Instant noodles are a convenient and tasty dish that is popular worldwide. The number one global consumer is China, and the United States is ranked sixth in instant noodle sales, with 4.1 billion units sold in 2017. However, studies showed that eating instant noodles is linked to heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and possibly cancer.
In the US, instant noodles are often referred to as Ramen. However, real Japanese Ramen is not a fast food dish. It’s a noodle soup which is Japan’s cultural icon, so a lot of care is put into its preparation.
When instant noodles were first invented, they were sold under the brand name ‘Chikin Ramen’. Soon, instant noodles became known as Ramen outside of Japan, even if they are technically not Ramen.
The Ingredients in Instant Noodles Could be Toxic and May Cause Cancer
If we look at the composition of instant noodles, it becomes clear where the danger comes from. They are high in fat, high in salt, high in calories, and they’re processed.
Instant noodles also contain tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), which is a chemical preservative that comes from the petroleum industry.
TBHQ in instant noodles could cause cancer
Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) is a preservative that can be found in instant noodles and has been a source of many health discussions.
TBHQ is used to extend the shelf life of oily and fatty foods, so it can often be found in fast food. It’s also used in varnishes, cosmetics and perfumes. TBHQ is highly toxic in bigger doses, but has been allowed in the food industry in small doses.
A number of studies have shown that prolonged exposure to high doses of TBHQ may be carcinogenic. But the conclusion is inconclusive because some studies have shown that TBHQ could prevent cancer.
Small doses of TBHQ have been approved for consumption by the FDA.
The FDA has set the limit of up to 0.02% of the total oils in food to be TBHQ. If you consumed 1 gram of TBHQ, this would very likely cause an adverse reaction, and 5 grams could be lethal.
Nobody is really sure what the safe limit is, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea to have TBHQ lingering in your gut.
MSG in instant noodles could have possible toxic effects
Another potentially toxic substance that is found in instant noodles is monosodium glutamate or MSG. This is a chemical called excitotoxin that overexcites your nerve cells.
The Experimental and Clinical Sciences journal reported that “MSG has been linked with obesity, metabolic disorders, Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, neurotoxic effects and detrimental effects on the reproductive organs” The journal also adds that “in conclusion we would like to state that although MSG has proven its value as an enhancer of flavour, different studies have hinted at possible toxic effects related to this popular food-additive”.
Clearly, an odd package of instant noodles won’t kill you, but no one can say with certainty what this processed food will do to you in the long run.
Eating Instant Noodles Could Cause Stroke and Heart Attack
In June 2014, a comprehensive study was published in The Journal of Nutrition that revealed the dangers lurking inside your cup of noodles. According to the international group of scientists, instant noodles are associated with cardio-metabolic risks, which mainly refer to the risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It seems that the handy and delicious dish comes at a price.
The study was conducted in South Korea, which has the highest per-capita number of instant noodle consumers in the world. Also, in recent years, a higher proportion of Koreans started developing conditions such as heart disease and obesity, so it seemed worthwhile to explore the reasons behind this decline in health.
A total of 10,711 adults (54.5% women) between the ages of 19 and 64 were included in the study. Their dietary patterns were analyzed by Hyoun Shin, a doctoral candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health, and his colleagues.
Two major dietary patterns were identified:
- “traditional dietary pattern”, rich in rice, fish, vegetables, fruit, and potatoes.
- “meat and fast-food pattern”, rich in meat, soda, fried food, and fast food including instant noodles.
The researchers observed that people who ate traditional food, were more unlikely to suffer from high blood pressure.
Fast food diet was associated with abdominal obesity, higher levels of LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ cholesterol), and high triglycerides, which all increase the risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome.
Eating instant noodles is linked to stroke, diabetes and heart conditions
When Shin looked specifically at instant noodles, the analysis showed that women who ate more than two portions per week had a higher chance of developing metabolic syndrome, which is linked to heart conditions, stroke and diabetes.
The association was found even among young women who were slimmer and more physically active. The correlation was not observed in men.
Instant Ramen Noodles Don’t Break Down After Hours of Digestion
In another study, scientists put a little, pill-sized camera inside the stomach of a person who just ate instant Ramen noodles. This enabled them to follow the digestive process and observe what happens once the quick meal reaches the stomach.
The results were disheartening for all instant noodle lovers. It appears that the body has great difficulty breaking these noodles down.
After two hours, the meal was still more or less intact, which is very unusual. For comparison, when the participant ate homemade noodles, these digested much quicker, so after two hours there was hardly anything left to see in the stomach.
This small study was conducted by Dr. Braden Kuo of Massachusetts General Hospital, and was the first experiment of its kind. Dr. Kuo points out that his experiment doesn’t show instant noodles are necessarily harmful for you.
The sample was too small, and further research is needed to establish the effects the slow digestive process has on the gastro-intestinal tract and your body as a whole. Dr. Kuo even admits still eating instant Ramen noodles himself, but he does it in moderation.
Here is a video showing what happens when you eat instant noodles
You should be extremely cautious about eating instant noodles after this latest revelation. By staying in the stomach for so long, the noodles put a strain on the digestive tract as it has to work continuously.
Also, instant Ramen contains a lot of different additives and preservatives, which remain in the digestive tract for so long. It’s not sure what the long exposure does to the body, but it’s probably not that beneficial to your health.