Holy hotplates! Instant ramen noodles, beloved cheap dinner of college kids and budget eaters everywhere, have been linked to heart attacks and diabetes. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that the ramen, along with other instant noodle products, may increase a person’s risk for cardiometabolic syndrome — a risk factor for severe cardiovascular disease and stroke — especially in women.
“This research is significant since many people are consuming instant noodles without knowing possible health risks,” said lead researcher Hyun Joon Shin, MD, in a press release. Shin, a clinical cardiology fellow at Baylor University Medical Center and a nutrition epidemiology doctoral student at the Harvard School of Public Health, could not be reached for further comment.
For the study, researchers looked at the data of 10,711 adults between the ages of 19 and 64, collected via the nationally representative Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 2007-2009. They found that eating instant noodles — ramen, lo mein, glass, Thai, or other — twice or more a week was associated with cardiometabolic syndrome, a collection of abnormalities affecting the body’s cardiovascular, renal, and metabolic systems.
Although the specific cause of the problem was not immediately clear, Shin noted that it might stem from the fact that most instant noodle meals come packaged in Styrofoam, which contains bisphenol A (BPA), a known hormone disruptor — which is also why women could have been more affected in this study. But the food product contains plenty of unhealthy ingredients, including MSG and the chemical preservative tertiary-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), and is also high in saturated fat.
The study focused on individuals in South Korea, Shin said, as the country has the highest per-capita number of instant noodle consumers in the world, and because, in recent years, health problems there, including heart disease and obesity, have been on the rise. But the findings appear to be quite relevant to consumers stateside too, as the United States ranked sixth globally in instant noodle sales, according to the World Instant Noodles Association, which found that the United States accounted for 4,300 billion units sold in 2013 (coming in just behind China, Indonesia, Japan, Vietnam, and India — and one spot above South Korea, in fact).
This is not the first time ramen noodles have been publicly maligned. In 2012, a viral video taken from inside the digestive tract, part of a small and inconclusive study by Dr. Braden Kuo, showed just what happened after instant ramen was ingested — and it wasn’t pretty. The stomach worked overtime, struggling for hours to grind up the strands; TBHQ, a petroleum byproduct, was named as a possible culprit. Years earlier, Malaysian health officials issued a warning against eating instant noodles because of ingredients such as thickeners, stabilizers, sodium, and preservatives that have been linked to heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage.
Nissin Foods, maker of the first instant ramen noodle in Japan in 1958 (and the company that brought Top Ramen to the U.S. in 1972), did not respond to a request for comment from Yahoo Health.
The bottom line? Ingest the cheap and filling noodles at your own risk.
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