.)
It all starts with those “bubbles” found at the bottom of your drink, which are actually round pieces of tapioca. Called “tapioca pearls,” they’re actually made from starch extracted from cassava root, a nutty-flavored vegetable that grows in South America. And as it turns out, those little balls are loaded with carbs—and not the nutritious, fiber-rich kinds found in whole grains, either.
Cooking tapioca pearls only makes it worse. They’re typically fried 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.
And don’t even get us started on what comes in the extra syrups. Thanks to all those processed ingredients, the average bubble tea can easily reach a whopping 300 to 400 calories. Yikes!
On top of being an unhealthy habit, bubble tea could even shorten your life. In 2012, a group of German researchers from the University Hospital Aachen reportedly found traces of aspolychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in tapioca ball samples. These cancer-causing chemicals have also been shown to have other adverse health effects on the immune, reproductive, nervous, and endocrine systems.
Translation: You might want to lay off your bubble tea addiction. Thankfully, we have a few suggestions for low-calorie, healthier drinks, instead.