Research on the health risks of eating ramen noodles regularly. Even organic or gluten-free versions are best avoided as they contribute to metabolic syndrome, especially in women.
Like many other poor college students, ramen noodles were a primary line item in my bare-bones food budget.
Gross at it sounds to me now, I typically ate ramen 3-4 times per week.
At 10 cents per meal, the price was definitely right.
The high amount of synthetically derived monosodium glutamate (MSG) in ramen noodles tasted so good.
It tantalized my tastebuds and fooled my body into thinking it was getting nourishment.
The sad truth is that it was getting nothing but empty calories, chemicals, and additives.
Large studies involving over 10,000 people warn of the dangers of ramen noodles, especially for women, which go far and beyond the metabolism disrupting, hypothalamus frying MSG.
In fact, some of the dangers associated with ramen noodles have nothing to do with the noodles themselves.
This means organic ramen noodles eaters are at risk too.
The findings published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Nutrition warned that those who consume ramen noodles as little as two times per week are at skyrocketing odds of developing metabolic syndrome with its host of prominent symptoms: obesity (particularly abdominal), diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. (1)
Women suffer from especially elevated risk.
The study bolsters previous research on rats which showed that MSG consumption caused blindness and obesity and studies on mice that demonstrated that MSG intake caused brain lesions on the hypothalamus. (2)
Ramen noodle consumption is high among Asian populations.
Consequently, the research of Dr. Hyun Joon Shin MD, a clinical cardiology fellow at Baylor University in Texas and a nutrition epidemiology doctoral student at the Harvard School of Public Health, focused primarily on South Korea.
In this area of the world, people consume the highest per-capita number of instant noodle eaters.
A total of 10,711 adults (54.5% women) ages 19-64 years of age were analyzed, with adjustment for sampling design complexity.
The diet of the study participants was assessed by using a 63-item food-frequency questionnaire.
Researchers identified 2 major dietary patterns:
- “Traditional dietary pattern”. High in rice, fish, vegetables, fruit, and potatoes.
- “Fast-food pattern”. Frequent consumption of soda, fried food, and fast food including instant noodles.
South Koreans have suffered from a rapid increase in health problems in recent years, specifically heart disease and overweight adults. Dr. Shin said:
While instant noodle intake is greater in Asian communities, the association between instant noodle consumption and metabolic syndrome has not been widely studied. I decided to investigate in order to uncover more distinct connections. (3)
Dr. Shin’s findings did indeed uncover a disturbing association between eating instant noodles two or more times a week and the development of cardiometabolic syndrome.
This condition raises a person’s likelihood, particularly in biological females, of developing heart disease and other conditions, such as diabetes and stroke. (4, 5)
Dr. Shin noted that the gender variations in consuming ramen noodles are likely due to biological differences. This would include hormones as well as metabolism.
The gender gap may also partly be caused by the different eating habits between men and women as well as potential variation in the accuracy of food reporting.
BPA in Instant Noodles Packaging
Another potential factor in the gender difference is a chemical called bisphenol A (BPA), which is used for packaging some ramen noodles brands.
Studies have shown that BPA is an estrogen mimicker and endocrine disruptor as it interferes with hormone messaging within the body.
BPA-free packaging is likely no safeguard. Cousin chemicals such as BPS have the same and perhaps even worse hormone-disrupting effects. (6)
Dr. Shin is hopeful that the positive impact of the study on consumers can be substantial considering the popularity of ramen noodles and other instant noodle products.
He also said it highlights the importance of understanding the effects of what we feed our bodies:
This research is significant since many people are consuming instant noodles without knowing possible health risks. My hope is that this study can lay a foundation for future research about the health effects of instant noodle consumption. (7)
Do you eat ramen noodles or other instant noodle style products? Will you potentially change your consumption of these products based on this research?
What about popular Ramen style restaurants that have popped up in recent years? I personally avoid those establishments just like instant noodles from stores.
Frying in Rancid Oils
Perhaps the biggest problem with ramen and instant noodles, in general, is that they are pre-cooked in rancid vegetable oils.
This is why ramen is so quick to prepare…commonly by just adding some boiling water!
Why isn’t the frying oil listed in the ingredients? The reason is because the practice is “industry standard” which allows manufacturers to hide it from the consumer.
To examine this for yourself, compare the fat content of regular wheat noodles to instant ramen. The ramen mysteriously has a higher fat content yet no oils appear in the ingredients.
Gluten-free ramen is the same. Regular rice noodles have nearly zero fat per serving, yet the rice noodle ramen has roughly 2 grams of fat per serving.
Where did the small amount of fat come from? The fat content is from frying the noodles in some type of industrialized vegetable oil before packaging.
If you wish to enjoy ramen noodles that are healthy, this recipe for ramen soup could be just what you are looking for as an alternative to unhealthy versions from the store.
My version uses plain rice noodles instead of fried instant noodles.
Unfortunately, I have yet to come across a brand of commercial ramen noodles that I can suggest as safe.
This includes organic and/or gluten-free brands, which still have toxic packaging issues and are fried in rancid oils which is what makes the product so conveniently “instant”.
(1, 3-4, 7) Instant noodle intake and dietary patterns associated with distinct cardiometabolic risk factors
(2) Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry
(5) Mayo Clinic: Metabolic Syndrome
(6) BPA-free containers are just as hazardous
Headaches? A Most Likely Cause
Chicken Broth “No MSG” Labels are False
In college I nearly subsisted on Ramen. I think they were 10 for a dollar back in the day. No wonder I had such a problem with weight gain, mood swings and skin breakouts!
I remember those days too! I lived on a food budget of about $50 a week back then… I ate ramen, scrambled eggs and frozen MSG-loaded
sausage. The eggs saved me for sure.
We eat, very occasionally, the McDougall’s brand of ramen. I just read the list of ingredients. The noodles are baked, not fried, and no oil is listed. The ramen itself does have yeast extract but I remember reading another article, I thought yours, that said that some forms of MSG that are natural are not all bad. Please let me know if this is wrong. But we only eat it every now and then anyways. Thanks!
If you only eat it occasionally, that should be ok if you are in otherwise good health. The oil used for the baking is almost certainly an industrialized vegetable oil, so note that the residues would be rancid and very unhealthy. Also, while baking is better than frying, it is still at temperatures that would create acrylamides in the noodles as well (a known carcinogen). MSG is the synthetic version of natural glutamate…as a food additive, it is always dangerous to the brain unlike natural glutamate (in bone broth for example) that helpful for the brain.
Stay scientific… I eat Ramen multiple times a week. They have no salt, no fat, and are good! You are missing three very important keyword… “Commercial” “instant” “ramen noodles”.
Sarah Pope MGA
This article is based on scientific study 🙂
Korean people eat ramen 2-3 times a day every day and they’re some of the healthiest people in the world. They eat the instant kind too. If people here are eating instant ramen several times a week they’re probably also eating other kinds of cheap and unhealthy food (microwave TV dinners, pizza, fast food, etc.) , more than likely it’s the other foods. Asian people eat noodles and noodles soups all the time and they don’t have half the health issues Americans do.
Sarah Pope MGA
I would suggest that you read the study referenced in the article which was conducted on Korean people in particular. Could your comment be astroturfing from a ramen noodle company? Seems so to me.
This is somewhat misleading, as others have mentioned. You can easily make ramen from scratch using bone broth, soy sauce, ginger, and a dash of rice wine vinegar with organic ramen noodles added. I put organic eggs, grilled meat, and a variety of vegetables in mine. Not only is it delicious and filling, but it is incredibly nutritious. It is much more nutritious than the majority of meals the average person makes. While I agree that instant noodles are very unhealthy that is an important distinction – organic ramen noodles like Hakubaku Ramen have no more negative health benefits than prepackaged pasta, rice, or other forms of carbs.
Also, it’s a bit confusing for most people but natural sources of MSG are not shown to be harmful compared to extracted or synthetic MSG. Many organic products contain broth flavored with soy, mushroom, etc. which naturally contains MSG. While it may still trigger weight gain or migraines, natural MSG has a lot less risk and could probably be grouped into a “moderate/sparingly” category like high sodium, red meat, or similar types of foods.
At the end of the day, your dietary choices will likely not be perfect. A juicy steak or a bowl of homemade ramen once in a while is entirely reasonable, and sometimes worthwhile to give your body a chance to process different nutrients.
Yes, I have a healthy ramen noodles recipe on this blog as a matter of fact 🙂 https://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/ramen-soup-recipe-gluten-free-healthy/
This article is about the dangers of commercial ramen noodles. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.
Nice to see your comment. I was going to mention Hakubaku Organic Noodles that contain no spice pack. They are not fried either. You can go to their website and see the entire process. They are an excellent noodle to use with shredded chicken and veggies. These are not in the same category as the 10 cent packs with a nasty spice pack.
Thanks for the tip! I will look out for them.
Whoever wrote this article has no understanding of what organic means. Organic Ramen noodle packages contain no MSG, they contain healthy, real ingredients, aside from the organic noodles. I challenge the article creator to find a single organic Ramen product on the market with junk ingredients in it. I’ll wait while you look.
Ummm, the ingredients on every single organic ramen noodle package I’ve examined indicates the presence of MSG. Not sure you realize the dozens of aliases for MSG used by the food industry INCLUDING organic producers?
I don’t think you know what ramen truly is, and you should probably learn more about it before posting anything more about it. True ramen is a type of Japanese noodle. Instant noodle that you find at grocery stores such as Top Ramen is far from what real ramen is. It seems that you use the term “Ramen” so generically as to encompass any noodle soup. Even your link for a “recipe for ramen soup” is so off. Ramen noodles are traditionally made with wheat. Rice noodles is another thing altogether, and there different types of rice noodles as well. A more appropriate title for this article would have been “Health Dangers of Instant Noodle”.
I have to agree.. I think you did use the term ramen too genetically.
While I seldom use instant ramen noodles and never use the seasoning packets that come with them, finding out the dangers of processing and packaging instant products like this should not come as a surprise, though I now know more about them which is useful.
However a clear distinction should be made between instant and the real deal. I’m sure if you get into comparing Italian pasta it would be equally hard to generalize about them either.
Still I’m glad to know more about the processing and packaging of instant ramens, but as the writer alluded to, that is only part of the ramen story and there must be other healthy choices when it comes to it, not eliminating it all together
I use organic chicken broth in my noodles not the seasoning packet. You can add vegetables I use to make it with egg when I was younger. I have chronic daily migraine and even healthy foods make me sick so I try and stick to simple one or two ingredient meals. I switched to brown rice and millet ramen noodles and they made me sicker than the wheat. My goal is to make my own chicken broth because the organic although it only has 4 ingredients its 3 too many. Simple is best.
You can buy Miracle Noodles or Pure Traditions Coconut Noodles (which don’t have to be drained) instead. Then make your own bone broth with a whole pastured chicken and veggies. Make sure you put 1-2 T of ACV in it before cooking to get the nutrients from the bones.
Great tip! Thank you for sharing 🙂
Be very aware of products stating organics on its packaging, in particular powder derivatives. Fraudulent cases have been cited. It’s a highly profitable market as the health trends makes its presence- stating the obviouse am I not right? Yes, research what’s real and what’s not.
Be very aware to those so-called organic powders. Many priducts today are fraudulent about organics being it’s a rising profitable trend.