Dr. Thomas Dwan - Is It Bad For You? Approved by Dr. Thomas Dwan

Is Milk Tea Bad For You?

Also Known As: Bubble tea, boba, chai



Short answer

Milk tea, while a popular treat, often contains high sugar levels that can exceed daily recommended amounts, leading to potential health issues like weight gain, diabetes, and heart disease. Caffeine content is another consideration, which can have both positive and negative effects, depending on individual sensitivity. Additionally, commercial varieties may have additives that pose health risks if consumed in excess. For lactose intolerant individuals, dairy in milk tea can cause digestive discomfort. When enjoyed in moderation and with mindful customization, milk tea can be part of a balanced diet.



Recommended Alternative

Long answer

Sugar Content and Its Impact on Health in Milk Tea

Milk tea, a beloved beverage enjoyed by many around the world, often hides a not-so-sweet truth in its comforting warmth or refreshing coolness. The sugar content in milk tea can significantly vary depending on the recipe, preparation method, and added sweeteners. Let us take a closer look at how this sweet component can impact your health.

Typical Sugar Content in Milk Tea

Milk tea recipes can differ, but a standard serving of 16-ounce (about 473 ml) milk tea can contain anywhere from 20 to 60 grams of sugar, depending on the level of sweetness chosen by the consumer. To put that into perspective, the American Heart Association recommends a maximum of 36 grams of added sugar per day for men and 25 grams for women. Just one serving of milk tea can easily exceed that daily allotment, particularly if additional sugar or sweetened condensed milk is used.

Short-Term Health Effects

Consuming high-sugar beverages like milk tea can lead to a rapid spike in blood sugar levels. This spike can cause temporary effects such as:

  • Energy peaks and crashes, leading to fatigue and irritability
  • Increased cravings for more sugary foods or beverages
  • Short-term cognitive impacts, affecting attention span and memory

Long-Term Health Effects

Regularly indulging in sugary milk tea can contribute to more serious long-term health issues, including:

  • Weight gain and increased risk of obesity due to the high caloric content
  • Type 2 diabetes from chronic high blood sugar levels and insulin resistance
  • Heart disease associated with high sugar intake
  • Dental problems such as cavities and tooth decay

A study published in the Journal of Endocrinological Investigation has shown that excessive sugar consumption disrupts metabolic health and increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions that raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

Customizing Milk Tea for Better Health

Fans of milk tea can make healthier choices by:

  • Requesting reduced sugar or using natural sweeteners
  • Choosing smaller serving sizes to cut down total sugar intake
  • Opting for unsweetened milk alternatives to offset added sugars
  • Adding boba or other toppings sparingly, as these often contain additional sugars

Being mindful of the sugar content and considering these adjustments can help mitigate some of the negative health impacts associated with milk tea. Hence, awareness and moderation are key when indulging in this popular drink.

Ultimately, the impact of sugar in milk tea on an individual's health depends on overall dietary patterns, physical activity levels, and genetic predispositions. For those with a sweet tooth, the key is balance and moderation, and for those concerned with the impact of sugar, unsweetened or lightly sweetened milk tea is the wiser choice, health-wise.

Caffeine Levels in Milk Tea: Pros and Cons

Milk tea, a beloved beverage enjoyed by many across the globe, naturally contains caffeine due to its tea content. The caffeine content in milk tea can vary widely depending on the type of tea used and the brewing time, typically ranging from 20 to 60 milligrams per 8-ounce serving. Understanding the positive and negative effects of caffeine is crucial for evaluating whether milk tea is a suitable choice for your dietary patterns.

Pros of Caffeine in Milk Tea:

  • Mental Alertness: Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant, known for enhancing concentration and reducing the feeling of tiredness. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals seeking a gentle boost in their cognitive functions.
  • Physical Performance: Some studies suggest that caffeine may improve physical performance by increasing adrenaline levels, which could make milk tea a potential pre-exercise drink.
  • Metabolism: There is evidence showing caffeine's ability to enhance metabolic rate, potentially aiding in weight management when consumed in moderation.
  • Antioxidants: The tea in milk tea contributes antioxidants, which are compounds that can help in protecting the body against oxidative stress and inflammation.

Cons of Caffeine in Milk Tea:

  • Sleep Disruption: Consuming caffeine, even in the form of milk tea, can interfere with sleep quality and latency, especially if enjoyed later in the day.
  • Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: Individuals sensitive to caffeine may experience temporary increases in heart rate and blood pressure upon consumption.
  • Dependency and Withdrawal: Regular intake of caffeine can lead to dependence, and sudden reduction or cessation might trigger withdrawal symptoms like headaches, irritability, and fatigue.
  • Varied Caffeine Sensitivity: Not everyone metabolizes caffeine the same way. Some may feel jittery or anxious with even small amounts, making it important to gauge personal tolerance levels.
  • Calcium Absorption: High intake of caffeine may hinder the body's ability to absorb calcium, which could impact bone health over time.

To contextualize these pros and cons, it should be noted that the American Dietary Guidelines suggest that moderate coffee consumption can be part of a healthy diet, which translates to around 3 to 5 cups per day or up to 400 milligrams of caffeine. Understanding where milk tea fits within these parameters and individual health goals is essential. However, personal sensitivity and health status greatly influence whether the caffeine content in milk tea will have a positive or negative effect. For specific health concerns, it is always advised to consult with a healthcare provider.

Further, the preparation of milk tea can also affect the caffeine level—brewing time, tea leaf quantity, and type of tea (black, green, oolong, etc.) all play significant roles. Detailed nutritional information can be obtained from manufacturers or by reviewing existing research on the specific type of tea used.

While caffeine has been extensively studied, new insights frequently emerge. For the most current information on caffeine research, publications from institutions like the Journal of Nutrition and The International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition are valuable resources.

Additives in Commercial Milk Tea: What You Need to Know

Milk tea, a beloved beverage enjoyed by many across the world, comes in numerous varieties. While the traditional recipe of tea mixed with milk can be quite simple, commercial milk tea—often found in bubble tea shops and convenience stores—may contain several additives. Let's delve into the most common additives found in these milk teas and their potential implications for your health.

Sugar Syrups

One of the primary additives is sugar syrup, which is used to sweeten the beverage. Excessive intake of added sugars, generally present in commercial milk tea, is linked to a higher risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day for men and 25 grams for women. However, a single serving of commercial milk tea can contain above these daily limits.

Artificial Flavors

Artificial flavors are another common component which are used to enhance or mimic certain desirable tastes. The safety of these flavors is tightly regulated by food safety authorities, yet some research suggests that certain artificial flavorings may have negative health effects, such as allergic reactions or less commonly, contributing to behavioral issues in sensitive individuals.


To extend shelf life and maintain freshness, preservatives are often added. Common preservatives include sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate. These chemicals can be ingested safely within certain limits; however, in high concentrations, they may pose health risks, possibly leading to hypersensitivity reactions or exacerbating asthma symptoms.


The vibrant hues seen in some flavored milk teas often come from added colorants. These can range from natural options like carmine or turmeric to synthetic ones like tartrazine (yellow #5) and Allura red (red #40). While approved for use by food safety agencies, studies have raised concerns that some artificial colorants may be linked to attention disorders in children and other health issues. There is, however, ongoing debate and research into these potential effects.

Emulsifiers and Thickeners

Emulsifiers, such as lecithin, ensure a smooth consistency, while thickeners like carrageenan are used to enhance mouthfeel. While generally recognized as safe, some studies have shown that certain emulsifiers may alter gut microbiota and potentially contribute to inflammatory diseases.

Artificial Sweeteners

For diet or "zero sugar" versions of milk tea, artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, or stevia are used. While they help reduce calorie intake, there are ongoing discussions about the long-term impacts of these sugar substitutes on metabolic health, with some studies suggesting potential impacts on glucose regulation and gut flora.

In summary, commercial milk teas can contain a mix of additives that offer taste, visual appeal, and preservation benefits. While most additives are deemed safe within regulatory thresholds, their impact on health can vary from person to person, and overconsumption may lead to potential health risks. It's imperative for consumers to be aware of what's in their milk tea and, if consumed regularly, to consider these factors as part of their overall dietary pattern.

For those concerned about additives, it may be worthwhile to seek out milk tea products with fewer artificial ingredients or to prepare milk tea at home using natural ingredients. Always check the label for the list of additives and keep an eye on serving sizes to make informed choices about your consumption.

Please note, the information provided in this section does not constitute medical advice and should be used for educational purposes only. Always consult with a healthcare professional for dietary concerns specific to your health status.

Consequences of Dairy on Lactose Intolerance and Digestive Health

Milk tea is a beloved beverage enjoyed by many around the world. However, for individuals with lactose intolerance, the dairy component can be a significant concern. Lactose intolerance is a condition where the body is unable to fully digest lactose—the sugar found in milk—due to a deficiency in the enzyme lactase. This can lead to various digestive symptoms that may affect overall health and wellness.

Digestive Symptoms in Lactose Intolerant Individuals

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting

These symptoms commonly appear within two hours of consuming milk-based products, including milk tea. According to a review published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, the severity of symptoms can vary depending on the amount of lactose consumed and the level of lactase deficiency an individual has.

Adverse Effects on Digestive Health

  • Chronic Discomfort: Frequent ingestion of lactose-containing beverages like milk tea can lead to prolonged digestive discomfort in lactose-intolerant individuals.
  • Impaired Nutrient Absorption: Continuous digestive issues may interfere with the body's ability to absorb other nutrients effectively, potentially leading to nutritional deficiencies.
  • Imbalance of Gut Microbiota: Consistent consumption of lactose by lactose-intolerant individuals might disrupt the balance of gut bacteria, as noted in research featured in the World Journal of Gastroenterology. The gut microbiota plays a crucial role in overall health, including immune function and mental health.

For those who experience intolerances or allergies, choosing dairy substitutes like almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk can help alleviate digestive problems while allowing enjoyment of milk tea. However, it is essential to review the nutritional profile of these alternatives as they can vary significantly in terms of calorie content, added sugars, and other additives, which could also impact digestive health.

It's worth noting that not everyone who experiences discomfort from drinking milk tea may be lactose intolerant. Some individuals may have a milk allergy, which is an immune reaction to the proteins found in milk, rather than an issue with lactose digestion. In that case, avoidance of all milk products, not just lactose, is necessary to prevent allergic reactions.

Those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies should consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian to develop an appropriate dietary strategy. They can provide personalized advice on managing symptoms while ensuring that nutritional needs are met. They may also suggest enzyme supplements that can aid in the digestion of lactose for those with lactose intolerance who wish to include milk tea in their diet occasionally.

Lastly, it's important for individuals with lactose intolerance to consider the cumulative effect of lactose from multiple dietary sources throughout the day. Milk tea alone might not cause noticeable symptoms, but combined with other lactose-containing foods, it could contribute to a greater intake of lactose than the body can handle. Monitoring and managing overall lactose consumption can help mitigate the adverse effects on digestive health.

Balancing Milk Tea Consumption with a Healthy Diet

Milk tea can fit into a balanced and healthy diet when consumed mindfully. The key to incorporating this flavorful beverage without negatively impacting your health is moderation and awareness of its components. Let’s break down the factors you need to consider:

  • Sugar Content: Many milk tea recipes, especially those found in cafes, contain high amounts of added sugars. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day for men, and 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day for women. Be mindful of how much sugar is in your milk tea, and consider asking for less sweet or no-sugar-added options when available.
  • Caloric Intake: Milk tea can be calorie-dense, particularly when whole milk or cream is used. If you’re watching your caloric intake, opt for lower-calorie milk options, such as skim milk or unsweetened almond milk. This can help keep your daily calorie budget on track.
  • Caffeine Levels: Depending on the type of tea used, milk tea can contain caffeine, which should be consumed in moderation. The FDA suggests a maximum of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day for most adults — about four or five cups of regular brewed coffee. Monitor your overall caffeine consumption, especially if you're sensitive to its effects.
  • Dairy or Non-Dairy Alternatives: Full-fat dairy milk can add saturated fats into your diet, which should be limited according to the USDA's dietary guidelines. However, using non-dairy alternatives can decrease the saturated fat content and offer a plant-based alternative, which might be easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance.
  • Portion Size: Portion control is vital. Traditional serving sizes can vary greatly, and larger portions can lead to excessive intake of sugar, calories, and possibly caffeine. Stick to smaller servings to enjoy milk tea as a treat without overindulging.

Studies indicate that beverages sweetened with high amounts of sugar can contribute to weight gain, insulin resistance, and dental cavities when consumed in excess (Basu, McKee, Galea, & Stuckler, 2013; Malik, Popkin, Bray, Després, & Hu, 2010). Thus, it's crucial to integrate milk tea into your diet with attention to these factors for a well-rounded, health-conscious consumption pattern.

Here are a few tips for balancing milk tea consumption with a healthy diet:

  • Consider the Occasion: Treat milk tea as an occasional indulgence rather than a daily necessity. Enjoy it in social settings or as a special treat.
  • Dilute with More Tea: Increase the amount of tea relative to milk to reduce calorie and sugar content while still enjoying the flavor.
  • Customize Your Order: When ordering from a cafe, customize your milk tea. Ask for less syrup or condensed milk and go for natural sweeteners like honey if needed.
  • Make It at Home: Preparing milk tea at home allows you full control over the ingredients, enabling you to make healthier versions tailored to your dietary preferences.
  • Pair Wisely: When you do indulge, pair your milk tea with a healthy snack, such as unsalted nuts or a piece of fruit, to avoid excessive caloric intake from less nutritious options.

Remember, your overall dietary pattern is what's most important for health. Including a variety of nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats, along with occasional treats like milk tea, can help you maintain a balanced and satisfying diet.

Healthier Alternatives to Traditional Milk Tea

Milk tea enthusiasts looking to make a healthier switch have several options that retain the comfort and satisfaction of their favorite beverage without the excess calories and sugar. Here’s how you can enjoy milk tea with a nutritious twist:

  • Switch to Low-Fat or Plant-Based Milks: Substituting whole milk with low-fat, almond, soy, or oat milk reduces the calorie content and can offer additional nutrients such as vitamin E (almond milk) or fiber (oat milk).
  • Use Natural Sweeteners: Opt for natural sweeteners like stevia, honey, or pure maple syrup to sweeten your tea. These have a lower glycemic index compared to refined sugar, which can help manage blood sugar levels.
  • Control Your Portions: Measuring the amount of milk and sweetener you add allows you to control the calorie content more precisely than pre-made or cafe versions.
  • Add Spices for Flavor: Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom can enrich your milk tea's flavor profile while offering health benefits and reducing the need for sweeteners.
  • Choose High-Quality Tea Leaves: Opt for loose leaf teas over tea bags, as they often contain more antioxidants and less added sugars or artificial flavoring.
  • Make a Cold Brew: Cold brewing tea can reduce its caffeine content and bitterness, leading to less sweetener needed for balance. Simply steep tea leaves in cold water for several hours in the fridge.

Another aspect to consider is the inclusion of functional ingredients:

Ingredient Potential Benefits
Matcha High in antioxidants, boosts metabolism
Turmeric Anti-inflammatory properties, may improve brain function
Ginger Aids digestion, anti-inflammatory effects
Peppermint Can relieve digestive symptoms, adds a fresh flavor without sugar

For those concerned about caffeine intake, herbal teas are a fantastic base for milk tea, offering a variety of flavors and potential health benefits, such as chamomile's calming effect or rooibos's heart health properties.

In conclusion, reimagining the traditional milk tea with these healthier alternatives not only caters to dietary needs but also expands the horizon of flavors and textures available to the discerning palate.

Frequently asked questions

Milk tea, particularly when prepared with high-quality tea leaves, can provide some health benefits such as a moderate amount of antioxidants and the potential for improved mental alertness and physical performance due to its caffeine content. Additionally, if milk tea is prepared with spices like turmeric or ginger, it can offer anti-inflammatory properties and aid in digestion. However, these benefits must be balanced against the potential downsides of high sugar and calorie content.

Yes, milk tea can contribute to weight gain when consumed in excess, mainly due to its high sugar and calorie content. Choosing lower-calorie milk alternatives, requesting reduced sugar, and being mindful of portion sizes can help mitigate this risk. It's important to integrate milk tea as part of a balanced diet and consume it in moderation.

If you are lactose intolerant or have a dairy allergy, you can still enjoy milk tea by using non-dairy milk alternatives such as almond milk, soy milk, or oat milk. These alternatives allow you to bypass the lactose or dairy proteins that cause digestive issues and allergic reactions. Additionally, some people with lactose intolerance may opt for lactose-free dairy milk or take enzyme supplements that help digest lactose before consuming milk tea.

For individuals sensitive to caffeine, it is advisable to drink milk tea earlier in the day to minimize the potential for sleep disruption. Since caffeine can remain in the system for several hours and impact sleep quality, avoiding milk tea in the late afternoon and evening is a good practice for those with caffeine sensitivity.

Ask a question about Milk Tea and our team will publish the answer as soon as possible.

Possible short-term side effects

  • energy peaks and crashes
  • increased cravings
  • short-term cognitive impacts
  • sleep disruption
  • increased heart rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • withdrawal symptoms like headaches, irritability, fatigue
  • jitteriness or anxiety
  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal cramps
  • nausea
  • vomiting

Possible long-term side effects

  • weight gain
  • type 2 diabetes
  • heart disease
  • dental problems
  • metabolic syndrome
  • dependency on caffeine
  • hindered calcium absorption
  • potential alteration of gut microbiota
  • inflammatory diseases
  • impaired nutrient absorption
  • milk allergy reactions

Ingredients to be aware of


  • mental alertness
  • physical performance
  • metabolic rate boost
  • antioxidant intake

Healthier alternatives

  • reduced sugar or natural sweeteners
  • small serving sizes
  • unsweetened milk alternatives
  • low-fat or plant-based milks
  • natural sweeteners like stevia, honey, maple syrup
  • spices like cinnamon, cardamom
  • high-quality tea leaves
  • cold brewing
  • functional ingredients like matcha, turmeric, ginger, peppermint

Our Wellness Pick (what is this?)


  • Stress-relieving
  • Energizing herbal blend
  • Boosts immune support
  • USDA Organic certified
  • Caffeine-free adaptogen
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Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-27-2024

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Diane Saleem
Published on: 03-27-2024

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