The dangers of instant noodles



Shopping for groceries at the supermarket is one of my fun chores. An off-shoot of my love for cooking, I enjoy lingering in the aisles reading food labels, comparing prices, and debating whether or not the latest sales offer is worth it, or just a rip-off.

I also like taking a sly peek into other people’s supermarket carts in order to render silent judgment unto their food choices. So far, I’ve found that many people are buying way too many processed food, up to three-fourths of their trolley containing food that are designed to last for months and years on the shelves, and certainly lacking in life-giving enzymes.

One time, I espied a couple with young kids in tow, pushing a cart half-filled with “Lucky Me” noodles and an odd assortment of bread, sardines, chips, soda, and other ready-to-eat food. An old man who should know better had a trolley filled with hotdogs and canned corned beef, and of course those ubiquitous cookies and snacks. I hope that he either has a snack shop or has lots of hungry grandchildren.

My real beef is with instant noodles, which I strongly believe is contributing to the enfeeblement of the Filipino masses (is this why we keep electing jokers?). It may be the cheapest food to buy nowadays, but its long-term effect on brain health and physical growth is something that parents should seriously consider before serving it to their children.

According to the World Instant Noodles Association, the Philippines is the 9th largest market in the world for instant noodles. Filipinos altogether consume 2.7 billion packets or cups of instant noodles every year, making billionaires out of these noodle manufacturers and dullards out of all their regular patrons.

Instant noodles may be the cheapest food to buy nowadays, but it has long-term effect on brain health and physical growth PHOTO BY THE AUTHOR

Instant noodles may be the cheapest food to buy nowadays, but it has long-term effect on brain health and physical growth PHOTO BY THE AUTHOR

Just look at the back of your favorite instant noodle pack and judge for yourself. What should be a simple noodle in a beef broth has at least 21 ingredients: Wheat flour, palm oil, iodized salt, sugar, monosodium glutamate, cornstarch, natural and artificial beef flavors, soy sauce powder, spices (garlic, black pepper), whey powder, caramel powder, carbonates, phosphate, guar gum, dehydrated chives, anti-caking agent, iron, flavor enhancers, tartrazine, sunset yellow, and green tea extract.

Any other ingredients that they didn’t declare? There are reports from US media that instant or ramen noodles contain the food additive tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), which is a by-product of petroleum. Overconsumption of chemicals such as these (and the artificial dyes such as tartrazine) could put your health, and those of your children most especially, at serious risk.

MSG is also a flavor enhance that many Filipino restaurants love to make use of, and I can always tell if they used it by the side effects it engenders—headaches, pain at the nape, nausea, and a general feeling of “blah” followed by an intense desire to sleep everything off.

Food that contain plenty of MSG initially will taste good because this is a substance that overstimulates your neuron receptors, thus they’re also called excitotoxins. Glutamates occur naturally in nature such as in seaweed and seafood, but the problem is most commercial cooks just use the industrial manufactured MSG, which just tricks your tongue and brain by prompting the sense of umami or savoriness in your food.

Because of the many criticisms against MSG, manufacturers have learned to hide them with other ingredients. So if you see the terms “natural flavors, spices (general), hydrolyzed protein, autolyzed yeast extract, sodium caseinate, bouillons, and soy protein isolate” these are all camouflage words for MSG.

The Korean-made instant noodles that can be found in most supermarkets nowadays are not any better than local ones. They are just as loaded with salt, sugar, and MSG although they have less of the chemical-sounding ingredients (or perhaps just didn’t list them, the skeptical me opines).

South Koreans and instant noodles were actually in the news recently, following a report in the August issue of the respected Journal of Nutrition saying that Korean women who ate the noodles more than twice a week are 68 percent more likely to have a metabolic syndrome associated with heart disease.

Instant noodles have high amounts of saturated fat, sodium, carbohydrates, and sugar, which the Harvard researchers believe weighted heavily against women, who apparently are more sensitive to these ingredients than the men.

But men shouldn’t start slurping on that soup just yet. The study’s lead scientist Dr. Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard, told the New York Times that it is possible that the study (which used data from 10,000 South Koreans over a two-year pe–riod) has a sociological side, mean–ing that women are just more open to reporting on their health than the men.

Hu affirmed that the problem begins when this processed food is eaten more than a few times a week. It should not be part of regular, healthy diet, he said.

Indeed, looking at the label of a popular noodle brand in the Philippines, I found this caveat: “Each pack … contains 33 grams of carbohydrates and 240 calories that provide energy. Like most food you enjoy, eat … instant noodles in moderation by observing the proper serving portions and complimenting them with a variety of other foods.”

It was a general advisory, not really effective in communicating the warning that too much intake of this food can lead to health problems. Besides who can read that teeny-tiny print? I had to use my magnifying glass, and most people I think, won’t bother reading this stuff.

It is really up to the health authorities to undertake the regulatory measures to protect the public’s health, and to undertake a strong public campaign to wean Filipinos off processed food and more into healthy, fresh food. But this is a pipe dream, I know.

The better move is to change your own dietary habits, starting by remo–ving instant noodles from your list of regular food to eat. Try an experiment and not eat it for one month. The benefit for you will be a healthier body and more importantly, a new mental clarity that will help you make even more good decisions in life.

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  1. A very good write up on instant noodles. I noticed that Filipino families especially those in the middle low and poor income, with limited budget often buy these instant noodles because their prices are low and could easily satisfy hunger. Health is not a priority with them anymore. The noodle manufacturers getting daily exposure in media – print and TV advertisements and game shows (part of their giveaways), are partly to blame too.

  2. A yet very simple and effective solution to lessen or avoid eating instant noodles – fix the economy and lower the prices of basic commodities. People will then have enough cash to consider buying fresh food and live a healthy lifestyle. This proved very effective in the good old days, when even a single centavo can still buy a person something to eat.

  3. The article appears describe intant noodles as dangerous to health but maybe not for others.

    Indonesia ranks number 2 in the instant noodle market. My son was born in Indonesia and stayed there for 17 years. When he started his kindergarten year at the age of 6, he began consuming 3 packs of instatnt noodles a day (breakfast, luch and dinner). And of course with additional other food menu. One thing worth noting is he eats noodles along with at least 2 cups of rice.

    This particular instant noodle brand is the most popular one there and is even sold at the SM supermarkets here. The packing is 80 grams, it even have more than the local brands here.

    I just don’t know if the case of my son would be an exception but he ate 3 packs daily of this 80 grams instant noodle for 11 continuous years and he is healthy and bright.

    I hope is can contribute in some way.

    LITO S.