Every now and then, the debate stirs about whether instant noodles are healthy or not. Debates on diet aren’t bad; what’s problematic is the various conflicting information shared with very little credible backing.
Instant noodles are popular all over the world and why not: they’re convenient, inexpensive and easy to prepare. However, because they contain few nutrients and high amounts of sodium and MSG, the health effects always spark some controversy.
Let’s take a look at the ingredients. Noodles typically contain flour, salt and palm oil. The flavouring packets generally contain salt, seasoning and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Fun fact: Instant noodles are pre-cooked noodles that have been steamed and dried.
Though there can be a good deal of variability between different brands and flavours of instant noodles, most types have certain nutrients in common.
Most types of instant noodles tend to be low in calories, fibre and protein, with higher amounts of fat, carbs, sodium and select micronutrients.
So if you’re worried about calories, noodles aren’t a problem. For instance, the 70g packs sold here contain less than 400 calories. Most people cook 2 packs so that’s 800 calories. For context, recommended daily calorie intake for women is 2,000 calories and 2,500 for men.
Because instant noodles are lower in calories, eating them could potentially lead to weight loss. It’s also important to note that instant noodles are low in fibre and protein, which may not make them the best option when it comes to weight loss.
Protein has been shown to increase feelings of fullness and decrease hunger, making it a useful tool in weight management. Fibre, on the other hand, moves slowly through the digestive tract, helping to promote feelings of fullness while enhancing weight loss.
So while noodles can be an occasional stop-gap for hunger, they won’t fill you up like ‘proper’ food would, which means you may get hungry soon enough and end up overeating.
On the flip side though, instant noodles may provide important micronutrients. Despite being relatively low in nutrients like fibre and protein, some instant noodles contain several micronutrients, including iron, manganese, folate and B vitamins.
That said, this is where it gets thorny. Most instant noodles contain an ingredient known as monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common food additive used to enhance flavour in processed foods. While MSG is largely deemed as safe, its potential effects on health remain controversial.
In the US for instance, products that contain added MSG are required to say so on the ingredients label. MSG is also naturally found in products such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, soy extract, tomatoes and cheese.
Some studies have linked extremely high MSG consumption to weight gain and even increased blood pressure, headaches and nausea. However, other studies have found no association between weight and MSG when people consume it in moderate amounts.
Though MSG is likely safe in moderation, some people may have a sensitivity to MSG and should limit their intake. There’s a condition is known as the MSG symptom complex which can induce symptoms such as headaches, muscle tightness, numbness and tingling in certain people.
Another key ingredient that raises a red flag is sodium. A single serving of instant noodles contains between 861 to 1,200mg of sodium. If you’re eating two servings, that’s between, 1,722 and 2,400mg. For context, recommended daily sodium intake is less than 2,300 mg.
To be on the safe side, it’s better to not exceed 1,500 mg per day for sodium so imagine getting up to 2,400 from just one meal. There is evidence showing that high sodium intake can have a negative effect over time because it could lead to high blood pressure or kidney disease.
One study looked at the effects of reduced salt intake in over 3,153 participants. In participants with high blood pressure, each 1,000-mg reduction in sodium intake led to a 0.94 mmHg reduction in systolic blood pressure.
Another study followed adults at risk of developing high blood pressure over 10–15 years to examine the long-term effects of salt reduction. In the end, it found that reducing sodium intake decreased the risk of a cardiovascular event by up to 30%.
So with the aforementioned, what’s the bottom line? In moderation, including instant noodles in your diet likely won’t come with any negative health effects. Occasionally enjoying instant noodles is fine — as long as you’re maintaining a healthy and well-rounded diet.
You can also use noodles as a base and top them with some healthy ingredients – vegetables, proteins, etc. – to make a more well-rounded meal. Just don’t make them a regular feature in your diet.