Cheap, easy to prepare and undeniably delicious, instant noodles have become a favorite food in many countries around the world despite its reputation for being unhealthy.
Also called instant ramen, the pre-cooked dried noodles packed with flavoring powder and seasoning oil, has often been criticized as a meal devoid of nutrients. Despite the meal being notoriously known to be high in carbohydrates and fat but very low in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, it has somehow retained its global popularity,
According to the World Instant Noodles Association (WINA), 52 countries consumed 97.7 billion servings last year alone. Among its highest consumers are China and Hong Kong, which together consumed 40.43 billion servings, followed by Indonesia, with 13.20 billion servings consumed. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. is not too far behind with 4 billion instant noodles consumed in 2015.
But its reputation for being a “junk food,” actually gets worse.
A Baylor University and Harvard study published in the Journal of Nutrition revealed that eating instant noodles may increase risks of heart disease and stroke, according to Washington Post.
The researchers analyzed the health and diet of 11,000 South Koreans between ages 19 and 64. The study showed that South Korean women were at high risk of metabolic syndrome due to the large amounts of ramen they consume. Curiously, the result was not found on male participants, which the scientists attribute to biological differences between the genders.Metabolic syndrome often lead to increased blood sugar and blood pressure levels, causing a higher risk of diabetes, stroke or heart disease.
The culprit identified was the substance found in ramen called Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), a petroleum industry byproduct used to preserve cheap processed foods.
“Although instant noodle is a convenient and delicious food, there could be an increased risk for metabolic syndrome given [the food’s] high sodium, unhealthy saturated fat and glycemic loads,” said Hyun Shin, Harvard School of Public Health doctoral candidate and co-author of the study.
Separate studies conducted elsewhere have revealed other potential health hazards.
In India, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) found lead contamination in Nestlé’s Maggi brand instant noodles containing 7 times the allowed limit. The agency immediately ordered banning of all nine approved variants of Maggi instant noodles in India, calling them “unsafe and hazardous for human consumption.”
In South Korea, the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) found a cancer-causing substance known as Benzopyrene in six brands of noodles made by Nong Shim back in 2012. The discovery led to a massive recall of the products both local and abroad.