Instant noodles are a popular go-to lunch or dinner for those who are strapped for time (or cash), like college students. While you probably don’t consider them a health food, you may think they’re not that bad, or, at least, not as bad as eating a burger and fries or a fast-food burrito.
Scientists put a little, pill-sized camera inside the stomach of a person who just ate instant ramen noodles. This enabled them to follow the digestive process and observe what happens once the quick meal reaches the stomach. The results were disheartening for all instant noodle lovers. It appears that the body has great difficulty breaking these noodles down. After two hours, the meal was still more or less intact, which is very unusual. For comparison, when the participant ate homemade noodles, these digested much quicker, so after two hours there was hardly anything left to see in the stomach.
This small study was conducted by Dr. Braden Kuo of Massachusetts General Hospital, and was the first experiment of its kind. Dr. Kuo points out that his experiment doesn’t show instant noodles are necessarily harmful for you. The sample was too small, and further research is needed to establish the effects the slow digestive process has on the gastro-intestinal tract and your body as a whole. Dr. Kuo even admits still eating instant ramen noodles himself, but he does it in moderation.
Others are more cautious about eating instant noodles after this latest revelation. By staying in the stomach for so long, the noodles put a strain on the digestive tract as it has to work continuously. Also, instant ramen contains a lot of different additives and preservatives, which remain in the digestive tract for so long. It’s not sure what the long exposure does to the body, but it’s probably not that beneficial to your health.
Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ) is a preservative that can be found in instant noodles and has been a source of many health discussions. It’s used to extend the shelf life of oily and fatty foods, so it can often be found in fast food, including McDonald’s chicken nuggets. It’s also used in varnishes, cosmetics and perfumes. TBHQ is highly toxic in bigger doses, but has been allowed in the food industry in small doses. The FDA has set the limit of up to 0.02% of the total oils in food to be TBHQ. If you consumed 1 gram of TBHQ, this would very likely cause an adverse reaction, and 5 grams could be lethal. Nobody is really sure what the safe limit is, but it doesn’t seem like a good idea to have TBHQ lingering in your gut.
So there’s quite a discrepancy in supposedly “safe” limits, but it’s probably best to have little or no exposure to this toxicant, as exposure to five grams can be lethal and, according to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, exposure to just one gram of TBHQ can cause:4
- Nausea and vomiting
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Sense of suffocation
Another toxic substance that is found in instant noodles is monosodium glutamate or MSG. This is a chemical called excitotoxin that overexcites your nerve cells to the point of damage or death, and also acts as the perfect fattening drug.
Clearly, an odd package of instant noodles won’t kill you, but no one can say with certainty what this processed food will do to you in the long run.