Brown sugar milk tea is the unhealthiest bubble tea – and milk foam is the worst topping, Singapore hospital warns

Drinking bubble tea could increase the risk of chronic diseases, Mount Alvernia Hospital said.
Lianhe Zaobao
  • Singapore’s Mount Alvernia Hospital has taken to Facebook to warn people that drinking bubble tea can increase the risk of getting a chronic disease.

  • It found that brown sugar milk tea with pearls had the most sugar of all flavours: 18.5 teaspoons. An adult’s daily recommended sugar intake is 8 teaspoons.

  • Trendy toppings like milk and cheese foam contained even more calories than pearls, it added.

  • The hospital advised people to drink no more than two cups of bubble tea a week.

  • It said the number of calories in a medium cup of bubble tea are equivalent to a slice of cheesecake.

Sweet-toothed bubble tea lovers, look away now: the sugary drink has gotten so popular here that a local hospital is calling for consumers to modify their orders to make them healthier.

Mount Alvernia Hospital – a private, not-for-profit tertiary care medical institution – published an article on its website on Friday (July 5) comparing the sugar and calorie levels of various types of bubble teas and their toppings.

It later posted an infographic of the article to Facebook due to “overwhelming requests” from visitors.

In the article, the hospital warned Singaporeans against the sugar content of bubble tea, since the drink had become “ubiquitous” and “wildly popular” here in recent years.

It acknowledged that green and black tea were indeed helpful in reducing the risk of diseases like diabetes, arthritis and cancer, but warned that bubble tea (which contains sugar, milk and non-dairy creamer) could actually increase the risk of chronic diseases.

Non-dairy creamer is a milk substitute that contains trans fat in the form of hydrogenated palm oil. This oil has been strongly correlated with an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, the hospital said.

It added that the number of calories in a medium cup of bubble tea were equivalent to a slice of cheesecake, and advised consumers to limit their intake to two cups a week.

The worst choice? Brown sugar milk tea with pearls

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.

A adult’s daily recommended sugar intake is 8 to 11 teaspoons, while for children and teenagers, it is 5 teaspoons.

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.

Facebook/Mount Alvernia Hospital

To counter any cravings for sugary drinks, the hospital advised consumers to pick bubble tea shops that allowed them to change the sweetness level of the drinks, and slowly reduce the sugar level to “train” their taste buds.

Foam toppings have even more calories than pearls

Apart from the drinks themselves, the hospital also compared the calorie content of various toppings.

The toppings with the highest calories were milk foam (203 calories) and cheese foam (180 calories), beating out the classic option of black tapioca pearls (156 calories).

The lowest-calorie topping in the list was aloe vera, at 31 calories.

Facebook/Mount Alvernia Hospital

The hospital warned that toppings like jellies and pearls were kept in a sweet syrup to keep them moist, adding to the drink’s sugar and calorie count.

It added that new trends like honey pearls or brown sugar syrup increased the drink’s sugar content even further.


5 tips to ordering healthier bubble tea, according to Mount Alvernia:

#1: Choose a smaller cup size

#2: Pick “plain” green tea, oolong tea or black tea

#3: Ask for 30 per cent sugar levels or lower

#4: Ask for fresh, low-fat or skimmed milk instead of non-dairy creamer

#5: No toppings (or pick lower-calorie options like aloe vera and white pearls)


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