Ramen alert! The case for going easy on this classic college fare

Sept. 8, 2014—As fall college classes begin, students are settling into apartments and dorms. They’re finalizing course schedules, buying books and computers—and stocking up on that staple of college life: instant noodles.

But while ramen and similar instant offerings may be a hit with busy, budget-minded undergrads, research from South Korea could raise new concerns for noodle lovers. The study suggests that women who eat instant noodles often could up their risk of metabolic syndrome: a cluster of health problems (including excess belly fat and high cholesterol) that may contribute to heart disease, diabetes or stroke.

About the study

The research, published in The Journal of Nutrition, is based on 10,711 adults who were questioned about their eating habits and health behaviors. Researchers also measured each participant’s waist size, blood pressure, and cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels—components related to metabolic syndrome.

Researchers classified the people into two main groups depending on their overall eating habits: One group mostly ate a traditional diet rich in grains, legumes, fish, mushrooms, fruit, veggies and potatoes. The other group favored meals packed with meat, soda, fried food, pizza and other fast foods, including instant noodles.

Researchers found that people who followed a traditional diet tended to have slimmer waists and better blood pressure readings. Those who ate the most meat and fast foods were more likely to have bigger bellies and more artery-clogging LDL cholesterol—although their HDL cholesterol (the good kind) and triglyceride levels were actually healthier.

When the researchers looked at instant noodle consumption specifically, they found that women who ate them two or more times per week were more likely to have metabolic syndrome regardless of their overall diet. That this finding was more prevalent in women might be due, in part, to biological differences and varied eating habits between the sexes, study authors noted. Also, the chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is found in the plastic foam packaging of some noodles and might potentially interact with the hormone estrogen to boost belly fat, they suggested.

Read the study abstract here.

The take-home message
The study doesn’t prove that eating instant noodles causes health problems. But noodle packets tend to contain a lot of calories, blood-sugar-spiking refined carbohydrates, saturated fat and sodium, according to the authors, and there are better choices.

In any case, everyone can aim to eat a balanced variety of healthful foods—even college students on a budget. And, parents, you might help your young scholar eat right by offering these ideas from experts:

  • Write out a week’s worth of meals to build your grocery list around—and use what you already have in the kitchen first.
  • Start a collection of healthy, low-cost recipes to try.
  • Fill your grocery cart with nutrient-rich fruits and veggies. Go for beans and whole grains, too, like breads, pasta, rice and cereals. Other healthy choices include lean meats, chicken, fish and low- or nonfat milk.
  • At the dining hall, try to stick with choices—and portion sizes—that are sensible. Moderate your intake of fried foods, sweets and sugary drinks.

Want to prepare healthy meals without breaking the bank? Click here.


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