Instant noodles are everyone’s favorite. They are easy to cook and quite tasty when garnished with the right toppings.
Kids love their occasional noodle treats. Parents who work full time often find it convenient to fix their kids a delicious bowl of noodles for dinner, and often fix themselves one, too.
While a steaming bowl of chicken soup is a favorite home remedy during flu season, hot soupy noodles have also gained popularity as a comfort food during sick spells.
They are the perfect midnight snack and the perfect lunchbox option for kids. The appeal of instant noodles in endless.
Instant noodles boast another benefit – they are easy on the pocket. No wonder they are the ultimate go-to food for every college student strapped for money.
Their inexpensiveness is also a major reason for their high consumption rate. It is common practice in many homes to buy at least 4 or 5 packs of instant noodles when grocery shopping.
People in China, Indonesia and Japan are the highest consumers of instant noodles in the world, according to a 2015 estimation published by the World Instant Noodles Association.
The common perception about instant noodles is that they aren’t healthy, but they aren’t excessively harmful either.
However, in reality, they are far worse.
Instant noodles are devoid of any nutritional value. Every aspect of their production, from their basic composition to the measures taken to preserve them, packs a major health risk factor for consumers.
Contrary to popular belief, topping your instant noodles with veggies may enhance their nutritional value, but it does not counter their negative health effects and miraculously turn them into a health food.
Here are some reasons instant noodles are dangerous to your health.
1. Contain Harmful Preservatives
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and t-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) are the main preservatives added to instant noodles to prevent rancidness and keep them usable longer.
BHA doubles and TBHQ triples the shelf life of instant noodles, according to a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Oil Chemist’s Society.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the consumption of moderate levels of TBHQ, long-term constant exposure to this preservative may prove carcinogenic, according to a 2005 study published in Drug Metabolism and Disposition.
According to the American Cancer Society, BHA is “reasonably anticipated” as being a human carcinogen.
The European Mission includes BHA in a list of chemicals with possible endocrine-disrupting effects. The endocrine system is responsible for the production and regulation of hormones, a disruption of which is likely to cause several adverse developmental, immune, neurological and reproductive effects.
2. Don’t Digest Easily
This is far more harmful than it sounds.
Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital used a minuscule camera to observe the effects of noodles on the digestive tract over 32 hours.
The video revealed the stomach working hard, contracting back and forth, to break down the noodles. The noodles remained undigested for a long time and severely strained the digestive tract.
Furthermore, the retention of instant noodles in the digestive tract for so long means you get overexposed to the toxic chemicals and preservatives, such as TBHQ and BHA, found in the noodles, which can prove carcinogenic.
Long-term exposure to TBHQ can also cause asthma, anxiety and diarrhea in some people. It can also adversely affect the liver and the reproductive organs.
3. Increases the Risk of Heart Disease
“Metabolic syndrome” is defined as a group of symptoms that increases a person’s chances of contracting heart disease, having a stroke and developing diabetes.
These symptoms include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglyceride level, high blood sugar and increased abdominal fat.
Women who consumed noodles 2 or 3 times a week reported an increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome, according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutrition.
Furthermore, deep-frying is a step in the production process of most instant noodles. This further saturates the noodles with excess fat from the oil, making it a greater risk factor for heart disease.
Noodles that are air-dried skip the deep-frying, which makes them a comparatively healthier alternative.
4. High in Saturated Fats
While eating any kind of fat excessively increases your risk of obesity, saturated fats are especially harmful as they spike your low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or the “bad” cholesterol) level and increase the risk of heart disease.
The World Health Organization recommends avoiding dietary saturated fats.
LDL cholesterol levels, insulin sensitivity and abdominal fat levels improved in subjects who switched from saturated fats to polyunsaturated fats, according to a 2002 study published in Diabetologia.
Depending upon the manufacturing process, the amount of saturated fat found in different brands of instant noodles may differ.
Instant noodles fried in palm oil, lard or butter before packaging are likely to have a higher saturated-fat content. Some instant noodles’ seasoning may also contain oils high in saturated fats.
Check the nutrition label to learn the exact amount of saturated fats in your preferred brand of instant noodles and assess the health risk accurately.
5. High in Salt
Sodium-rich salt is the indispensable taste-enhancer. However, too much of it is very harmful to your health.
Compared to moderate consumption, high dietary sodium consumption was recognized as a major factor in high death rates in 23 case studies and 274,683 randomized control trials, according to a 2014 study published in the American Journal of Hypertension.
Instant noodles are rich in salt, and therefore, rich in sodium.
Excess sodium has been linked with high blood pressure (hypertension) and, in turn, heart disease, heart failure and strokes.
Patients with hypertension who consumed a special diet (rich in fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products with low levels of dietary sodium) experienced significantly reduced blood pressure levels, according to a 2001 study published in The American Journal of New Medicine.
6. Made from Refined Flour
Instant noodles are made from white flour.
The nutrient-rich parts of a wheat kernel are the germ and the bran. These are both removed during the production of refined flour, and all that remains is nutrient-devoid carbohydrates in the form of starch.
Carbohydrates increase the blood sugar levels in your body, thereby increasing the risk of diabetes.
High consumption of instant noodles can also increase the risk of excess sugar in the bloodstream. Your body gradually converts excess sugar into fat and stores it away for later use. This induces obesity – another risk factor for heart disease.
7. May Contain Harmful Toxins
Most instant noodles are fried during the production process.
When the oil used for frying these noodles isn’t constantly changed or properly maintained, oxidizing agents accumulate in the oil.
Gradually, these oxidizing agents attract toxins that are transferred to the packaged product along with the spoiled oil and fat.
Food poisoning has broken out in Japan in the past due to the presence of degraded oil and fat in instant noodles, causing diarrhea, abdominal pain, headaches and nausea, according to a 2006 study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology.
Safe production methods of instant noodles are still a valid concern.
The World Instant Noodles Association has, since then, defined and promoted stringent production standards to decrease the risk of contamination and food poisoning by instant noodles.
8. May Contain Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
This is not true for all brands of instant noodles, but some use MSG as an ingredient in flavor packets that accompany instant noodles.
MSG is a flavor enhancer, especially popular in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisines.
Health and nutrition data of 10,095 healthy Chinese adults correlating to the period of 1991-2006 collected from the China Health and Nutrition Survey linked high MSG consumption over the years to excess weight gain.
Although the FDA has labeled MSG a safe additive, its harmful effects are still debated.
Since the 1960s, people who regularly consumed MSG-rich Asian cuisine reported severe headaches, mouth and neck numbness, chest pain and excessive sweating and flushing episodes. This group of symptoms eventually came to be known as the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.”