By Roberta Attanasio
Instant noodles: convenient, cheap, maybe tasty, and bad for your health.
Invented by Momofuku Ando after World War II to provide food for the masses, they became popular around the world in a relatively short time. However, back in 1991, tests carried out by the Australian Consumers’ Association showed that a single serving of noodles contained the same amount of fat present in a cup of potato chips. What else? Carbohydrates, chemicals and salt — lots of chemicals and salt.
The global demand for instant noodles is expanding, especially in Asian countries. Now, results from a study published in the Journal of Nutrition (Instant Noodle Intake and Dietary Patterns Are Associated with Distinct Cardiometabolic Risk Factors in Korea) shows that significant consumption of instant noodles — including ramen — may increase the risk for metabolic syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that occur together, increasing the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
The study focused primarily on the Asian country with the highest number of instant noodle consumers in the world — South Korea. In recent years, South Koreans have experienced a rapid increase in health problems, specifically heart disease, and a growing number of overweight adults. Hyun Joon Shin, lead investigator of the study, said in a press release that he decided to uncover distinct connections between instant noodle consumption and metabolic syndrome — connections that had not been widely studied. He found that eating instant noodles two or more times a week was associated with metabolic syndrome, especially in women. He said that the gender gap can likely be attributed to biological differences (such as sex hormones and metabolism) between the sexes, as well as obesity and metabolic syndrome components. In addition, men and women’s varied eating habits and differences in the accuracy of food reporting may play a role in the gender gap.
Another potential factor in the gender difference is a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA), which is an industrial chemical used to make certain plastics and is present in the noodle containers. BPA is a well-known endocrine disruptor, and interferes with the way estrogen and other hormones send messages through the body.
Regardless of the gender-related findings or their causes, Shin said that the study highlights the importance of understanding the foods we feed our bodies. “This research is significant since many people are consuming instant noodles without knowing possible health risks,” he said. “My hope is that this study can lay a foundation for future research about the health effects of instant noodle consumption.” Shin added that the study’s health implications could be substantial — particularly if it leads to people choosing healthier foods.
As Linda Poon said last January on NPR, ramen noodles are a staple for college students. “And it’s not just college students who turn to the noodles in lean moments: When your food budget is reduced to quarters dug out of the couch, or when hunger pangs strike at ungodly hours, ramen noodles may come to the rescue.”
She adds: “But while you can get a quick fix of salt and carbs by tossing the block of dried noodles and seasoning into the microwave, you won’t be getting much in the way of nutrition.”
We could update her statement by saying that, however, you will be getting much in the way of bad health.