Written by Zhao Kanghui, Research Assistant, Avida Health

Heading to get a cup of bubble tea later? Think twice!!

Bubble tea, typically sweetened by high-fructose corn syrup, contains a drastically high content of empty calories that are detrimental to your health. Steve Chia, a TV Host from Channel News Asia (CNA), recently took on a one-month bubble tea challenge [1]. After drinking 3 cups of bubble tea weekly for 4 weeks, he saw 3 major changes in his health. Unsurprisingly, he had gained 1.9 kg by the end of the challenge and saw a rise in his inflammatory markers and total cholesterol. These factors could put him at a higher risk of heart attack and stroke.

A bubble tea drink with toppings and at 100% sweetness level could contain more than 20 teaspoons of sugar. However, the Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends limiting sugar intake to no more than 10 percent of daily energy intake. For most adults, that is about 10 teaspoons of sugar (based on a 2000-daily calorie intake) [2]. This means that drinking a cup of bubble tea has already exceeded the daily dietary allowance of sugar, not forgetting other sugary foods eaten throughout the day. All these excessive sugars are slowly wrecking your health. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health in a cohort of 51603 participants found that people who increased their sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption from 1 or fewer drinks per week to 1 or more drinks per day experienced an alarming body weight increase of 4.69 kg. Over the same period of time, people who decreased their intake only experienced minimal weight fluctuation of 0.15 to 1.34 kg [3].


How does too much sugar make you fat?

So how exactly is sugar converted to fat? When sugar is consumed, it is metabolised and transported to different organs such as liver and muscle to use as energy. However, the excessive energy resulted from overconsumption of sugar is stored as fat droplets in your fat cells and liver, leading to obesity and fatty liver. Not only that, your hormonal system is going haywire at the same time. The hormonal system is a chemical messenger system that coordinates glands and organs and produces hormones to control the activities of almost all cells in your body.

Leptin and Fructose-sweetened beverages

Leptin is a protein hormone produced by the fat tissue to regulate appetite when sufficient calorie intake is detected. However, high consumption of fructose-containing beverages such as bubble tea can attenuate the leptin production. This is proven in a clinical trial conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, in which participants who consumed 3 fructose-sweetened beverages in a day had reduced leptin levels and elevated plasma triglycerides levels while compared to participants consuming glucose-sweetened beverages [4]. Insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar levels in the body was also seen to be lowered by as much as 65% during consumption of fructose-sweetened beverages. This means that lower leptin and insulin levels are present to signal appetite control and blood sugar control respectively, leading to subsequent overconsumption and obesity.


Leptin resistance and insulin resistance

As obesity develops, it can lead to the development of leptin resistance, a condition whereby the brain does not respond well to the leptin produced [5]. Consequently, the brain is mistaken that the body is starving, and more food intake is encouraged, leading to higher degree of adiposity and the occurrence of more serious obesity-related diseases. Likewise, insulin resistance is also highly associated with obesity, in which cells in the muscles, fat and liver do not respond well to insulin. As a result, these organs cannot take up glucose from the blood for energy easily, resulting in high blood sugar and potentially other chronic diseases such as diabetes.

So, what is the bottom line? Although sugary foods are satisfying, they can have profound detrimental effects on your health. Do not indulge too much before it is too late!


  1. (2021). What’s Our Obsession With Bubble Tea Doing To Us? | Talking Point | CNA Video On Demand – CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/video-on-demand/talking-point-fy2021/what-s-our-obsession-with-bubble-tea-doing-to-us-13783330
  2. Ministry of Health, S. (2021). How to Eat Right to Feel Right. https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/15/dietary_guidelines_adults
  3. Schulze, M. B. (2004). Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, Weight Gain, and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes in Young and Middle-Aged Women. JAMA, 292(8), 927. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.292.8.927
  4. Teff, K. L., Elliott, S. S., Tschöp, M., Kieffer, T. J., Rader, D., Heiman, M., Townsend, R. R., Keim, N. L., D’Alessio, D., & Havel, P. J. (2004). Dietary Fructose Reduces Circulating Insulin and Leptin, Attenuates Postprandial Suppression of Ghrelin, and Increases Triglycerides in Women. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 89(6), 2963–2972. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2003-031855
  5. Jung, C. H., & Kim, M.-S. (2013). Molecular mechanisms of central leptin resistance in obesity. Archives of Pharmacal Research, 36(2), 201–207. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12272-013-0020-y

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