India consumes a whopping 5 to 6 billion servings of instant noodles each year, making it one of the world’s largest markets for instant noodles. In fact, we love our instant food so much that despite the Maggi noodle controversy from just a couple of years ago, business reports project market growth of 6.65% till 2022!
Our obsession with instant noodles is understandable, considering the fast pace of urban life, pressures of student life, and the convenience of instant foods. But are these choices of convenience and cost really safe, or will they cost us more in the long run?
Health Concerns From Instant Noodles
Let’s not kid ourselves. None of us eat Maggi or Ramen noodles for their wholesome nutrition – it’s a choice driven by taste, and more importantly because of the convenience and low cost involved. So, why is the increasing consumption of instant noodles so worrying to health care professionals?
It’s not because of the lack of nutrition in instant noodles, but because of the health risks from them.
Preservatives & Flavoring Agents
“Some studies suggest that ingredients like MSG & TBHQ can have a neurotoxic effect, cause liver damage, & increase the risk of tumors”
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is now infamous, but it’s also ubiquitous in most of the processed foods we eat, instant noodles included. Similarly, most instant noodles also contain tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), which is a petrochemical.
These chemicals are used to enhance taste and manufacturers ensure that levels are within safe intake limits. Unfortunately, regular and high intake of instant noodles would expose you to all of their health risks. Many instant noodle brands also contain hidden MSG that may not be listed on their labels.
“Instant noodles are made from highly processed flour, giving you empty calories – experts believe that a high intake of such food also impairs digestion”
Despite the promotion of several instant noodle brands as healthy, none of them really are. Typically, instant noodles are made from highly processed wheat flour – milled, refined, and bleached. Needless to say, they are devoid of nutrition, providing you with empty calories.
So, while an occasional indulgence may be fine, regular intake of instant noodles poses a high risk of obesity. Because of its low nutrition value and the total lack of dietary fiber, many experts believe that a high intake of instant noodles can also adversely affect digestion, even increasing the risk of infection.
“High saturated fat content from vegetable oils, sugar syrups, & flavor enhancers increases your risk of lifestyle diseases like diabetes & heart disease”
While not all fats are unhealthy, there’s no denying that saturated fats pose a serious health risk, elevating bad cholesterol levels. No surprise, but instant noodles contain significant amounts of saturated fats from vegetable oils, sugar syrups, and flavor enhancers. This increases your risk of lifestyle diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
Like most processed foods, instant noodles are high in sodium, which also predisposes you to hypertension and other health conditions.
Why You Should Be Worried
“A study at Harvard found that eating noodles just twice a week could also increase the risk of metabolic ailments like diabetes”
Yes, heart disease, diabetes, and indigestion may seem like no biggie when you’re in your teens or twenties, but millennials today are no longer immune to health conditions that were once associated with old age.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health believe that this could be attributed to the high sodium content, unhealthy saturated fats, and high glycemic loads. Their study found that eating noodles just twice a week or more significantly increased the risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome refers to a health condition in which you are vulnerable to metabolic ailments like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and so on.
As we’ve said before, no one expects instant noodles to be healthy, but the risks far outweigh the convenience and cost benefits. It should also be pointed out that these health risks also hold true for almost all other processed foods, especially instant foods. So, while it may be fine to indulge in the occasional instant meal when you are simply out of options, try not to make such foods a part of your regular diet.
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