What Happens Inside Your Stomach When You Eat Instant Noodles?
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.
In a first-of-its-kind experiment, however,
Dr. Braden Kuo of Massachusetts General Hospital may make you reconsider
your love of instant noodles (assuming you have one).
He used a pill-sized camera to see what
happens inside your stomach and digestive tract after you eat ramen
noodles, one common type of instant noodles. The results were
Ramen Noodles Don’t Break Down After Hours of Digestion
In the video above, you can see ramen noodles
inside a stomach. Even after two hours, they are remarkably intact,
much more so than the homemade ramen noodles, which were used as a
comparison. This is concerning for a number of reasons.
For starters, it could be putting a strain on
your digestive system, which is forced to work for hours to break down
this highly processed food (ironically, most processed food is so devoid
of fiber that it gets broken down very quickly, interfering with your
blood sugar levels and insulin release).
When food remains in your digestive tract for
such a long time, it will also impact nutrient absorption, but, in the
case of processed ramen noodles, there isn’t much nutrition to be had.
Instead, there is a long list of additives, including the toxic
preservative tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ).
This additive will likely remain in your
stomach along with the seemingly invincible noodles, and no one knows
what this extended exposure time may do to your health. Common sense
suggests it’s not going to be good…
Five Grams of Noodle Preservative, TBHQ, Is Lethal
TBHQ, a byproduct of the petroleum industry, is often listed as an “antioxidant,” but it’s important to realize it is a synthetic chemical with antioxidant properties–
not a natural antioxidant. The chemical prevents oxidation of fats and
oils, thereby extending the shelf life of processed foods.
It’s a commonly used ingredient in processed
foods of all kinds (including McDonald’s chicken nuggets, Kellogg’s
CHEEZ-IT crackers, Reese’s peanut butter cups, Wheat Thins crackers,
Teddy Grahams, Red Baron frozen pizza, Taco Bell beans, and much more).
But you can also find it in varnishes,
lacquers, and pesticide products, as well as cosmetics and perfumes to
reduce the evaporation rate and improve stability.
At its 19th and 21st meetings, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives determined that TBHQ was safe for human consumption at levels of 0-0.5 mg/kg of body weight.1
However, the Codex commission set the maximum
allowable limits up to between 100 to as much as 400 mg/kg, depending
on the food it’s added to.2(Chewing
gum is permitted to contain the highest levels of TBHQ.) In the US, the
Food and Drug Administration requires that TBHQ must not exceed 0.02
percent of its oil and fat content.3
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
While TBHQ is not suspected to be a
persistent toxicant, meaning your body is probably able to eliminate it
so that it does not bioaccumulate, if you eat instant noodles your body
might be getting prolonged exposures. This is concerning, to say the
least. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), based on
animal studies health hazards associated with TBHQ include:5
- Liver effects at very low doses
- Positive mutation results from in vitro tests on mammalian cells
- Biochemical changes at very low doses
- Reproductive effects at high doses
Eating Instant Noodles Linked to Metabolic Syndrome
If you’re still considering ramen noodles for lunch, you should know a new study published in the Journal of Nutrition found
that women who consumed more instant noodles had a significantly
greater risk of metabolic syndrome than those who ate less, regardless
of their overall diet or exercise habits.6
Women who ate instant noodles more than twice
a week were 68 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome — a group
of symptoms such as central obesity, elevated blood pressure, elevated
fasting blood sugar, elevated fasting triglycerides, and low levels of
Having three or more of the symptoms increases your risk of developingdiabetes and
cardiovascular disease. Past research also analyzed overall nutrient
intake between instant-noodle consumers and non-consumers, and found, as
you might suspect, that eating instant noodles contributes little value
to a healthy diet.
The instant-noodle consumers had a
significantly lower intake of important nutrients like protein, calcium,
phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin A, niacin, and vitamin C compared
with non-consumers.7 Those
who ate instant noodles also had an excessive intake of energy,
unhealthy fats and sodium (just one package may contain 2,700 milligrams
What Else Is in a Package of Instant Noodles?
Aside from a lot of sodium and the preservative TBHQ, what else is found in a typical serving of instant noodles? Prevent Disease reported:9
“The dried noodle block was originally
created by flash frying cooked noodles, and this is still the main
method used in Asian countries, though air-dried noodle blocks are
favored in Western countries. The main ingredients of the dried noodle
are wheat flour, palm oil, and salt. Common ingredients of the flavoring
powder are salt, monosodium glutamate, seasoning, and sugar.
…In June 2012, the Korea Food and Drug
Administration (KFDA) found Benzopyrene (a cancer-causing substance) in
six brands of noodles made by Nong Shim Company Ltd. Although the KFDA
said the amounts were minuscule and not harmful, Nong Shim did identify
particular batches of noodles with a problem, prompting a recall by
The monosodium glutamate (MSG) in instant noodles is reason enough to avoid them. MSG is
an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your nerve cells to the
point of damage or death, causing brain dysfunction and damage to
varying degrees — and potentially even triggering or worsening learning
disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s
disease, and more.
Part of the problem is that free glutamic
acid (MSG is approximately 78 percent free glutamic acid) is the same
neurotransmitter that your brain, nervous system, eyes, pancreas, and
other organs use to initiate certain processes in your body. Not to
mention, MSG is also used to fatten up mice for scientific study. Yes,
MSG is the perfect obesity drug. If you want to achieve your ideal body weight and health, avoid MSG at all costs.
Return to Whole, Living Foods for Optimal Health
Occasionally eating a package of instant
noodles clearly won’t kill you, but when you make a habit of
substituting convenience foods for real food, it’s only a matter of time
before health problems will likely develop. Instant noodles are a prime
example of the types of processed foods you want to avoid as much as
possible, as they are virtually guaranteed tomake you sick and fat if you indulge too much (and “too much” may be as little as a couple of times a week).
Processed foods encourage weight gain and
chronic disease because they’re high in sugar, fructose, refined
carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients, and low in nutrients and
fiber. Processed foods are addictive and designed to make you overeat;
they also encourage excessive food cravings, leading to weight gain.
Eating processed foods also promotes insulin resistance and chronic
inflammation, which are hallmarks of most chronic and/or serious
diseases. On the other hand, people have thrived on vegetables, meats,
eggs, fruits, and other whole foods for centuries, while processed foods
were only recently invented.
Ditching processed foods requires that you plan your meals in advance, but if you take it step-by-step as described in mynutrition plan,
it’s quite possible, and manageable, to painlessly remove processed
foods from your diet. You can try scouting out your local farmer’s
markets for in-season produce that is priced to sell, and planning your
meals accordingly, but you can also use this same premise with
supermarket sales. You can generally plan a week of meals at a time,
making sure you have all ingredients necessary on hand, and then do any
prep work you can ahead of time so that dinner is easy to prepare if
you’re short on time (and you can use leftovers for lunches the next
day, so you don’t have to resort to instant noodles).