There’s a LOT of sodium. (Photo: Tumblr/kiddwelldontcare)
Odds are, you’ve eaten instant ramen noodles at some point in your life. Maybe you were in college or trying to save money. Or maybe you think they just taste really good. Whatever the reason, this five-minute meal has been a hit with budget-friendly consumers for years.
Despite its popularity, it’s not exactly a secret that instant ramen isn’t exactly a health food — and recent research has backed that up. A 2014 study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that instant ramen may increase a person’s risk of developing cardiometabolic syndrome, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and stroke. In 2013, a video went viral that was shot by researchers and featured a stomach still struggling to break down instant ramen after two hours.
It’s pretty apparent that instant ramen isn’t good for you. “Honestly, long-term use of this stuff … it can’t not lead to heart disease and stomach and digestive issues,” board-certified internist Jeremy Fine, MD, tells Yahoo Health.
But what’s in instant ramen, exactly, that makes it so bad? We broke down the major ingredients commonly found in popular brands of instant ramen, with expert input on why each is bad for your health.
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(Infographic: iStock/Priscilla DeCastro for Yahoo Health)
This liquid alcohol has a faintly sweet taste and is used to preserve the texture of instant ramen. It’s also used in some tobacco products and … antifreeze. While nutritionist Jessica Cording, RD, tells Yahoo Health that someone would have to eat high levels of propylene glycol for it to be toxic, it’s still not exactly part of a balanced diet. “It’s disgusting that something that’s in antifreeze is going to be in your food,” she says. “It’s keeping the product shelf-stable but it’s not actively doing you any favors.”
Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)
The main ingredients in ramen noodles (wheat flour, salt, and vegetable oil) are usually preserved with TBHQ. “TBHQ is a petroleum industry byproduct with zero nutritional value,” says certified nutritionist and board-certified family physician James Pinckney II, MD. This preservative, which has been deemed safe by the FDA in small amounts, is also found in perfumes, resins, lacquers, and biodiesel. Pinckney tells Yahoo Health that when TBHQ is ingested in large doses (1/30 of an ounce), it can cause nausea, delirium, and ringing in the ears.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG has a bad reputation — and there’s a reason why. While this sodium salt of glutamic acid is naturally present in foods such as tomatoes, mushrooms, and potatoes, it’s often used as a flavor enhancer to provide a savory taste to things like soups, canned foods, processed meats, and the flavor packet in instant ramen noodles. “Though ‘generally recognized as safe’ by the FDA, some people report side effects such as nausea, headache, flushing, sweating, and heart palpitations, among other things,” says Cording.
A Lot of Sodium
One package of instant ramen (which is two servings, according to most brands) has around 1,875 milligrams of sodium. That’s significantly more than the recommended daily intake of no more than 1,500 milligrams per day. Ramen “has an astonishingly high level of sodium,” says Fine. “You’d be hard-pressed to find other foods like it in terms of salt content.” The danger in regularly eating that much sodium: It can lead to kidney disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and even heart attack.
An Unspecified Type of Vegetable Oil
Cording says the ambiguity over which type of vegetable oil is in many instant ramen noodle brands is “troubling.” “There’s a big difference between the canola, cottonseed, and palm oil listed as possibilities on the label,” she says. While canola and cottonseed oil are unsaturated, she notes that palm oil is very high in saturated fat, which may be detrimental to cardiac health and cholesterol levels.
Many types of instant ramen noodles come in Styrofoam cups that can contain BPA, an endocrine disruptor. That BPA can leech off of the cup and into the ramen — especially after boiling water is added, per most instant ramen directions. “In theory, if you heat the cup, it’s more likely to heat the chemical and get into your food,” says Fine.
Corn syrup is a sweetener, but it’s typically added to instant ramen to preserve the texture of the noodles. However, Cording points out that it’s essentially like adding sugar to your pasta — tacking on extra calories in the process.
Experts agree: No one should be eating instant ramen regularly, or even more often than very sporadically. Fine perhaps sums it up best: “It’s really bad for you on so many levels.”
For more on the health risks of ramen, watch the video below:
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