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08/04/10: Instant noodles are they good for you?

Many people are mad about instant noodles, with good reason. They are cheap, easy to prepare and, well, instantly gratifying. Children love them.

Instant noodle on display at supermarket

But are they good for you? Nutritionists would never say that eating the ubiquitous noodles every day is healthy, but the occasional bowlful will certainly do no harm.

Take a look at the ingredients list. The first item is always white flour. In dietary terms, this is a refined complex carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are required for the processing of nutrients within the body and it is also our main source of energy.

The second largest nutrient group in instant noodles is fat. Most of us eat pasta with the understanding that it is a high-carbohydrate, low-fat food. Not so with the instant variety. “Most instant noodles are dried by deep frying, and only 3 to 4 percent are air-dried. Instant noodles are about 18 percent fat,” said professor Harold Corke, a wheat expert at the University of Hong Kong.

“We advise not to add the flavor mix prior to pouring the boiling water in,” warned Xie Ding-hong of the Taiwanese Department of Health on a recent health internet forum. “The spice mix contains glutamate that when heated over 100°C for longer than 10 minutes can lead to cancer or a slow poisoning of the nerve system.”

According to marketing researchers the most serious obstacle the instant noodle makers face is the growing awareness of their products’ negative effect on human health. There are plentiful of indication that regular consumption of instant noodles makes people sick. Hong Kong’s Consumer Council and the Centre for Food Safety recently tested dozens of types of instant noodles commonly sold in the territory to check their salt and fat content. Some were found to contain 4,350mg of sodium, more than double the daily intake limit recommended by the World Health Organization. A diet high in sodium can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure, which can cause kidney damage.

Instant noodles contain high amounts of saturated fats and trans fats, which are to blame for strokes and clogged arteries. Earlier this year the Chinese and Taiwanese media picked up on a horror story relating to the consumption of instant noodle. A Taiwanese woman who went to study abroad ate nothing but instant noodles for months. According to the reports, the woman, in her mid-30s, suffered a stroke.

Even the packaging contains toxic chemicals. Dioxins and hormone-like substances make their way from the glues used to seal the bowls. Dioxin builds up in body tissue and is highly toxic even in traces. Scientists warn that dioxin apart from being carcinogenic has extremely negative effects on reproductive and immune systems.

There are countless reasons to do without instant noodles, yet to many the pros seem to outweigh the cons. They are fast, easy to make, and ideal for college students and others who can’t be bothered with cooking. Just like Big Macs, only cheaper and without the lettuce, pickle and sesame seed bun.

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