Let’s Talk Food: Instant ramen noodles

When we were in college, instant ramen was often a meal. It was cheap and easy to make — just boil some water, add the dried noodles, then the flavor packet and you had a meal.

But how healthy is instant ramen?

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In 2012, Dr. Braden Kuo of Massachusetts General Hospital used a pill-sized camera to record the digestive tracts of volunteers who ate processed and fresh ramen noodles. After two hours and four hours, the instant ramen noodle was much larger or formed than the homemade ramen noodle. “Ramen noodles were difficult to break down into extremely infinite particulate matter during the process of digestion.”

As a full-time college student, money and time are major issues you have to deal with, and buying packages of noodles is cheap,” said Macon State College senior Kristina Whitaker. “They fill you up and are great when you are constantly on the go and have deadlines to meet.”

“After seeing this video, I will definitely change how often I eat ramen noodles,” Whittaker told USA Today. “I will try to eat them once a week or I might just stop eating them all together, unless I have no other choices.”

Kuo added, “We don’t understand the impact to a degree of digestion, but what we do have is a striking visual image to begin the discussion. But I can’t say for certain at this point whether they (ramen noodles) will have an impact on healthy nutrition or absorption.”

In a study in Midwest periodical The Journal of Nutrition, women in South Korea who ate more instant noodles were more likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome, which increases the risks of developing heart disease and diabetes.

According to Healthline, packaged instant types of noodles are made from wheat flour, various oils and favoring. The noodles are pre-cooked, either by steaming, then dried, or fried.

One package of chicken flavored ramen noodles contains: 188 calories, 27 grams of carbohydrate, 7 grams of total fat, 5 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber, 891 mg of sodium, 16% of RDI of riboflavin.

That package of noodles is lacking in protein, fiber, vitamins A, C and B-12, calcium magnesium and potassium.

Often, people make the mistake of not reading the package correctly — the nutritional contents listed are for two servings, so the sodium, if you eat the whole package, is 891 times two, or 1,782 milligrams! With that much sodium, you are at increased risk for heart disease, stomach cancer or stroke.

Other ingredients in instant ramen noodles are MSG and TBHQ. According to Wikipedia, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, which is found naturally in tomatoes, grapes, cheese and mushrooms, just to name some foods. It is used as a flavor enhancer to give an umami taste.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration deemed MSG as safe, many people swear it causes headaches and other feelings of discomfort.

TBHQ is tertiary butylhydroquinone and is added as a preservative. Because it is an antioxidant, it protects foods with iron from discoloration. According to the Centers for Science in the Public Interest, a study found TBHQ increased the incidence of tumors in rats. According to the National Library of Medicine, cases of vision disturbances have been reported when humans consume TBHQ. Another study showed TBHQ causes liver enlargement, neurotoxic effects, convulsions and paralysis in laboratory animals.

Here again, the FDA considers TBHQ safe in low amounts. However, some research indicates Americans are getting more than they should.

Since TBHQ is put in foods as a preservative to give them a long shelf life, changing to whole foods or eating fresh foods might be a good way to avoid this chemical.

Several years ago I wrote about making your own ramen noodles. To achieve the springy, slippery noodles, the addition of “kansui” to change the pH to alkali will achieve the right texture.

Making your own broth is not that complicated and is a great way to control the amount of sodium. Top the finished ramen with lots of vegetables, shredded or hard cooked eggs, kamaboko and green onions and you will have a healthier ramen meal.

Here is an easy recipe from “Eating Well,” the magazine that replaced “Cooking Light” magazine, using a can of condensed low-sodium chicken noodle soup. The ramen is not the same type of noodle, but you could add more fresh cooked noodles if you wanted a more substantial meal.

Homemade Chicken Ramen Noodle Bowls

Serves: 2

1 (10-ounce) can condensed low-sodium chicken noodle soup (450 mg of sodium or less per serving)

1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger

1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/2 cup grated carrots

1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions

2 soft-boiled or hard-cooked eggs, halved

1/2 to 1 teaspoon sriracha

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds

Prepare soup according to package directions. Stir in ginger and heat until simmering.

Divide the soup between two wide shallow bowls.

Top each with 1/4-cup each cilantro and carrot, 3 tablespoons green onions and egg.

Finish with sriracha to taste and sesame seeds.

Foodie bites

• The Ka‘u Coffee Festival is April 26-May 5. For more information and a schedule of events, check out www.kaucoffeefest.com.

The Hoolaulea is 9 a.m.-5 p.m. May 4 at Pahala Community Center.

For more information, call Chris Manfredi at 929-9550.

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• Hawaii Community College’s Cafeteria and Bamboo Hale are open today through Friday. The Bamboo Hale is featuring the foods of Hawaii. Check them out for Merrie Monarch Week.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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