We’re pretty sure no one’s under the delusion that instant ramen is healthy. Most people who eat it see it as convenient, quick, inexpensive, and tasty. But not exactly healthy.

According to a new study published in the August issue of the Journal of Nutrition, it isn’t just this news that’s heartbreaking—it’s the noodles themselves.

The news is worse if you’re a woman than if you’re a man. The New York Times reports that if you’re a woman who loves to slurp up your Cup Noodle a few times a week, you face a staggering 68% greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome than if you just say no to instant noodles.

For those unfamiliar with metabolic syndrome, it’s a specific set of conditions that work together to wreak havoc on your body and increase your risk for heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. High blood pressure, high blood sugar, abnormally high cholesterol, and excess abdominal fat are the four horsemen of metabolic doom.

Senior study author Dr. Frank B. Hu is a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard. He noted that while this same result didn’t occur in the men involved in the study, it’s possible that other factors may be involved. For example, women may have reported their diets more accurately than men, and postmenopausal women may be more sensitive to carbohydrates, sodium, and saturated fat levels.

Lead study investigator Dr. Hyun Joon Shin, who is a clinical cardiology fellow at Baylor University Medical Center, agreed that biological differences between the sexes most likely also play a role in why there’s such a huge difference.

Still, excessive instant noodle consumption is really not healthy for anyone. Dr. Hu sums up exactly what level of noodle consumption is considered safe:

“Once or twice a month is not a problem. But a few times a week really is.”

The study analyzed data from the diets of 10,711 South Korean adults between the ages of 19 and 64 that was collected in the Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2007 and 2009. Participants’ diets seemed to divide neatly into two groups: those who stuck to the “traditional” diet of rice, fish, vegetables, and those who ate mostly meat and processed food—including instant noodles. 

The problem isn’t necessarily the high saturated fat and sodium content of these instant noodles (although that’s not good, either). Rather, Dr. Shin says that bisphenol-A—which is found in the styrofoam cups that some instant noodles (like Cup Noodle) come in—may be leaching into your hot cup of noodles and interfering with your hormones

Dr. Shin said of the results,

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.”

In an unrelated examination of the unhealthiness of instant ramen, back in 2011, TEDxManhattan Fellow Stefani Bardin did an experiment to explore the differences between how processed foods and whole foods are digested. Through clever use of time-lapse photography, you can watch with horrified fascination as instant ramen and homemade ramen noodles are digested in two different test subjects over the same period of time.

[via the New York Times, CTV]

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