Instant noodles have become internationally recognized food, and worldwide consumption is on the rise. Its taste and convenience have made us eat it as a snack, as a main meal, as comfort food, or when strapped for cash.
But, instant noodles is a food item that has always been under a lot of speculation regarding its possible health hazards. The recent controversy with Maggi has all but added to the speculation.
With the world gobbling down 102.7 billion instant noodles, with India among the top five instant noodles consuming countries in the world, it’s high time we get our facts right.
The major issue with instant noodles is that since they are made to bear a longer shelf life, they are highly processed. Like most processed foods, they are low on nutritive content; high on fat, calories and sodium; and are laced with artificial colours, preservatives, additives and flavourings.
These have all been linked to major ailments such as hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, heart,brain and kidney damage. But one must note that these are all associated with lifestyle and other dietary habits. The only scientifically proven association between instant noodles and a major ailment, independent of major dietary patterns, that one can find in the trusted medical journals is the increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome in women but not in men. Metabolic syndrome is set of conditions – including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess abdominal fat and abnormal cholesterol — which when combined increase the risk for heart disease, stroke and other life threatening conditions.The study found that consumption of instant noodles two or more times a week was associated with a higher prevalence of metabolic syndrome in women.
One of the chemicals that is highlighted often is monosodium glutamate which has been singled out as the cause for a number of side effects. But then in spite of the intense speculation, this view is not supported wholly by authorities who actually matter. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given MSG its generally recognized as safe (GRAS) designation while The European Union classifies it as a food additive permitted in certain foods and subject to quantitative limits.
Also, most instant noodles are made of maida/wheat – milled, refined and bleached version of wheat flour. Maida/wheat though richer in flavour is unfortunately, devoid of much nutritive value.
If we look into the nutritive value of instant noodles, they were never made to substitute our major meals. Hence it is rather harsh to expect them to be nutritionally exemplary. As the old saying goes too much of anything is bad, if you have instant noodles day in and day out , only then you might be deprived of certain nutrients. Then again, if you have bread day in and day out you will again end up nutritionally deprived. Thus we need to focus on what is called a balanced diet. Instant noodles can in fact very conveniently be transformed into something nutritionally beneficial and balanced by the addition of eggs, chicken and vegetables which also adds to the taste and texture of the dish.
Other possible health issues that have been brought up include the use of wax to prevent the noodles from sticking together, presence of carcinogenic chemicals in the packs and cups containing the noodles. The much publicised controversy regarding the presence of lead in Maggi needs no elaboration. However these have never been substantially validated in large trials.
Regarding the digestibility issue with instant noodles, in a first-of-its-kind experiment few willing test subjects were made to swallow processed instant noodles along with a pill-sized video camera.The video (which went viral) showed that the stomach took close to a couple of hours to digest and completely breakdown the noodle strains as opposed to homemade noodles. But then it is an expected finding for any type of processed food and moreover the doctors who conducted the experiment stated the sample size of the experiment was too small to conclude anything.
Thus to conclude it is fair to state that although a lot of the immense speculation with instant noodles has a scientific basis, they are yet to be validated scientifically. To be genuinely conscious about our health, we need to shift our focus from individual food items like instant noodles to a healthier life style and a more balanced diet.
DISCLAIMER: Opinions and facts expressed here are the opinions of the members of team hungry hallows based on a number of references