“I drink bubble tea three times a week, but I also watch my food intake and exercise three times a week. Should I be worried about diabetes?”
Yan Yin Phoi, an accredited practising dietitian of The Thoughtful Dietitian answers.
The Health Promotion Board recommends limiting free sugar intake within 10% of daily calorie requirements. That translates to about 40-55g, or 8-11 teaspoons of sugar. The World Health Organisation additionally states that limiting sugar intake to less than 5% of daily calorie requirements provide further health benefits. Free sugars include added sugars in food, in forms such as table sugar, honey, syrups, and fruit sugars.
A 500ml cup of bubble tea contains as little as 8.5 teaspoons of sugar to as much as 20.5 teaspoons of sugar, at 100% sweetness. Your average bubble tea intake over 3 times a week, given that you don’t consume any other sweetened food or drink, may fall within daily free sugar recommendations.
However, a cup of bubble tea with 20.5 tsp of sugar has equivalent amounts of carbohydrates in more than half a bowl of rice! As a drink accompanying a meal, or even a post-meal snack, it can lead to spikes in blood sugar levels and surges in insulin, which increases diabetes risk, or worsens sugar control if you already have diabetes. This is especially the case if it’s a long-term habit.
It would be nice if I could tell you with certainty that you can have certain foods x times a week and be rid of diseases. However, when it comes to food and health, it’s all about level of risk. Research has shown that the higher the intake of refined sugars, the greater the risk of disease. To minimise your risk, you should therefore minimise your intake.
Bubble tea can be high in calories and cause weight gain especially if you have the pearls, so treat it as a once-in-a-blue-moon indulgence instead of a daily necessity. To manage your intake, try sharing a cup with a friend, asking for less sugar, or having it only periodically.